The Faith That Brings Me Peace

Betsy Chalmers - Richmond, Virginia
As heard on All Things Considered, August 7, 2006
Betsy Chalmers

Betsy Chalmers has been separated from her husband for over 30 years because he is serving time in a Virginia prison. But Chalmers believes in remaining faithful to her husband and her marriage.

Age Group: 50 - 65

I believe in faithfulness.

I met him when I was 19, married him at 20 and we were separated when I turned 22 because he was arrested for and then convicted of a violent crime. He had failed himself, his family, his wife and his future, but he was my husband. I was mad, sad, disappointed and frightened, but I loved him, and he needed me, so I stayed.

I stayed through weeks of trials, years in jail and decades in prison. I have faith in the covenant of marriage and of the God we stood before when we took those vows. I have faith in my husband and his ability to grow and change and become a better man, no matter where he is — and he has. I have faith that time makes changes in us all we cannot avoid or ignore.

I am now 50. He is 55. He is still my husband and my best friend. I see him four hours every weekend and I talk to him on the phone twice a week for 20 minutes. I am not deceived or a martyr. I am not stupid, uneducated or desperate. I am a wife. I work, have a mortgage, a 9-year-old car, two dogs and bills just like everyone else. This is so close to me, it is hard sometimes to realize I am only one wife of over 2 million people who live behind bars. I have not made many friends at the prison. I keep that part of my life separate, but it’s always there — always a part of every decision and choice I make.

Somewhere in here I think I’m supposed to say I believe my husband is innocent, that the system didn’t work and we’re victims of whatever, but that isn’t the point. How do we choose what crime is over the edge, or what sin is too great to be forgiven? Yes, I get angry at the situation. I have grieved the loss of many of the normal things others have done, like having children and vacations abroad. This is not the life I would have expected for myself 30 years ago and it isn’t one I recommend to others, but it is my life.

At 50, I have come to the conclusion it is not the life I have that defines me, it is the way I choose to live that life. I choose to live it being faithful. This brings me peace, this allows me to have joy, this keeps me aware of my husband. My spiritual faith has given me the foundation to live this life, not just survive it. Faith in a God who has not abandoned me; faith in a man who loves me; faith in myself. I believe in faithfulness.

Betsy Chalmers works for a communications company in Richmond, Virginia, helping to produce medical and scientific journals. Chalmers is also a deacon in her church, and says she learned faithfulness from her parents who have been married for 58 years.

Independently produced for NPR by Jay Allison and Dan Gediman with John Gregory and Viki Merrick.