Lynn Noyes, a bisexual mother of two in her 30s, was arrested in 1998 after suffering through a relationship she says was plagued with domestic violence.
Yet she states she has worked hard to turn her life around while serving time at Valley State Prison for Women in Chowchilla, California. Noyes has gotten her AA degree from community college, taken Toastmasters public speaking classes and Alternatives to Violence programs, and even participated in Susan G. Komen walk-a-thons to raise money for breast cancer research.
“I feel like society doesn’t view us as human beings,” she wrote after being contacted for this story. “Yet we are human beings… who seek to live, laugh, love, learn, who made mistakes and can learn from them.”
To get ready for her expected release from prison in 2019, Noyes signed up for Women Behind Bars, a pen pal program for female prisoners, in order to hear news about the outside world and to build new relationships.
Todd Muffoletto founded Women Behind Bars in May 1997 after a friend asked him to create a Web page soliciting companions for her daughter imprisoned in Maryland.
Now, more than a decade later, Muffoletto said at least 1,110 people have purchased contact information for one or more of the 500-700 female inmates listed on his Web site.
He estimated about 80 percent of the men contacting the ladies are looking for romance. The site has yielded more than 38 marriages thus far.
“I know a few that actually got married inside the facility itself,” said Muffoletto, who runs the business from his home in Indiana. “They have a chapel there and everything.”
The ladies on Women Behind Bars are of varying ethnicity and range in age from early 20s to late 40s. Typically, their complimentary profiles and photos have been submitted by friends or relatives, who have downloaded an application from the Women Behind Bars site and mailed the paperwork to Muffoletto.
Those browsing the site in turn pay $3 for each address they request, plus an overall $5 processing fee.
Relationship psychotherapist Bill Miller believes there’s a certain element of fantasy involved fueling men’s desire to write to incarcerated women.
“You’re not really meeting the person,” he said. “We miss a lot of the meta-communication, which is about eye contact and body language. You don’t really know the person. It makes it much easier for us to impose our own fantasies on them, which I think is a fundamental problem of relationships anyway.”
Muffoletto said he’s had a wide range of clientele over the years, from truck drivers, cashiers and mechanics to doctors and lawyers. Marines and others in the military overseas have also ordered addresses for female inmates.
“I can really see it ‘cause they are both stuck in a situation where they can’t get out,” Muffoletto said of his military clients and profiled female inmates. “They’re looking for a tie with somebody.”
Loneliness is a feeling California native Maureen Carroll is all too familiar with living at the California Institution for Women in Corona.
“I’ve been incarcerated for 25 years, and family and friends fade away,” the redhead in her 40s said in a written response for this story.
Carroll joined Women Behind Bars after a fellow inmate recommended the site. She said she is hoping that new friends come into her life. Currently, four members have written to her, and she said she is still in touch with one.