Lockdown Love Series: Love Letters of Joe & Beneé

Editor's Note:

This Lockdown Love Series features the couple who birth Lockdown Love – Joe and Beneé, a San Jose love story. They are a couple who have been holding it down for each other during Joe's years of incarceration. "Joe is my heart," writes Beneé. They allowed us to turn it into a series of reflections by those impacted by the walls of incarceration – our loved ones inside and the families who love them. Joe and Beneé also wanted to let other prison/jail wives know and feel that they are not alone and things could be done with love.

Joe has been incarcerated since 2013, with the support of his wife and family they are actively working on not only bringing Joe home one day, but countless others as well.

I Married a Woman with a Revolutionary Spirit
By Joe

Every day that passes my love for you grows. Remember the first time we kissed?  Who could have guessed where those kisses would lead us to – who knows where these kisses will take us. Because of you I know what it is like to be kissed by an Angel. Lord knows I don’t deserve your kisses, so when I receive one I cherish it. I cherish every minute I have with you. The memories of the moments we share send me chasing after the sweet taste of your lips just to make another memory. I know I have fallen short of being a perfect husband but because of you I’ve become a better man. Forgive me, I had no idea one day we would find ourselves kissing at the altar.

We like many couples have had our moments but the sun rose and our love shone through those dark clouds. No matter the situation by nights end we’d kiss and make up.

The morning I got arrested I’ll never forget the image of seeing you standing in your slip at the end of the walkway, it is forever ingrained in my mind. I wish I could wipe the warm tears rolling down your face away. I wish I could have taken the pain away but I couldn’t. The only thing I could do was tell you I love you from the back of the black unmarked car as I sat there in handcuffs. I always wondered if you were able to read my lips when I was hauled away. Could you? I love you, just in case you didn’t catch it.

Maintaining a relationship with an incarcerated person is a challenge for anyone; lockdown love isn’t for the faint of heart. Early on I knew our love would be put to the test. I remember calling you from the county jail and expressing that sentiment to you. I also remember telling you I was in lockdown (solitary confinement) and to buckle up ‘cause the road ahead is bumpy. Prepare yourself because all the restrictions and obstacles that are wedged between an inmate and his/her family and friends are intended to discourage/destroy any support base an incarcerated person may have. This low intensity warfare is a strategy the administration has employed for decades. It’s a struggle we will have to embrace and a challenge we must welcome if our love is to survive.

It didn’t take long for you to recognize the obstacles I warned you about. A couple months passed and the weekend you came to visit me in a T-shirt, sweatpants, shoes tied tight and hair pulled back into a chongo my first thought was, man I don’t know what I did but boy I’m about to hear it. You started going in and raising Cain about how Santa Clara County jails were actively trying to stop letters and implement a “post card only” policy. At first I was relieved that your anger wasn’t aimed at me. I sure wasn’t trying to be another one of those guys whose lady walked out but not before announcing what to kiss before she stormed out of visiting. As you were explaining the policy I wondered how you learned about the administrations’ plans. That was the first time I heard about the lady Christine, who was a volunteer of Silicon Valley De-Bug. Christine had been out in the lobby collecting signatures for a petition to put a stop to the “post card only” policy and also encouraged you to attend a Board of Supervisors meeting.

“So are you going to the meeting?”

“Fo sho” you said.

I raised my fist as far as the shackles on my wrist would allow and said, “power to the people.”

The following weekend you showed up to visiting dressed to the nines with your Protect Your People hoodie on looking as fly as ever. You marched up to the window and planted a phat kiss on the inch and a half thick glass that separated us, then humbly proclaimed victory in defeating the policy change. That day we spent our visit discussing all the injustices minorities are confronted with in our communities. We elaborated on what we could do to actively participate to provoke change. Before you left we kissed through the glass. While I was sitting there waiting for the C.O. to take me back to my cell I found myself gazing at the imprints that your lipstick made. It was at that moment I realized I had married a woman with a revolutionary spirit who was built for war. A woman who will die defending what and who she loves.

That night I received a pink slip in the mail “return to sender” reason: no lipstick on the envelope allowed. Although I didn’t receive the letter I got the message and blew a kiss right back, my love.

I bet you didn’t know I’ve been keeping count of every time we kiss. We’re at 1,000,121. I look forward to the next one ‘cause its always better than the last muah. Remember the last time we kissed?

I Wanted to Fight, I Just Didn’t Know How
By Beneé

Over the years our love has grown strong and solid, for some reason through the hardest times we chose to push through and find ways to heal our marriage from the past hurts. What we didn’t know is that it would be tested on something that only GOD himself can answer!

My husband was taken into custody early on the morning of March 29, 2013. We looked at each other and said I love you while I held our baby in my arms and he was driving off in the back of an unmarked car. Right then and there something in me turned bitch because I did not want to allow myself to feel weak, hurt and so helpless.

I started calling around for criminal lawyers not knowing what I know now. As the days went on I visited my husband every weekend and I heard this buzz around me that the jail was trying to stop letters into the jail. I gave my feedback on that to a woman who told me that families were meeting to write letters and I told her to count me in. The outcome was that the proposal was withdrawn from the main jail.

Then I ran into a Bay Area rapper who is a family friend and he told me about De-Bug. When I first came to the meetings at Debug I thought WOW, they share all this information on cases and I also wondered if my paid attorney was doing all this. After all I paid a hefty price and he promised me the moon and stars. At first I was really confident in his representation for us , but I noticed as it got closer to the trial he wasn’t so helpful even though by then we had paid him in full. I continued attending meetings and the case was coming together. 

As time went on, those delicate kisses through that glass were so precious to us as our eyes talked to each other and expressed everything our souls felt. Talking about our last night together as one our hearts were electrifying and forgetting the past is what kept us going. My husband was preparing me for what lies ahead because we all know how the California Department of Corrections & Rehabilitation does us. I remember him telling me, buckle up babe it’s going to get bumpy and you might fall off, here we go. We had been in lockdown all 24 hours of the day for about seven months at that time into awaiting trial. 

I could not stand to see my husband getting treated the way he was – it broke my heart. I didn’t like it, so I became really involved and I chose not to be a victim because I have children watching my every move. I had to go before God and ask him to lead me because this is hard. All I knew was that I wanted to fight, I just didn’t know how. Then, when I really got involved with De-Bug it was crackin! 

Participatory Defense is a tool developed by De-Bug used to help families navigate the criminal justice system and change the outcome of their loved one’s case. In my case it did just that for my husband. After that I went into beast mode; I talked to my family and I decided to leave nursing and help families in a different way. I made up my mind and told myself I don’t want families to feel like I did that first day!  

My work with De-Bug has changed my life in a tremendous way. The most lasting memory for me was a mother by the name of Jeannette who had a son incarcerated who was facing three strikes. She would come over to Debug every weekend participating in meetings and being hands on. Long story short, with the Romero hearing and her son’s social bio packet her son was sentenced to one year and a half. That was a victory for what he was facing, because in this work every victory looks different.

Through this four  year ordeal I saw my husband’s heart through this dark time in our marriage. He carried me when I couldn’t do it myself. He made me stand up for myself and not be treated in any disrespectful way. The respect I have for my husband is great and tireless. I honor my husband beyond words and I show him everyday by not backing down no matter how big the giant is. I will fight my whole life for this man. Lockdown_love was born from this. Lockdown Love is an Instagram page created by my husband for women who are facing the challenges he has seen me going through. He asked me to do this for myself so I could have other women to talk to who are going through the same thing.

So, I was so surprised and honored when De-Bug came to me with an idea for a series, because it is so great for all us going through this situation. The series is for love letters in all forms meaning a mother and children story, wife and husband, wife and wife , husband and husband, you will not be judged here.

I look forward to all families coming home and hitting that restart button.

I also want to thank ALL the men and their families who participated in the Pelican Bay hunger strike and to the men in Santa Clara County Jails for their participation in the jail hunger strike. I thank you all because of the changes that resulted far and near on CDCR imposed punitive treatment for these men, women and children. Before the hunger strike these men were held in indefinite solitary confinement and the women who stood with them had no contact and their children lost their dad’s hugs and kisses. Those men and their families changed the practice. Thank you.

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