In the Isolation of the Chapel

In another post I wrote glibly about receiving a marriage proposal in the prison in Belize. I want to write now about what it was really like to have an inmate come up behind me, stealthily, unexpectedly. In his seductive voice I recognized manipulation, and in the same moment heard the potential for an answer to a question that has always puzzled me: how is it that women fall in love with men who are incarcerated?

I have assumed that some are able to see past the crime to the fundamental humanity of the person, but even that feels too simplistic an explanation, and there, in the Hattieville Prison, I had an opportunity to experience this for myself, to put myself in the shoes of a woman being preyed on by just such a man. Perhaps she is insecure. Most definitely, alone. Probably prone to wanting to rescue people.

He promised nothing, yet set out the possibility of a future together in such a convincing manner that for a moment it actually seemed plausible.

In the heat.

In the isolation of the chapel.

In a situation that should never have happened: me alone in the chapel with a man convicted of a violent crime, a man who admits to being aggressive.

I can feel his arms crossed on the back of my chair, his hands directly behind my neck. The left side of his face against the right side of mine. I smell his breath and feel the perspiration gliding between the strands of my hair. Observing that my body responds to the presence of a man so close to me. Feeling the mixture of fascination and curiosity and revulsion in response to my own curiosity and fascination.

I am paralyzed, unable to get up and end the interaction. Two things hold me to my seat: I am afraid of offending him. And I am terrified.  Because I perceive that he has seen my vulnerability. Has seen me.


For weeks in Belize I would wake up not knowing where I was. In the middle of the night I would be awakened by an unfamiliar sound and be surprised that I was not in Atlanta; each morning when I opened my eyes I needed several minutes to reorient myself to my surroundings.

I attributed the phenomenon to simple homesickness and to a subconscious avoidance strategy to cope with the unending violence around me, and assumed it would stop when I returned home. It did not. For weeks after returning home, awakening was accompanied by disorientation. Past and present, two locations, fuse into dislocation. The experience of being in Belize is present to me, at times more present than what is right in front of me.


© 2016 Teresa I. Sivilli. All rights reserved. No portion of this material may be reproduced or used in any manner without permission of the author.