The summer after her first year of law school, Pamela Dowden dug a red calico sundress out of her closet and left her apartment in Sacramento. It was a hot, shadeless morning. She drove her orange Datsun pickup out of town as Phoebe Snow sang a wistful version of "Don't Let Me Down" on the radio.
She threaded through hills of dry grass and oaks, pulling up to the gray battlements of Folsom State Prison. A guard escorted her through the east gate.
Pam looked at the 30-foot-tall granite walls, the iron-strap gates, the gothic watchtower looming like some storybook witch.
She smiled when she saw Robert in the visiting yard.
"Hi, Bait," he said, wrapping his powerful arms around her.
"Bait" was short for "dragon bait," which is a princess. It came from their favorite Tom Robbins novel, "Still Life With Woodpecker," about a love affair between a liberal princess and an outlaw.
Robert "Blinky" Griffin wore jeans and his prison-issue blue shirt. At 36, he had one of the fiercest reputations in the California prison system. Wide shoulders, hard low brow, walrus mustache, tattoos hemorrhaging down his forearms.
At 34, Pam was slight and fair with reddish brown hair and hazel eyes. In Robert's arms, she looked like a porcelain figurine. Yet more than anywhere else, she felt safe there.
"You really wanna do this?" he asked.
"Yes," she said.
They stepped into the visiting yard before the siren was tested at noon. Robert's friends gathered around. The best man was Kirk "Spanky" Smyth, who had recently been caught passing through the metal detectors with Buck knives in his rectum. Today he was loaded on smack and rubbing his face red.
Pam invited no one. This was her second marriage, and the circumstances that brought her to it required too much explaining. She did not want anyone to question her judgment -- or sanity. She did not tell her parents in Kansas, her two brothers or any friends. This was where the secret half of her life would begin.
"We are gathered here in the presence of witnesses for the purpose of uniting in marriage Robert Lee Griffin and Pamela Dowden," began a prison counselor named Denny Wipf.
From Tower 10, a guard looked on with a .30-caliber rifle, capable of a 1,000-yard shot.
"I remind you both to remember that love, loyalty and understanding are the foundations of a happy and enduring home. No other human ties are more tender and no other vows more important than those that you now assume."
This summer day in July 1984, Pam could not imagine what those vows would endure.
She would become a partner at a respected law firm in the Midwest, then senior regulatory counsel for First Data Corp., the world's largest processor of financial transactions.
He would be identified as a leader of one of the nation's most violent prison gangs, the Aryan Brotherhood. Prosecutors would say he earned the name "Blinky" because he could order an inmate's death with the blink of an eye.