This first piece comes from Yolanda, whose loved one, Frankie, is currently serving a life without parole sentence. He has been incarcerated since he was 18 years old. Together they share love letters.
Every Year He Asks Me, Will You Be My Valentine?
By Yolanda Ledesma
Frank and I met in our early childhood, we were children playing, getting dirty, and cheering each other on at birthday parties all without a care in the world. Time went on and our paths went in different directions.
Fast-forward ten years, I was at a friend’s house and across the street lived my future Frankie. We knew each other but I wasn’t interested; he was, and not shy nor quiet about it.
Frankie was consistent for about a year when I decided to give him a chance. I recall one day while on the phone he said those three words… I LOVE YOU. I couldn’t bring myself to say it back for I was a young woman wanting to protect my heart from any hurt. With his constant loving, caring and protective ways, he helped me to bring my guard down and open up to him. I felt peaceful and safe with him and had no second thoughts that I had fallen so deep in love with this man. I had given him a part of me that a woman can never get back.
We moved in together just a couple months after dating and were inseparable. As with all couples, we had our rough patches, then about a year down the road we had a substantial argument that led us to separate and move out. Two weeks later we ran into each other at the mall and he called out my name as I was walking out to the parking lot, he caught up with me outside. We spoke briefly, he asked for another chance and I couldn’t refuse. I loved this man and missed him from being in my life everyday. I remember him looking so sharp, the look in his eyes, the secure hug and the soft kiss upon my lips as we said goodbye.
Later that night I got the news I never thought I would receive, he was being held at the police station for 72 hours for questioning. He was able to call me while in custody but wasn’t able to say much so I didn’t know the severity. I went to see him at the police station through a monitor, I was able to see how brutal the police beat and kicked him with their steel-toe boots while he was on the ground, detained, unarmed and vulnerable. I couldn’t believe what was happening, I didn’t understand. He was 18, those 72 hours for questioning turned into 5 years of court dates, weekend jail visits (rain or shine) standing in line for hours to get a 30-minute visit.
Trial was all a blur to me, as I didn’t understand so much of the language and terminology. I remember the lies told about him, the “monster” the prosecutor tried to make him out to be. The jurors were not his “peers.” All odds were against him. How could they judge him, with only the words of the prosecutor? These people never sat down and had a conversation with Frankie, they had no idea how his smile could light up the darkest room. They didn’t know how kind hearted he is, how he always put others before himself, he would give the shirt off his back if you needed it, he is that type of person. He is a beautiful, one-of-a-kind soul. He was never given a chance, our fate was held in those jurors’ hands. It was at that point I, personally, experienced how corrupt the system is! In the end WE were sentenced to Life Without Parole (LWOP), which devastated my whole world. I couldn’t bring myself to leave the courthouse after he was sentenced.
As a result I lost many relationships due to judgmental attitudes and lack of support, that I needed at that time. I was told by family and friends to move on with my life. I developed severe disorders, which affected my professional and personal life. Trusting people became a serious struggle, my world was dark but through it all I can always count on that one person, Frankie.
Serving LWOP there were questions that played out in my head, for instance, getting married and not being able to have children, since LWOP individuals are not eligible for family visits. As much as I adore and love this man, I needed to ask myself these questions. I came to the conclusion there was no living my life without Frankie. I believe we always have choices in life but we don’t choose who we fall in love with. It was either leave him and be unhappy or stay with my soul mate and sacrifice possibly never having children. I chose to be with my once-in-a-lifetime love. God has the last say so and if it’s meant for us to have children He will bless us.
A relationship with someone incarcerated is nothing like your "average" relationship. It takes communication, trust, dedication, loyalty, patience, understanding, strength, time, selflessness, money and more. Focus on the good and positive, you have to focus on you and your loved one and give 100% of each other.
We carry on “non-traditional” celebrations for holidays, birthdays and other celebrations. We buy a cheesecake or a cupcake from the vending machine in place of an actual cake & he sings happy birthday to me. The sweetest thing is that every year he asks me, "Will you be my valentine?”
It’s the little things that we say and do that get us through the days. Before getting off the phone one of us will always say, "lay with me tonight." I used to sleep on his arm next to his armpit and can always remember the smell of his Red Zone Glacier deodorant so for humor I'll tell him I'm going to lay by his armpit. Things like that keep the memories alive. We’ll tell each other what time we plan on going to bed so we can meet in our dreams. I love to discuss everything with him before making any decisions big or small like with job opportunities, dealing with car issues, what to do with my hair; I value his opinion and want him involved in everything as if he was home.
After 12 years together, Frankie and I got married in an intimate ceremony. I am proud to call him my Husband, as he is to call me his Wife. We went through such a process to get married, but when the day came I was smiling ear to ear knowing Frankie and I were going to make it official. It was perfect, my make-up, my hair, my dress - everything went just how it was supposed to.
Ahhh at last, Frankie was right before my eyes waiting for me. Our ceremony was in the patio during a visit. He couldn't take his eyes off of me and I couldn't take mine off of him; it was like looking into his soul he was filled with so many compliments and I couldn't help but blush. It was finally time, standing facing each other while holding hands everything was silent, even though the chaplain had us repeat after him it felt like just Frankie and I. When the chaplain said, I now pronounce you husband and wife I cried and held onto Frankie while my body trembled. We shared our first kiss as husband and wife and at that point I could hear everyone clapping for us I looked around and I had no idea these people were watching us, but it was nice to have that support. It has been one of the greatest experiences thus far in my life. The matron of honor says and I quote, “I've never seen anyone so in love before that day.” The rest of the weekend we celebrated and soaked it all in, enjoying every second of it. Here we are now still enjoying every second this love only gets better with each passing day.
Although the physical aspect of a relationship and marriage plays a huge part I believe the mental aspect is much stronger. Frankie is able to touch me in so many ways without physically doing so. The words he speaks, speak to my soul and give me a rush and a indescribable feeling thru my body. We connect in so many ways including the mind, body and soul.
Celebrating Frankies 30th birthday
I threw Frankie an intimate surprise 30th birthday dinner with family, close friends including our De-Bug family to celebrate him and make it as normal as possible. Even though he was sentenced to LWOP, this was OUR sentence. I learned to take it one day at a time but I am reminded daily that my husband is missing in my everyday life. After all these years I still sleep on my side of the bed in hopes one day he will be next to me once again. Not being able to talk to him on a regular basis is difficult and not being able to tell him about my day or hear about his is difficult as well. I’m also reminded when new laws pass that LWOP is not eligible for those benefits, but now I feel anything is possible for the future.
Not even the injustice of the justice system weakened the love we have for each other, if anything, it strengthened it. So regardless of the outcome, our bond remains unbreakable and our love remains for all eternity.
My Super Woman Is Going to Bring Me Home
By Frankie Ledesma
The first time I saw you I knew I'd change your last name. I said "I love you" for the first time when I was lying in bed talking to you on the phone. I had you, I loved you, but failed you.
The night we made up in the mall parking lot just hours before our fates took a turn, is a moment I hold dear. I left you alone, but you stood tall and promised we'll get through this.
Getting through it got longer and longer until we accepted it was what it was. Your active support, even when I doubted and pushed you away made me aware, again, that you are one of a kind.
If it wasn't for you I'd have no genuine hope that a life and a family would be possible for a Life Without Parole (LWOP) sentence. You've done your best and still I tested your patience and loyalty. I was wrong I admit that for all the negative you faced.
There were less and less happier moments until there was an awareness that LWOP's are still human. We've done our part to prove not all prisoners are evil.
Life with a prisoner is full of decisions and acceptance to my limited freedom, but visits filled with goofball kisses gave me something to look forward to.
We endure as we've grown to cherish the extra phone calls during the week and sneaked kisses all during visit. It’s the fun times and you helping me remain the same through it all that makes me continue to love you.
It’s the accomplishment of changing your last name and the butterflies I still feel when I lay down and tell you, "I love you."
You’re the best and we know it so I do my best to fulfill the small stuff:
Sharing food at visit to kissing your face in a circle to bid you a safe journey home. It’s all of the above and much more that make me love you more and more. With a family of our own in sight, it lets me know we are going to be alright. I wouldn't change you nor replace our hurdles.
We've grown to support each other as neither role in our relationship is easier than the other.
With all that’s gone on, you never lost sight but rather got more focused. Your activeness gave me a new found hope because my Super Woman is going to bring me home. We know it’s a long shot but it seems nothing will stop us.
I am loved by Yolanda and Yolanda you are loved by me. Till death do us apart and beyond with "I will always be there for you" being our song.
I love you Yolanda Desiree Ledesma and hope this tells a lil of our story because there isn’t enough paper to even begin to show our history together as it goes back to us playing duck, duck, goose.
That's a story for another time.
We’ll stand united against the test of time. Forever and a day.