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Love behind bars

He loves the moment when she walks into the room. She’s always wearing something new, usually in a colour he’s previously said he likes, because she’s still trying to please him. He loves that he can smell her perfume before she’s close enough to touch. He loves the way the men around him are drawn to her, to her walk, her hair, her body; he loves that her make-up is always perfect, that she will reach up on tip toe to kiss him, and that each kiss feels like the very first.

She loves that his eyes seek her out the second she steps through the door. She loves that he’s always showered, and is freshly shaven. She loves that his eyes never leave her, that he’s reaching for her as she draws near. As they sit together, she can smell his longing for her. Their voices are pitched low, so tuned into each other, that the world around them fades away. For the brief time they are together, they exist only for each other.

He thinks of her at night, when the lights go out. The thought of holding her, of her whispering to him in the darkness, is the last thought in his head every night.

She writes to him when everyone else is asleep. She pours out her heart in her letters, and feels that they grow closer with each one.

daisy in chainsHe is serving a life sentence for murder in Wandsworth Prison. She is a woman he met since his incarceration began. They have never eaten a meal together, never been for a walk in the woods, never shared an ice cream or cuddled up on the sofa in front of a movie. They will never plan a holiday, or a family, or even spend Christmas together. They do not have a future, just a sort of life in limbo, doomed never to change, never to move on.

This is not an isolated romance. It is entirely common. Name me a notorious incarcerated killer and I’ll show you a woman only too happy to put her own life on hold, sometimes even to walk away from a marriage and family, to be with a man she knows is violent, possibly entirely evil.

It isn’t hard to see why the man should seek a prison romance. A good-looking woman will enhance his status inside. She will bring him money and gifts. She is a stable influence and an address, on the outside, when the possibility of parole comes up. In the meantime, there are letters, phone calls and visits to break up the monotony of prison life.

For her, though? Well, that’s quite a different matter. For what conceivable reasons do rational women put their romantic (if not their whole) lives on hold, possibly forever?

I’ve been thinking about, and reading about, this most weird of phenomenon for several months now, ever since I first hit on the idea of writing a book about a woman in love with an incarcerated serial killer. In Daisy in Chains, my handsome, charismatic killer, Hamish Wolfe, has a hoard of female admirers, groupies, if you like; women who are only too happy to sacrifice just about everything to be with the man they’ve convinced themselves they love.

Daisy in Chains is a work of fiction, but around the world real life romances between convicted murderers and women they’ve met since becoming notorious, are legion.

On one level, these women are exploiting their men. They want to share their fame, absorb some of their status, maybe even get a book or TV deal. Even if the financial gains aren’t there, notorious killers have a status in society. Their infamy marks them out, they are the ultimate alpha males and their women share some of this status.

Some commentators argue that the women who are drawn to violent men are in fact addicted to the violence, that they are trapped in a cycle of victimhood. Many of them have had abusive relationships in the past. Being involved with a man in prison gives them the chance to feed their addition, whilst remaining relatively safe. When their new man tries to give them a backhander, there’s usually a prison guard ready to step in.

Others believe such women are incapable of sustaining real relationships in the outside world. They don’t want a man who will mess up the house, slob around and fart in bed. They want a man who will adore them unconditionally, but make no unreasonable demands. No demands at all, in fact. In a prison romance, physical attraction will never deteriorate into duty sex and for many women, it is the thrill of the chase, the longing, that is so much more fulfilling and exciting than the sex itself.

Unrealistic narcissism lies at the heart of many of these relationships. The woman doesn’t care how many women he’s abused in the past. She will be the one to change him. She is different. She is special. Desperate to keep her onside, he will feed this stupid fantasy, for as long as it suits him.

Most worrying of all, is the possibility that some of these women are harbouring violent thoughts themselves. A hybristophiliac is someone who is sexually excited by the thought of violence being committed on others. These women might actually be attracted by the idea of killing by proxy. Their men are committing the acts that they can only dream of.

Personally, I doubt that any one reason drives any of these women. I think in each case, a different cocktail of the above will apply. Whatever the reason, these are women to be treated with extreme caution. Possibly avoided altogether.

Sharon Bolton

Sharon Bolton is the critically acclaimed author of some of the most bone-chilling crime novels ever written. She has been shortlisted for the CWA Gold Dagger for Crime Novel of the Year and the Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year. In 2014 she won the CWA Dagger in the Library for her whole body of work. Daisy in Chains is her latest novel.

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