My guest today is Dianne Ross Cheatham, recent widow of a federal inmate. Welcome to OpEdNews, Dianne.
Joan Brunwasser: I'd like to begin by offering my condolences on the passing of your husband last week. Thank you for sharing your story with us. Would you like to get the ball rolling, please?
Dianne Ross Cheatham: Yes, thank you. This has truly been an interesting journey, not only with my husband but also with my son, who is in a federal facility doing 25 years for drugs. In fact, it was through my son that I met my husband. He connected us as pen pals at first. We wrote back and forth and called frequently. I was just looking for someone to write to, not necessarily looking for a relationship. My husband and I are in our late 50s/mid 60s. We both came out of less than stellar marriages so needless to say, I was a bit gun shy of any kind of relationship. He would call me every few days and then it got to be a daily thing. He would ask me all sorts of questions. I, being out of the dating game for over 30 years, had no clue what he was doing until one day the lightbulb went on and I figured out he was trying to get to know me on a more personal level. Initially, I rejected that idea, but he was one of the most persistent people I had ever met. He continued to pursue me until I finally decided to give him a chance.
Steven had been serving time for bank robbery. When I met him, he only had six years left to go on his sentence. He had been in Manchester, Kentucky for years, in fact I believe he had been there for his entire sentence. Manchester was about a half an hour from his elderly mother and father's house in London, Kentucky. They were able to visit him every other week-end and most holidays.
JB: What about you?
DRC: I made my first trip down to meet Steven in October of 2014. I had been to visit my son on a couple of occasions until he was moved so far away that it was impossible to visit, so I knew the drill for visiting. I knew what I could and couldn't wear, what colors I could wear, how much change to bring, and all the other constricting rules for visiting.
He insisted that I stay with his parents, whom I had never met, in London, Kentucky. That was intensely nerve racking but they turned out to be two of the nicest people I had ever met. They were so warm and welcoming.
JB: How did you feel?
DRC: I was so nervous when I first entered the visitor's room of the prison. I didn't know what to expect nor did I know how he would react to me. When he entered the room I was not the least bit disappointed. He was a tall, handsome man with blue eyes and blondish hair with some white in it. He came up to me as if we had known one another for an entire lifetime. He gave me a big hug and kiss and we sat down and visited for the entire day until it was time to leave at 3:30 pm. We talked about everything and learned so much about one another during this visit. I was actually able to visit him two days that week-end.
After that first initial visit, the phone calls became more frequent and the emails came in several times a day. He would write letters and send little things like book marks and note cards. He was always doing something sweet for me.
For a senior on a fixed income, it was so very costly to communicate, but we found ways to make it work for us, cutting corners here and there to afford the phone calls.
Our first Valentine's Day which was in 2015, I sent him an email and told him what he had bought me for Valentine's Day. I told him he had gotten me a teddy bear.That began the tradition of buying a teddy bear each Valentine's Day and considering it a gift from him. He loved those little things that we did for each other.
I made several trips to visit him after that first one and as time passed we fell in love with each other. We always talked about the future and the hopes and dreams we had planned for our future together. We began to plan our wedding for when he was released and what kind of honeymoon we wanted to take, where we would live and so many more things.
Each year that passed brought us closer to our dreams coming true. Steven had some things going on with him at Manchester, Kentucky Federal prison. He had a roommate who had some contraband. Steve being the kind of person he was, politely asked the guy if he would move to another cell. He did move and then less than a week afterward, he was in was shaken down and they found his contraband. He spread rumours that Steven had ratted him out and because of that, his buddies were threatening Steve. He reported the threats and was immediately put into PC (protective custody) for his own safety. With Steve in protective custody, our communications went from multiple times per day emailing and phone calls to one call a month and he had to split that between his parents and myself, so I was only hearing from him every other month.