Five-minute memoir: Barbara J Zitwer recalls her honeymoon behind bars

 

'What should I wear to my honeymoon in jail?" I asked myself as I wandered through Bergdorf Goodman, my favourite store on Fifth Avenue. I walked in the steps of women like Audrey Hepburn and Grace Kelly who had shopped at Bergdorf's before me. I perused the racks of Chanel, Marni, Gucci and Dior. It was the dead heat of a summer in the city, 1999, and my honeymoon was to take place in the Sullivan County Prison in New York State, home to the Son of Sam serial killer, where my new husband, Gil, was serving 10 years for robbery.

Way before crime, my infatuation with the sexy Latin manager of my health club had turned into a deep friendship, and culminated in true love so strong that it bound us together no matter what... even when heroin made the man I knew with the heart of gold, unrecognisable. He says prison saved his life because he had to hit rock bottom. But like Robert Downey Jr, he did finally stop using and changed his life around. When I finally saw Gil after two years into his sobriety, he looked like Captain America, strong, clear-eyed and definitely reborn. And that's when I proposed to him...

I had been visiting Gil for months when I overheard some women talking about sleeping in the prison. "Can I really sleep in your cell with you?" I asked one day. My handsome, Puerto Rican boyfriend's frowning face burst out laughing. "You mean trailer visits?" he cried. "Honey, you have to be married to be eligible for an overnight visit in the little cabins." "Well, then let's get married..." The words popped out of my mouth immediately, and then I argued for weeks, finally convincing Gil that it was the only sensible thing for us to do. It would make waiting for freedom all the more tolerable and fill the void I always felt after leaving him. When I wasn't with him, half of me was torn apart.

It took six months of paperwork to get the approval needed, but we were finally granted our first overnight visit. However, now I was in a quandary: what would be the perfect outfit to begin my jailhouse honeymoon? In this movie of my life, I needed to look the part I wanted to play. My outfit was like Harry Potter's cloak of invisibility – a shield to make me impenetrable and not allow the ugliness, stress, and fear from those prison walls to affect me and the precious time alone I would have with the man I loved. I was insistent on creating an oasis and on bringing sunshine and freedom into that den of despair. So, I scoured the store for hours until I found what I was looking for, a beautiful pair of pale-lavender, linen overalls; they were perfect. I felt the soft light linen between my fingers. They were casual but also luxurious and utterly impractical, which made them all the more perfect. And they fitted like a glove, making me feel feminine and sexy. As I looked at myself in the mirror I thought, the overalls looked thoroughly appropriate to walk through the corridors of the all-male prison. I envisioned myself almost floating down the halls, confident and happy in my lavender overalls, my own suit of armour. I was determined to bring pretty to that place, no matter what.

Soon, I was next in line to be processed through the prison's security check-point. "Take off your shoes, jewellery and hairclip," a mean-looking female guard barked. Barefoot I walked through the metal detector in my overalls. The alarms went off as if I had been carrying a Magnum 45. I was shocked. "You can't go in if you don't get through the metal detector. You'll have to leave." "But I have nothing to hide!" Tears welled up in frustration and anger at the sheer stupidity and pig-headedness of those who held the keys to my happiness. Then it hit me – the 20 small silver engraved buttons on my overalls. The metal detector didn't differentiate the small buttons from a gun. The guards knew that I was not carrying a gun, but they were cruel and having a good laugh at my expense.

I had a choice: I could change clothes or leave. I stepped into the bathroom, wiped my tears, and pulled a Brazilian sarong from my bag. I had nothing else to wear. I handed the overalls to the guard, then passed through the metal detector easily. She glared at me and returned my garment. It took all my courage but I walked ahead through the prison, barefoot and naked underneath the flimsy wrap. I was led to a backyard with four little cabins enclosed in 20-foot concrete walls, but standing outside one of them was Gil. In one night and two days, I was transformed. Our goodbye was so hard but seeing the same guard again, I smiled. I would play by the rules, but I was unwavering in my way, too.

'The JM Barrie Ladies' Swimming Society' by Barbara J Zitwer is published in April by Short Books

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift won Best International Solo Female (Getty)

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Shining star: Maika Monroe, with Jake Weary, in ‘It Follows’
film review
Arts and Entertainment

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith arrives at the Brit Awards (Getty)

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Boleyn's beheading in BBC Two's Wolf Hall

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Follow every rainbow: Julie Andrews in 'The Sound of Music'
film Elizabeth Von Trapp reveals why the musical is so timeless
Arts and Entertainment
Bytes, camera, action: Leehom Wang in ‘Blackhat’
film
Arts and Entertainment
The Libertines will headline this year's festival
music
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Dean Anderson in the original TV series, which ran for seven seasons from 1985-1992
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Muscling in: Noah Stewart and Julia Bullock in 'The Indian Queen'

opera
Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman and David Tennant star in 'Broadchurch'

TVViewers predict what will happen to Miller and Hardy
Arts and Entertainment
Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright in season two of the series

Watch the new House of Cards series three trailer

TV
Arts and Entertainment
An extract from the sequel to Fight Club

books
Arts and Entertainment
David Tennant, Eve Myles and Olivia Colman in Broadchurch series two

TV Review
Arts and Entertainment
Old dogs are still learning in 'New Tricks'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
'Tonight we honour Hollywood’s best and whitest – sorry, brightest' - and other Neil Patrick Harris Oscars jokes

Oscars 2015It was the first time Barney has compered the Academy Awards

Arts and Entertainment
Patricia Arquette making her acceptance speech for winning Best Actress Award

Oscars 2015 From Meryl Streep whooping Patricia Arquette's equality speech to Chris Pine in tears

Arts and Entertainment

Oscars 2015 Mexican filmmaker uses speech to urge 'respect' for immigrants

Arts and Entertainment
Lloyd-Hughes takes the leading role as Ralph Whelan in Channel 4's epic new 10-part drama, Indian Summers

TV Review

The intrigue deepens as we delve further but don't expect any answers just yet
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Segal and Cameron Diaz star in Sex Tape

Razzies 2015 Golden Raspberry Awards 'honours' Cameron Diaz and Kirk Cameron

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

    Climate change key in Syrian conflict

    And it will trigger more war in future
    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
    Is this the way to get young people to vote?

    Getting young people to vote

    From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
    Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

    Poldark star Heida Reed

    'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
    The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

    The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

    Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
    Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

    Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

    Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
    Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

    David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

    The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
    Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

    Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

    Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
    With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

    Money, corruption and drugs

    The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
    America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

    150 years after it was outlawed...

    ... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
    Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

    Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

    The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
    Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

    You won't believe your eyes

    Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
    Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

    Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

    The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
    War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn