Lonely US jailbirds go online in search of love

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The Independent US

Karen Danos looks like quite a catch, with blond hair, a friendly smile and a trim 34-26-34 figure. "I have sea-blue bedroom eyes and love to wear sexy clothes," purrs the message on her online advertisement. The one problem? Karen is going to be banged up in a federal penitentionary until at least 2010.

It seems a real pity. No doubt the other inmates at the jail in Lexington, Kentucky, are wowed by Karen's charms, but the outside world is clearly missing out. And it sounds as if she could do with a taste of the world beyond the prison walls, too. "[I am] in need of someone to share the hard times as well as the good times - to enjoy life itself," she adds. Karen is just one of thousands of prison inmates across America who have been lured by the trend for internet matchmaking. In America, the market is worth an estimated $40m. Now, a number of British prisoners are signing up.

While it is probably no surprise that there are sites catering specifically for prisoners, what most people might not realise is the number of them. Take your pick from www.prisonpenpals.com, www.jailbabes.com, www.jail dudes.com, www.ladiesofthe pen.com, or www.cellblock mail.com.

"People are looking for different types of relationships," said Sandy Espinoza, owner of the jaildudes and jailbabes sites, which, she said, carry details of 15,000 prisoners. "It has always been popular with inmates. It gives them the opportunity to get to know someone in the old-fashioned way - via a letter. Everything happens so fast these days - three days and you're expected to be putting out for someone."

While the sites have been criticised by victims' groups, the attractions for the prisoner are obvious - a regular correspondence with someone on the outside. For those with release dates in the near future there is the chance that the correspondence might turn into something else.

For those on the outside, the attractions of "e-dating" an inmate may not be so obvious but it is worth bearing in mind that serial killers John Wayne Gacy and Ted Bundy both married women they had written to before they were executed. "There's something in our culture that makes celebrities out of murderers and rapists," Jack Levin, a professor of criminology and sociology at Northeastern University told the Christian Science Monitor.

It was reported that when Susan Smith, the South Carolina mother who murdered her two young sons by driving her car into a lake in 1994, placed an ad with www.writeaprisoner.com, she received an astonishing one million responses.

The prison penpals site has started to attract attention from British inmates. One typical ad features John Chard, 22, a prisoner at HMP Dovegate, near Uttoxeter. Beneath his picture, the ad reads: "I am looking for sexy ladies, any race, religion or nationality, between the ages of 18-35 with a buzzin' personality and good sense of humour."

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