Love behind bars

Claudette Spencer was a United States attorney working with the New York Prisoners’ Right Project of the Legal Aid Society when she visited Elmira Correctional Facility, New York in 1984 to investigate some Ku Klux Klan (KKK) activity taking place at the prison.

And as part of her investigation, Spencer had to interview an inmate born in Trinidad and Tobago named Ernest Nurse, who was found guilty of murder.

“I had never believed in the concept of love at first sight, but I think I fell in love with Ernest from the minute I laid eyes on him. From that day in the Elmira visiting room onward, I never stopped thinking about him and his gorgeous smile,” she said.

Luckily, Nurse felt the same way about her.

Nurse told his fellow inmates that he just met the woman he would one day marry.

They laughed at him when he told them it was an attorney.

Spencer was engaged at the time she met Nurse.

She also had a baby daughter named Shahidah.

Spencer did not see Nurse again until six months later when she returned to Elmira to conduct another investigation there.

By that time, she had broken off her engagement with her fiance.

“Most of the conversation I had with Ernest that day at Elmira was personal. We chatted as if we were old friends and had known each other our entire lives,” Spencer said.

Toward the end of the visit, Nurse asked her “Do you think you could ever visit me without the lawyer clothes?”

Spencer said she laughed and told him she could never visit him at Elmira other than as an attorney.

Nurse said he would put in for a prison transfer then.

Nurse was transferred to the Clinton Correctional Facility, in New York.

Spencer visited him there.

“When I decided to go see him at Clinton it was to be as platonic friends...or so I deceived myself into believing,” Spencer said.

“I could hardly believe that six hours had passed. I was sad to see him go back up to his block,” Spencer said.

“I reflected on the relationship that was developing between Ernest and me. I realised that I was attracted to him and wanted more than a platonic relationship,” she said.

Spencer said she fell into a state of depression wondering how she could be falling in love with a man who could be spending the rest of his life in prison.

She saw a therapist.

“For months I agonised over whether I should pursue a relationship with Ernest. But in the end, I decided that since you never knew where you’d find love when you did find it, you had to follow your heart and see where it took you,” she said.

Nurse was transferred to the Sing Sing Correctional Facility, New York.

Spencer followed him and continued visiting him and the relationship blossomed.

In 1989, Nurse broached the subject of marriage.

“There were so many reasons not to marry a man in prison, especially one serving 25 years to life,” Spencer said.

“But with all the reasons not to marry him there was still one reason to get married, and that was love,” she said.

The wedding took place on August 31, 1989, Independence Day here.

“There were no flowers and no wedding cake, but after the ceremony, I bought a pack of cupcakes from the vending machine that we shared with our guests. There was no honeymoon to Hawaii or Mexico, and we had no idea when the marriage would be consummated,” Spencer said.

Eventually, Nurse was allowed a conjugal visit.

Conjugal visits lasted 45 hours starting Saturday afternoon and ending Monday morning.

“We felt like we had died and gone to heaven as we spent time snuggling, watching TV and getting to know each other like we had never been able to do in the visiting room,” she said.

The conjugal visits continued and after a while, Spencer got pregnant for Nurse.

On February 4, 1992, their daughter Zakiya was born.

Spencer helped Nurse successfully get parole.

On March 18, 2003, he was deported to Trinidad and Tobago.

She followed him here the next day.

The couple has been happily married living in Trinidad and Tobago since then.

Now know as Spencer-Nurse she has written a book titled “Memoirs of a Prison Lawyer, Prison Wife”.

The book was launched at her family’s home in Trincity yesterday. She described the book as a coming out.

Spencer-Nurse said her intention for the book was to give hope to people.

“I wrote this book to get out of the shadows and to help those who are still in the shadows,” she said.

The couple now has six grandchildren.

SOURCE: (Joel Julien)

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