By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
More than 8,700 women are incarcerated in the Texas prison system. Thieves. Killers. Drug dealers. But even the hardest cases in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice are prone to loneliness. After all, there's just not much to do during all those forlorn nights in the stir.
Take, for instance, Dallas native LaKesha Ross, 21. The South Oak Cliff High School dropout is being held at the Murray Correctional Center in Gatesville, where she's lifting weights and studying for her GED. She's already two years through a six-year sentence for robbery and is a bit of a disciplinary problem, which was why she was denied parole in September 1999. But she loves to please her man. Regarding her romantic partners, she writes, "I'm a very curious person. I'll try anything, anything to satisfy my mate."
Ross has corresponded with the Dallas Observer twice, as have several other inmates who were made available to us through Meet-An-Inmate.com, a Web site that aims to link incarcerated women with pen pals and potential mates in the free world. For a small fee, men and women who have a fetish for female inmates, who are lonely for companionship, or who are just hard up, can get the names and inmate numbers of prisoners across the country. Strangely, more than half of the women posted on this national site are in Texas.
Meet-An-Inmate.com is the creation of Arlen Bischke of Hermiston, Oregon. Bischke, who offered little information about himself, started the site after a female friend was paroled. He wrote her while she was in prison, and some of her inmate friends were jealous and wanted pen pals of their own. He placed some ads online and was successful in getting these women some mail. Soon, more and more women wanted Bischke to get them both mail and males. As a result, he started Meet-An-Inmate in 1998.
"It became very time-consuming and expensive to operate, so I started charging a small fee for the addresses," Bischke wrote in an e-mail to the Dallas Observer. (He refused requests for a phone interview.) "It has been successful and has become necessary to have a dedicated server for Meet-An-Inmate." He won't say exactly how successful it has become, but he updates the site almost daily, and more women than ever are bringing their love to the masses worldwide.
Addresses are $2.50 each with a $5 minimum. They're organized by age, but the 18-21 year olds are the most popular. The site allows you to shop for your pal and offers photos of the women and brief personal histories--everything except why they're inside. Ironically, they speak as though they're still out in the world, and some have some rather provocative pictures to entice.
There's Misty Holden, who is serving 18 months for forgery at the Dawson State Jail in Dallas. She has posted a picture of herself online wearing black lace lingerie. Holden is not as willing to write as the other women are, at least not until you send her a picture of yourself. She found out about the site from a friend, as did all of the other women that the Observer wrote. She bills herself as a woman of 25 with two kids, doesn't smoke, prefers men, and did auto bodywork before she was locked up.
All of which sounds accurate. Bischke says that the women are honest crooks for the most part and that 95 percent of the feedback he receives from both inmates and those who purchase the addresses is positive, though some of the women lie about everything on their applications. Bischke has a problem with fake pictures, with pictures taken some 15 years earlier, and with those who lie, especially about when they will be released.
Bischke has received e-mails from both sexes who say that they've found true love because of Meet-An-Inmate. Some of the inmates are nervous about returning to a tech-heavy world that has evolved without them and want someone, as one inmate puts it, to "show me a world that I'm clueless about." Some, who are doing life for murder and other heavy-duty felonies, are just looking for a companion and someone to talk dirty to them--Melissa LeMire, for instance, who is serving 10 years for aggravated robbery in Marlin, Texas. She's looking for a man over 35 who is financially secure, she welcomes men of all races. Her hobbies are "bareback riding [use your imagination], swimming nude, and exotic dancing."
Then there are the more demure inmates, like Toni Lawrence, who is serving a 20-year sentence in Rockville, Indiana, for criminal confinement resulting in serious bodily injury. Lawrence, 24, has been locked up since she was 15 for her part in a murder in Indiana. She has served about seven years, and, with good behavior, she could be released in 2001.
Lawrence wants to model when she's released. She found out about Meet-An-Inmate from another woman in prison and has had some scary letters from random men. "I got a reply from a real sicko," she wrote the Observer. "He wanted me to get out, marry him, and run around the house naked all day. He said all of that in the first letter...I didn't write him back. I gave his name to this real big girl in my room. He wrote her back."