“So, Troy, do you flirt with any of the women who come to see you?”
“No, no, no, no.” Troy’s hearty laugh echoed in the visitation room, but it faded as he returned to my mother’s question. “That’s a dangerous thing. There’s one visitor named Roseanne who’s really stressing me out.”
“She wants a relationship and I don’t!”
“Is she pretty?” my mother prodded.
“She’s alright, but I don’t want to be in a relationship with someone who’s seventeen years older than me. I’m already forty. And if she already has kids, I don’t want the kids to be in their twenties.”
“Why would a woman want to be involved with a death row inmate?” I asked.
“A few reasons. First, some women are attracted to bad boys. Second, they feel secure with a man on death row because he’s not going anywhere. He’s not going to abuse her, and he’s not going to leave her because he needs her. Women who’ve been arrested, sexually abused, or raped find security with people on death row because they can’t hurt them. In their minds, he’s never gonna get out. They think, ‘I’ll never have to worry about him beating on me or cheating on me. He’s going to cherish everything I give him because I’m the only one who cares about him. The world hates him, but he’ll love me.’ One woman told me she wanted to be in a relationship in the second letter she wrote. She said, ‘I’ve been molested, raped, or abused throughout my relationships. I just want to find someone in your situation who can appreciate a good woman.’”
“How do they react when you turn them down?” my mother asked.
“Roseanne takes everything I say personally. Two women visited me months ago and it was like they were two teenage girls fighting over some jock. ‘I’ve known Troy longer!’ ‘No, I’ve known Troy longer!’ ‘Troy and I are closer friends!’ ‘Troy, why does she get the full day visit and I don’t?’ ‘I want to be on the final list of visitors before his execution date!’ ‘No, I want to be on the final list of visitors!’ ‘I flew all the way here from New York!’ ‘I flew all the way here from California!’
“That’s when I put my foot down. ‘What are you two doing? You need to get over yourselves.’ Then one of them turned to me and said, ‘I’m starting to get emotionally attached to you, Troy.’ I told her she was acting like a child, and she got really upset. I don’t need this drama so I started becoming more distant, and eventually she started crying on the phone. I said, ‘Get yourself together. We can still be friends, but we ain’t gonna be in no relationship.’ Then Roseanne visits me today, saying she’s in love with me. How is she in love with me? Through a few letters?”
“It’s probably best to make sure she doesn’t visit you alone anymore,” I said.
I looked around, wondering if any of the women nearby were visiting their lovers. I’d never had a girlfriend nor had a girl ever shown interest in me. I wasn’t handsome or athletic or charismatic. I was overweight and awkward. I never had the confidence to ask out a girl, and I never suspected the answer would be anything other than rejection. What little I had going for me, like my intelligence and kindness, seemed thoroughly insufficient for a girl to want me. And now I learned even convicted murderers were more likely to find love than I was.
As much as I resented the comparison, my father and I were more alike than different. His arranged marriage had fallen apart, and he now had nobody. Why would I be any different? Men like me, ugly and effeminate, were destined to die alone.
“Tell me about it. It’s not like I’m leading these women on. They just assume that I like them and want to be with them because I laugh at their jokes. Even married women come on to me. During one visit I was talking to a woman, and she started holding my hand and caressing my palm. I was like, ‘Noooooooo, you do that with your husband. That type of caressing is too intimate for friends.’ She got offended, and I just keep wondering what I’m doing wrong.”
“Getting romantically involved with someone in death row seems dangerous,” my mother said.
“There’s some place online, I think prisonchat.com, where a bunch of women find inmates and chat and put all their business on there, and every time they break up with a guy they trash him there. There’s a lot of guys here who take advantage of these women. You should not come into an inmate’s life seeking a relationship, and if you do, you better know everything there is to know about him. If he keeps asking for money, then you know what he’s really after. I’ve seen guys cursing women out and the women keep coming back.”
“Has it always been like this, or only when you got famous?” I asked.
“When I was on the street, I had a lot of female friends who would come to me for advice about their boyfriends. Eventually they started liking me, and I always asked myself, ‘Why do they always try to turn friendships into relationships?’ When they were holding me in the county jail before my trial, a lot of women would come see me with their boyfriends and husbands. I’d talk to them for a little bit and next thing you know they’re sneaking down to see me behind their partners’ backs.
“One woman with a thirteen-year-old daughter wanted to move to Savannah and marry me when I got out. She has two other kids in their twenties. I want to raise kids, and I can’t raise kids who are already grown up. There’s one girl from my neighborhood who had five kids before she was twenty-three and been with twelve men since I’ve been locked up, and she wonders why she can’t find a good man. She wrote me, and I wrote back, asking her how the kids were. She said she told her older son Charles that I could be his father. I was like, ‘Whoa, slow your roll, girl!’ She wrote me back saying that when I get out she hopes I move to Texas so we can be together. I was like, ‘Whoa, none of that, I am not opening that door. First of all, I haven’t seen you in over twenty years. Second, I’m not finna tryna to take you and all your half-grown kids!’ She goes from man to man, job to job. I know she’s a cheater because she cheated on the father of her first child with his best friend. As punishment, he pulled out all of her hair and sent her to the hospital.
“I could never be in a relationship with that kind of person. I’m a romantic. I like spontaneous things. I like surprising a woman with flowers and a hot bath when she comes home from work, having dinner already cooked, dancing just by ourselves in the house without going out. I hope I can find someone who’s spiritually grounded, headstrong, independent—someone who keeps encouraging me to do my best. Someone who’s willing to talk to me if I’m doing something that’s making her unhappy. Someone who’s willing to teach me different things.
“I tell the women in relationships who write me that the first time he disrespects you, the first time he lays his hands on you, walk away. Don’t let your heart get in the way of doing what you know is the right thing to do.”