"We'll win on appeal," Robert told his family in the visiting area.
Pam was saddened about Robert, but didn't write him off. She saw him as tragic -- adolescent, addicted to drugs and stuck in a place where violence and survival were inseparable.
Part of him was trying to grow out of it. Another part was staying behind. She tried to ignore this part. It was not her nature to probe or judge. She was naive, still the flower child with long red pigtails, trusting that a fundamental goodness would prevail.
She found herself acting as a mediator between Robert and his family, who didn't buy the claims of innocence they'd heard for years now. She defended him when they disparaged him. Yet she struggled with her own doubts.
"You see, Robby," she wrote, "I find myself defending you sometimes, when people might get discouraged about you, and sometimes I get out-debated, and it leaves me worrying a bit.
"I do trust you at what you say, and when somebody shoots holes at it, I'm at a loss. You know, more than once, I've been told I'm a fish, gullible, and easy to take advantage of, so maybe I'm a little too defensive that way. In some cases, when I think I'm being conned maybe, I just let it ride, sometimes it doesn't matter. But I value your friendship very highly, Robby, I feel I have to bring any doubts out front, so I can dispose of them, you know?"
Over time, Robert began to talk more freely about the pain he was causing his family.
He thanked her for opening his eyes.
"You know the story of the mouse that took the thorn out of the lion's foot and from then on them were two best friends in the jungle?" he wrote her. "Well, that may be a piss poor way to put it but that's something in the way it is."
Pam got her bachelor's degree and found a job as a secretary for a civil engineering firm in San Bernardino -- typing plans and specs for sewage treatment plant sludge scrapers. It was stultifying work.
Her personal life wasn't much more engaging. Gerry became a railroad engineer like his dad, and was off on the tracks a lot. They lived out in the scrub among chicken ranches and orange groves. When she and Gerry talked, their words seemed to ricochet off each other.
She felt like she was living in a trance.
"Maybe it's just being alone so much," she wrote Robert. "I guess I've never had so much of that before. I mean, I've always valued my privacy, but I've always valued my associations with people too. . . . Anymore, seems like when I want to be with a friend or friends, all I can do is sit down and write a letter."
Robert was transferred to Palm Hall at Chino in 1979. Pam was happy to visit him on weekends. She brought burritos -- it was all the guards would allow -- and talked.
They discussed anything, in careening, free-rolling conversations. She talked about going to law school. He encouraged her. Sometimes they sat on the pavement and paged through a book together. She would leave the prison feeling emotionally replenished.
This made it more frustrating when he'd fall back into his cowboy routine.
She winced at the self-mythology that he and his friends bolstered in each other. They were gladiators in their own minds. She groaned inside when they disparaged men outside prison as "not real men."
One day he showed up at the visiting yard, clearly high, jabbering prison rhyming slang.