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Don't we all want to escape the bar scene?

January 31, 2008|Brad Dickson | Special to The Times

While engaging in my latest hobby, the social lives of the incarcerated, I stumbled upon a fascinating service called Inmate.com, a website for prison inmates wishing to meet significant others on the outside.

Magazine ads from prisoners seeking someone to correspond with have been around since Bonnie and Clyde. But the pen pal seekers have now moved to cyberspace.

From all accounts this and a handful of similar sites are thriving, and with 1.5 million Americans currently serving prison terms they probably will continue to flourish -- until the U.S. Supreme Court declares Internet dating cruel and unusual punishment.

Two things about the website immediately caught my attention. First, I was struck by the similarity of Inmate.com to other social networking sites, with the exception of how many social networkers list "studying the law" as a pastime. I was also taken by how attractive several ad placers appeared in their photos. In my single days if I happened on a dating site, I could only hope the women would be as alluring as a couple of the ladies on Inmate.com. (Perhaps this is because they haven't been exposed to the harmful rays of the sun for two decades.)

One woman, who according to the thumbnail bio is serving time for first-degree murder, said she enjoyed "reading, poetry and listening to music, specifically Iron Maiden and Nickelback." Nickelback? Well that's a deal-breaker. Guys in L.A. can roll with the first-degree murder part; after all, we're used to a gal with a little baggage.

A male inmate, also in for murder, said he was looking for someone who "doesn't hold another person's past against them." We'll call him Mr. Obvious.

Several of those doing long stretches are looking for a significant other willing to wait for them. A wait that in some cases could last till they're eligible for parole in the year 2030. Which is impressive to me, a guy whose only experience asking a lady to "wait" was with my grammar school girlfriend who chose to move on when I went away to scout camp for four days.

Inmate.com is not subsidized by taxpayers but is a private enterprise funded by subscriptions sold to inmates. Outgoing letters from inmates may be scanned by prison officials, so be careful. Your most intimate thoughts could be bandied about San Quentin.

Although Inmate.com is coed, imprisoned men usually have an easier time finding romance. Scott Peterson, Ted Bundy and those well-coiffed orphans the Menendez Bros. all received scores of unsolicited love letters post arrest. I don't think it works the other way. Somehow, I don't see the actual serial killer Charlize Theron portrayed in Charlize's "I'm going to stop shaving my legs to win an Oscar" role inundated with enticing letters from men. Even if she looked like Theron. Which she didn't.

Which raises the question: Why do a tiny percentage of women find men who've committed serious crimes appealing? Possibly because "dangerous" is usually higher on the list of things that attract women. Maybe these are women who like bad boys to the nth degree.

Or perhaps it's because the traits that attract a woman to a guy are more likely to sow the seeds of being willing to wait years for a relative stranger.

Not all of those on Inmate.com desire a special someone to wait for them. Several are looking for someone, anyone, who can help them prove their professed innocence.

But many are searching for a romantic partner. Which goes to prove that almost everybody longs for the warm embrace of another, even if that embrace occurs as the prelude to a conjugal visit.

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calendar@latimes.com

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