"Well, it's dinnertime at the amazing Miss Weird's Place," Pamela Griffin wrote her husband, Robert, one night in 1986, sitting alone at her kitchen table with leftovers. "Tonight we have the famous incredible squash concoction -- or soon-to-be-famous, maybe -- smothered with hickory-smoked cheese."
Pam loved narrating the quirks of her days to Robert. She described the renegade squirrels in her garden, the personalities at the office, the mosquitoes that savaged her legs when she mowed her lawn on a warm summer evening.
At 36, Pam had just moved to Omaha from Sacramento to take a job as an associate in the banking department of a respected law firm in an old building on Farham Street.
Robert was in state prison in California.
"It's okay if I worry about you now and then, isn't it?" Pam wrote. "Since your general well-being has been under concerted attack lately, I've just stepped up my concern a bit, that's all.. . . . And you know, I can't help feeling that I've skipped out on you."
The Griffins were married in the visiting yard at Folsom State Prison in July 1984. He had been incarcerated since 1970, first for an armed robbery in Fullerton, then for an assault on a fellow inmate in San Quentin and the murder of an inmate at the state prison in Chino. He had an almost mythic reputation in the system as a leader of the Aryan Brotherhood, or the Brand.
Pam and Robert had fallen in love during the 11 years she was married to his older brother, Gerry. In prison visits and letters, they shared their private struggles and a nascent awareness of an intense emotional bond. Robert proposed to her in the visiting room at Folsom, in front of the vending machines. The place smelled of burnt popcorn. She laughed him off. She had just signed her divorce papers.
But she felt no one could ever know her the way Robert did. A few months later, she agreed to do it.. She didn't tell anyone about their marriage -- not her parents, brothers or friends. She knew women who fell for prisoners were viewed as naive, delusional or possessed by some fetish for outlaws. She didn't want to carry that burden as she started her career.
Pam graduated from McGeorge School of Law in Sacramento a year after the wedding and took the job in Omaha. When an appeals court threw out Robert's murder conviction, Pam expected he would be paroled soon and they could start their life together.
Instead corrections officials sent him to Tehachapi and locked him down, under new security measures meant to control prison gangs, which were becoming increasingly potent.
Guards barely let Robert leave his cell.
"Sweet Dancer," he wrote her. "Ah, I love you. That is a constant."
"We went to court today. I felt like I was somehow involved in the first wave of an invasion with the radio transmissions that were jumping: 'Able team leader -- go to tact two -- Commander of team one -- contact team leader three -- all team leaders we're coming to checkpoint two, secure the outer line.'
"It was that way all the way down and there were only two of us."
Robert was 38 now and trying to convince everyone he was done with the gang -- that he just wanted to live a quiet life with his wife in the Midwest.
Prison officials gave him the choice all gang members were now given: "debrief" and become an informant, or stay locked up in the hole.
But becoming an informant put an inmate, and even his family, in danger. Robert told Pam he could not go down this path. He said he wanted to walk cleanly away from his life of crime. He did not want to be beholden to the government, "dancing for his dinner."
Pam wrestled with guilt for leaving Robert in California. She wrote him as much as she could, and visited once a month. Under the new restrictions, they could see each other only through reinforced glass.