Although the subtitle suggests that the subject is women who link up with convicts, the larger story is the author’s own relationship with a convicted murderer.
Kinsella, a contributor to Publishers Weekly, was trying her hand as a literary agent when a teacher of creative writing at Pelican Bay State Prison in California forwarded her a manuscript from Rory Mehan, one of his students who was serving a life sentence plus 15 years. After nearly a year of correspondence and telephone conversations with the articulate and charming inmate, a man of 30 incarcerated since the age of 19, she decided to meet him. Approaching 40, divorced and childless—her backstory of marriage to a gay man is detailed here—Kinsella was unsettled, unhappy and receptive to the messages of Mehan’s love letters, excerpted here at some length. She credits this “fantasy relationship,” which lasted for three years, with enabling her to come to terms with her childlessness and with changing her life. On her visits, she meets other visiting women and tapes interviews with four of them about their lives and their relationships with their incarcerated, unavailable and often manipulative men: Ruth, a 50-year-old virgin and white born-again Christian who marries a younger black convict; Nancy, a 35-year-old stripper and her 28-year-old skinhead boyfriend; Kara, a 51-year-old divorcee who is seeing a drug addict doing time for armed robbery; and Naomi, a 40-ish Native American woman who met her Jewish husband, a repeat felon doing 25 to life, through the Christian ministry in prison.
The stories of the four needy women are thin, with Kinsella’s own story taking up too much time, but the book does shed light on why certain vulnerable women are attracted to, fall in love with and even marry men behind bars.