Gayle Ayala lies in her bed in her apartment at the Hospitality House in Chester Ill. on her day off from the four jobs she works. She moved 850 miles from Fairfax, Va. to Chester, Ill. for the sake of love. Her husband, David Ayala, who she met through inmate essay-writing program Tamms Year 10, was a resident at Tamms Correctional Center, until he was transferred to Nevada (where Gayle is now located). She fell in love with him in May of 2009, and the couple was engaged Jan. 1, 2010. She quit her job as a legal secretary, where she was earning nearly six figures, and moved to Chester. Through the Hospitality House Gayle has come across a lot of women like herself, who also are married to men with long-term or life sentences. Sheryl Moore, Kellie, and Jill Ushie, all share this common thread with Gayle. Although all of their situations are unique, having the support of one another has created a very special bond. Gayle describes the relationship of women married to incarcerated men as a sisterhood.
Sheryle Moore holds a photo of her husband Marty. She and her husband also met through an inmate essay program, and decided to meet after they formed a connection through their letters. Moore said Marty was on death row, but his sentence was changed to life in prison. Their wedding ceremony was held in July of 2011 in Menard Correctional Center. Moore moved from Indiana with 86 dollars in her pocket to be closer to Marty, and has been staying at the Hospitality House under the condition that she help with finances and household chores.
Debra Kennedy, left, Gayle Ayala, middle left, Sheryl Moore, middle right, and Kellie hold hands in prayer before sharing a meal at the Hospitality House. Kellie and Sheryl both have husbands staying at Menard Correctional Center in Chester, Ill.
Gayle prepares herself to see David. She puts a lot of emphasis on her outward appearance because her husband rarely gets to see her, "I like the idea of being the center of his world," she said.
Kellie enters the prison to visit Anthony with Debra Kennedy, who is there to see a friend.
Kellie opens up to Gayle and Sheryl about her marital issues, "Sometimes I don't think he knows how much I am giving up." At 25, Kellie is the youngest of the married women that visit the house. Unlike Sheryl and Gayle, Kellie was able to marry her husband outside of prison. He was taken into custody in July of 2011. She said his case is pending and she does not know how long it will be until he comes home.
Gayle comforts Kellie before she goes to see her husband at Menard Correctional Center. "When these people come to my house they are all walking in my exact shoes," she said, "Unless you have the experience of loving somebody in prison, no matter if its your son; your father; your husband, you just have no comprehension of what it's like."
Cheryl Moore smokes a cigarette outside of the Hospitality House. Moore has the Innocence Project, an organization dedicated to exonerating wrongfully convicted people, working on Marty's case, but says there is no guarantee he will ever get out. She said if that is the case she will be in Chester visiting him twice a week for the rest of her life. "You can't help who you fall in love with," she said.
Jill Ushie, of Stoke-On-Trent, England stares at her fiance Ian Lockhart's mug shot before going to bed. Ushie had been writing to Lockhart for two years. This visit to Chester, Ill. was the first time she had ever met him, or any of the the other women at the Hospitality House in person. "Love comes from all places, all directions, and it wasn't my intention ever to fall in love with him," Gayle said trying to explain the connection with their husbands. "But that's the way it was meant to be we believe,"