BENNETTSVILLE — As she passed the sign welcoming her to the prison, the inmate's wife gripped the steering wheel and said a silent prayer.
Jenice Green, 35, eyed the walls of the penitentiary where her husband, Barry, was incarcerated. She asked God to help her find patience.
“I try not to bring my day to him. ... I have to say, 'Jenice, this isn’t about you; it’s about Barry' ... and what he needs that day," she said. "It could be a laughing buddy; it could be a listener. He may want me to be his wife.”
During these twice-weekly visits, the two discuss all things big and small. Like how their 6-year-old, Jezziah, is doing in kindergarten or about the most recent movie that Green saw alone. This is how it has been since the two married almost three years ago, right before he was locked up.
Green pulled into the parking lot of Bennettsville Federal Correctional Institution, their daughter sitting quietly in the back.
With her husband behind bars, Green has had to strike a delicate balance, as both a spouse to someone she can't be with outside prison walls and, at least for now, as a single mother.
Green is one of thousands of people whose spouses are incarcerated in South Carolina. Of the 19,198 prisoners in state facilities, the S.C. Department of Corrections said, about 6,335 are married. The same figure for federal facilities is not tracked by the Bureau of Prisons, officials there said.
While about 30 percent of inmates in the state's custody are married, few resources are available for spouses on the outside trying to navigate their new normal.
Some national support groups bill themselves as a communal space for inmates' spouses and families, but Green needed something closer. She needed someone nearby who could empathize with her situation — someone who could offer emotional and social support amid difficult circumstances.
While parenting programs are available in certain facilities, none help married couples and families learn to cope with the jarring adjustment of living apart, state and federal prisons officials said.
“My husband was like, 'Well, if we can't find ... resources to help us,"' she recalled, "'maybe we're meant to be the blueprint ... to help families who are going through the same thing.'"
So that's what they did. Green formed a support group of her own to help other South Carolinians in the same predicament.
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