Love is extremely precious. With all the commitments and contracts and vows made, love continues to be precious. Asha Bandele, the author of and as The Prisoner’s Wife: A Memoir, realizes that no matter if she is suspended from school or divorces her husband or disappoints her parents, love will conquer and triumph over hardships and mistakes.
Asha was not a deprived child growing up in New York. She was able to attend respectable schools, live in a nuclear home, and have exposure to “the arts” (25). Her parents cared for her and gave her opportunities they did not have living in a world of anger and prejudice. Asha was exposed to love as a child and seems to believe as an adult that love does not have boundaries. These boundaries disappear if the love given is unconditional.
Unconditional love is apparent in Asha’s relationship with Rashid. There are two events when their relationship is ironic. Asha’s love allowed her, even after Rashid’s confessions about his life to her, to “lie, as fitted as possible, in the crook of his arms” wanting to be in “no other place” (16). She feels protected by Rashid’s arms while he is protected, yet restrained, inside a jail.
This protection both Asha and Rashid receive is ironic because just as Asha needs protection and comfort from the realities of her life, the world outside of jail needs to be protected from Rashid’s crime. And protection is found in jail, a harsh, cold, and brutal lifestyle. Yet within this lifestyle, Asha reaches into her heart and soul to expose not only herself, but also Rashid to love that abides no rules or laws. The love has no strings attached. It is unconditional.
The second irony is when Asha confesses that throughout her two dimensional relationship with Rashid, she “didn’t lose hope…kept reaching, compulsive, like an addict” (37). Asha’s relationship with Rashid is two dimensional because of this addiction she seems to have. Previously to meeting Rashid, Asha abused drugs and alcohol as though the two were like eating candy and drinking water. This lifestyle is one dimension. Her second dimension is this new addiction that she feels towards Rashid. She needs to talk to him. She needs to see him. She needs to feel him. These needs are not illegal such as her drug abuse, something she could have been jailed for. This new addiction of love is the irony. Asha is guilty of love, yet there is no sentence in jail for this guilt.
The most heartfelt pages that Asha writes are the ones that are descriptive of her emotions, thoughts and feelings. Her opening pages describing love and its different aspects are gripping as she puts her thoughts of love on paper (13-17). Then Asha writes a list of wandering thoughts and lurking questions for Rashid such as “what did you do on the day they came and got you, the day you were arrested? Was there some sort of foreboding? Did you feel that it was coming” (59)? Lastly, reading about the excruciating procedure Asha has to endure every time she enters the gloom of the prison walls to visit Rashid becomes not only a “desensitizing” process to Asha, but also to the reader. Asha finally crosses over from volunteer to an inmate’s associate. This is a transition that changes her life.
Asha and Rashid “begin to exist only in the freedom of the imagination” (67). The imagination, though, is, or better yet, can be a dangerous instrument because to use imagination freely can cause hurt and pain. For instance, Asha and Rashid imagine music playing in their heads so that they can dance together during visits. Once they leave their imaginative state, they are brought back to the cruel reality of prison life – bland floors, sterile walls, hard chairs, and strangers gazing on their personal moment.
Rashid has “started and stopped in one moment” according to his prison life (70). Rashid is more stuck in this moment rather than being stopped. This is his moment in life when he would us his imagination to escape reality. Rashid would mask himself to face a better world than the prison world, although, if it had not been for his prison experience, Rashid would not be the type of her person he is now, nor would he have met Asha.
Asha, on the other hand, has “camouflage [d]” her life and hid “behind her veil” as Janie did during her marriage to Jody (Hurston, 84); she has masked her life very young before she unveils herself through her rebirth during her relationship with Rashid (71). Her masking was her hiding from the world. Asha masked herself by abusing drugs, drinking alcohol, and using men as her shield to gain protection from the cruelties of the world she saw; yet these men were not her shields, but her enemies because they used her body for their pleasures, and they lied to her.
Asha views her life as though she has nothing to live for. She sees herself as a common noun and not a proper noun as she constantly writes her name as asha. As Ida B. Wells writes in Spell It with a Capital, many non-African descendants consider the word Negro as a common noun and that it should be written as negro. Negro is a proper noun because it describes a group of people and who those people are – African American. Asha implies that she does not matter in life and, therefore, should not be given enough credit to capitalize her name.
Even though Asha feels worthless after her childhood and adolescent years, Rashid’s imprisonment causes both to be true to each other and to self (72). Once Asha realizes that she has been sexually abused during her adolescence, her masks fall off with greater speed. She becomes vulnerable and almost as desensitized to men as Rashid has to prison strip searches, to men because “she felt wanted” by so many men “and human” (85). Drugs, alcohol, food, television, people, family, friends, and anything else addictive according to Asha is not necessarily addictive or dangerous, but an escape from her life. Asha’s escape was placing her mind and soul outside her body. She took the emotional out of the physical.
Between pages 65-67, Asha writes about when, and at what moment, life changes. Does a change in one’s life change the path one is to take in life? Does the path change, or could it simply be the path one is to be on originally? Did Rashid’s life change the moment he killed a person, the moment he was sentenced, or is prison life his destiny? Asha ponders these questions because she also wants to know whether or not it is her destiny to be with Rashid or if it was a simple twist of fate when her professor calls her to join in volunteer speaking at a prison, which leads her to meet Rashid, fall in love with Rashid, and leave Rashid.
Asha’s actions become upsetting when she leaves Rashid; yet a reader may sympathize. The moment Asha realizes she needs more, more men, more physicality in a relationship, she leaves Rashid to pick up all the pieces as she goes off to travel to San Francisco to meet new people. Rashid is dumped. Yet, in order for Asha to be sure of her love, she has to experience other people to make sure that Rashid is the one; therefore, a reader should not only sympathize, but also empathize with her actions.
The last section of Asha’s memoirs engrosses a reader in what she writes and states. There is no time for a reader to stop, reflect, and comment on Asha’s experiences. Her experiences of her abortion, her doubts after, even before, her marriage to Rashid, her emotions during the first time she and Rashid make love, the emotions of leaving Rashid at the prison, unable to take him home to be hers, are written straightforwardly using blunt vocabulary to make her points clear like Sojourner Truth does in “Ain’t I a Woman,” writing, “I have plowed and planted and gathered into barns and no man could head [me]…could work as much and eat as much as a man” (Lines 11-13, 15-16). There is no room for comments in either author’s works because the writing is direct – no room for analysis. This is Asha’s life. This is her story. She told it the way it was and the way it is. Period.
Bandele, Asha. The Prisoner’s Wife: A Memoir. New York: Pocket Books. 1999.
Hurston, Zora Neale. Their Eyes Were Watching God. New York: Harper and Row. 1937. Revised Ed. Perennial Library. 1990.
Truth, Sojourner. “Ain’t I a Woman.”
Wells, Ida B. “Spell It With a Capital.”