A 28-year-old woman is engaged to an inmate whom she never met in person even though he won’t be released until 2032.
Kelly Jacobs, 28, a social work graduate who lives in the Netherlands, is getting married after forming a pen pal relationship with James “Wyatt” Dentel, 32 who is locked up in Oregon, USA.
Kelly used to be an intern at a prison and worked for writeaprisonerdotcom. Her acquaintance with James began after she wanted to understand the minds of the inmates so that she could write about “what it’s like to be an inmate”.
But their pen pal relationship blossomed into something bigger after countless letters, emails, instant messenger conversations, and calls.
James proposed through a video call and they plan to marry inside the prison in October this year, more than a decade before he is released.
“He proposed with a prison-made ring, but then he had someone in the free world order a ring at a jeweler for me,” she said. “For the wedding, I won’t wear a traditional, fancy dress, because people don’t do that for prison weddings. I will probably just wear a simple white dress or white trousers or a white skirt and top.”
In addition to a flashy engagement ring, the couple has marked their commitment with the letter “W” and “K” inked on their ring finger.
James is serving 20 years at the Snake River Correctional Institution for assault and unlawful use of a firearm during a bar brawl in 2012, in which he shot four men.
“He was with a girlfriend, they were at a bar, and they got attacked by five strangers, he tried to protect himself and his girlfriend, he pulled a gun and shot four of them, but none of them died,” Kelly explained.
The uncommon love story started almost two years ago when Kelly joined writeaprisonerdotcom to know how it felt to be an inmate. She couple started speaking through emails, letters, and calls, and soon they were spending hours together.
The casual conversation between them turned into a relationship. Kelly said that she initially tried to run away from her feelings for James because she did not want her relationship to go that way.
The couple has never been in the same room and will not be permitted conjugal visits even after marriage, as this is not allowed in the state of Oregon.
“Of course it is difficult,” Kelly said. “He is worried that I won’t pick up the phone eventually, or that I won’t wait for him. He asks me how I feel about not having sex for such a long time, he worries how I would react if someone else flirts with me.”
“But he says he’s quite confident that I will wait because I’m not the kind of person who goes to parties or leads a crazy life,” she added. “If I found out that he was writing to other women that would end things for me. For me, creating a bond with someone else is also cheating.”
“I sometimes wonder if there won’t be physical chemistry when we meet in person for the first time, but I’m not worried too much,” Kelly added. “When Covid is over I plan to move closer to his prison so that I can visit him as much as possible.”
“I had just bought my first ticket to visit him before the pandemic struck, but I had to cancel it because of the travel restrictions.”
Despite leading different lives, the lovebirds shared many mutual interests including love for Italian and Mexican food, music and even watching Game of Thrones.
“We talked about it a lot, he described all the negative aspects of being in a relationship with a prisoner, but I said I wanted to give it a try,” she said.
When Kelly’s parents got to know about her decision, they were hesitant about it. However, they gave their nod after speaking to James on phone and James also asked her father’s permission before he proposed.
“My parents were really shocked at first but once they had spoken to him online a few times they really grew to like him,” she said.
“They always thought that inmates were aggressive and rude, like on TV, but they now see that he is soft and warm and he has good manners. He is polite, kind, and funny,” she said. “He wrote my dad a letter and my dad gave his blessing. My dad is going to come with me to the wedding.”
Although Kelly has received several criticisms online about her unusual love affair, she says much of the feedback has been positive.
“I will never condone that what Wyatt did,” she said. “Even though it was an act of self-defense, it is never okay to do what he did. Though I sometimes question what I would do in the situation he was in.”
“Still, he chose the wrong path of life, which led him to his prison sentence,” she said. “But I do not judge him as a person for his past. Being a man in prison doesn’t always make someone a bad person. Just like being a free man doesn’t always make him a good one.”
Kelly will be about 40 by the time James is released and he will be around 44, but the pair plan to start a family as soon as they can.
Even after getting married, the couple will have to spend more than a decade away from each other before James finally walks out free in 2032.