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Prison break-up

I’m about to serve a three-year sentence. Is it fair to expect my boyfriend to wait for me, or should I break up with him now?

Three years is not forever, says our elder. Let him support you.

Dear EWC

A year ago today, I was responsible for a car accident that severely injured the driver of the other vehicle involved. The accident was a result of me texting while driving. I was lucky enough to walk away with some bruises and a small cut, but he’s now confined to a wheelchair for life. I feel absolutely horrible for what I’ve done. I take full responsibility for my actions. I’m due in court in two weeks and I intend to plead guilty. The prosecution has offered me a deal. Instead of the maximum of ten years which I would otherwise be facing for vehicular assault, I’ll instead be sentenced to five years, with three of those years to be served without any possibility of parole. It’s better than I deserve. Once I’ve entered my plea, I’ll be taken into custody to begin serving my sentence. I have no criminal history whatsoever, so going to prison will be a completely new experience for me. I admit I’m terrified, but I’m doing my best to deal with my anxiety while I scramble to get all my affairs in order.

Sorry for the lengthy background, but it was necessary before I could ask my question. You see, I’ve been in a relationship for the past two years with a really wonderful guy. Of course, I’ve told him how long I’ll be away and he says he’ll wait for me. As much as I appreciate this gesture, part of me wonders if I should just break up with him. He’s never been anything but sweet and loyal, but… we’re both in our twenties. We’re not married, nor has the subject of marriage been raised. And three years is a long time for anyone to go without any sort of physical affection. I just don’t think it’s fair for me to let him try and do this for me. What do you think? I don’t want to hurt him but, like I said, part of me definitely thinks breaking up is the right thing to do. What do you think? I appreciate whatever advice you may have for me.

Folk replies

I am so, so sorry that you had to learn the hard way that texting while driving is dangerous. I can only imagine how terrible you must feel about the injury you caused and how scared you must be about going to jail. When I was your age, most people thought it was OK to drive after having a couple of beers. That all changed when statistics began proving that drunk drivers are much more likely to cause accidents than sober ones. Today, many people who would never get behind the wheel drunk think it’s OK to text while driving. But as you so painfully learned, texting while driving is as bad or worse than drinking and driving.

You made a big mistake, and it had big consequences. But that said, you have owned up to what you did and are paying the price. If you could go back in time and undo the damage you did by not texting, you would do so. But since that is impossible, you are going to jail for three years instead. Your boyfriend of two years has told you he plans to wait for you, but you don’t think it’s fair for you to allow him to make this sacrifice. Although I appreciate that you are trying to do the honorable thing here, my own feeling is that your boyfriend is an adult who is capable of making this decision for himself. He knows his own mind and heart better than you do, so if you respect him, I do not think you should substitute your judgment for his and break up with him for his benefit.

I agree that three years is a long time. But it’s not forever. Although you and your boyfriend have not spoken about marriage, he may nonetheless feel deeply committed to supporting you and being there for you while you are in prison. If you were sick, after all, you would probably expect him to be by your side even if your illness temporarily prevented you from being able to be physical with him. I know that you think going to jail is different from getting sick because you are going to jail because of something you chose to do, and no one ever chooses to be sick. But you didn’t intentionally choose to hurt anyone. Your actions were thoughtless, not evil. You are already being punished for them by going to jail; it is not necessary for you to punish yourself more by breaking up with your boyfriend.

Even if you do not break up with your boyfriend, there’s still a chance that your relationship will not survive your prison term. He may wind up meeting someone else or just decide to move on. But you don’t know that this is what will happen, and you do not have to deal with it preemptively. The time to deal with it is when it happens. Allowing your boyfriend to support you can help make the time you and he have to be separated easier for him. I know that right now your focus is on the three years you will be spending in prison, but you should not allow this sentence to define your life. In short, if your boyfriend wants to do this for you, I think you should let him.

I am always here if you’d like to talk more about this. If you can, let me know what you decide to do. I will be thinking about you.

Letter #: 447907
Category: Dating/Relationship

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