The Love & Sex Issue 2024

I Find My Love Awake

The Ram-ifications of Breaking Your Own Rules

Love in Lockup

How I Proposed to My Wife from Prison

The Books of Love

A Poem Recommendation for Every Stage of a Relationship

Where to Pickup a Copy of The Stranger's Love & Sex Issue

It's Currently Available at Hundreds of Locations Around Seattle!

Washington Needs a Strippers’ Bill of Rights

New Proposal Reduces Fees on Dancers, Increases Security

The Stranger's Love & Sex Issue

Horny Poetry! Top Shortage Confirmed! How Sex Work Built Seattle! And Hundreds of Reader Valentines!

Take a Tour of Seattle’s Former Dens of Vice

Seattle Was Built on Sex Work—and Many of Those Buildings Are Still Standing

The Stranger’s 2024 Sex Survey Results

Orgies Slightly Up, the Binary Is Breaking, and Seattle’s Top Shortage Confirmed

Hundreds of Reader Valentines

Roses Are Red, You’re Looking Cute, One of These Love Notes May Be About You

As I sat at the JPay machine waiting for the video-visit to begin, my mind raced like a child released at a playground. Taking a few deep breaths, I ran my palms over my freshly cut hair. It had taken me nearly two months to prepare for this day. Either it would be the best birthday of my life or the worst.

For the incarcerated population, JPay is a communication lifeline. We use the machine for emails and 30-minute video visits scheduled by our loved ones. The moment my video-visit connected, tons of people on the other end of the screen shouted in unison, “Surprise! Happy birthday, Antoine!”

My close friend, Sandy, had successfully packed her apartment with friends and family. Faces I hadn’t seen in years bombarded the camera, energetically expressing how much they missed and loved me. In response to all the excitement, I laughed, smiled, and grinned hard enough to exhaust my cheekbones. At the same time, I scanned what little I could see of the apartment, looking for the woman I fell in love with.

“Hey mom, where’s Britteni?” I asked. “She’s over at the table helping with the food,” my mother responded. With the camera centered on the living room, I was able to see part of the dining area. A bunch of balloons and a Happy Birthday banner hung over the table covered with various dishes. My father stood next to the balcony, waving to let me know he was present. With little warning, my nieces and nephews invaded the screen to say hi before running off to play video games with the other kids. The apartment was vibrant and full of life, reminding me of what life was like before my incarceration.

Britteni emerged from behind the crowd, exaggerating her sashay as she made her way toward the computer screen. “Here I am, babe! Happy birthday,” she said flirtatiously.

At the sound of her voice my heart fluttered like a million butterflies trapped in a box. “Thank you,” I said. “You did this for me?”

“Yep,” she said. “Sandy called and asked if I wanted to throw you a surprise party for your birthday. She thought it would be nice to get all the family together to see you.” I placed my hand over my mouth and shook my head, trying to appear authentically surprised. The more she expressed her excitement, the more I was convinced my plan had worked.

Everyone at the apartment, with the exception of Britteni, was aware of the real occasion. She had absolutely no clue that I set up the entire party. I made the calls and arranged for friends and family to meet at Sandy’s. I had the video visits double-booked, giving us two hours worth of visiting time. I had saved two months’ worth of incarcerated wages to purchase the ring. Another prisoner, Timothy Kettlewell, had even volunteered to build a ring box from scratch. To top it off, Britteni’s mother had given me her blessing to ask for her daughter’s hand in marriage. Everything was in place. My only hope was to walk away from the night knowing I would spend the rest of my life with the woman who had my heart.

About midway through our video-visit, I gave my mom the hand signal to usher everyone into the living room. Britteni sat on the floor next to a glass table. When the room fell silent, I began thanking everyone for the party, expressing my love and appreciation for each of them. After going through the formalities, I shifted my focus onto Britteni.

The chemistry she and I shared was unlike anything I’d experienced before. We met each other after a party when we were 16 years old, but we’d been out of contact for nearly 11 years. An accidental Jpay message from me to her is what brought us back together, something we both still laugh about today. Our casual friendship turned into us dating for a year, learning things about one another we had never known. We were like a perfect balance between hydrogen and oxygen—something that watered the soul. Despite my feelings, I knew marriage was a tremendous step. If she refused my proposal, the embarrassment would be hard to bear. Neutralizing my anxiety, I pushed back every negative thought, reminding myself that if I truly loved her, I’d be willing to take the risk.

“Britteni, I have something I need to confess,” I said. “We all know that today’s my birthday, and it appears as if this party is for me. However, this party isn’t for me at all—it’s actually for you.” Britteni squinted and looked around, trying to make sense of what I had said.

“A few months ago,” I continued, “I began to realize how incredibly amazing you are as a person. Although many people find it hard to see me beyond my incarceration, you chose to see me for who I am. You saw me beyond my faults and failures, and loved me in a way I’ve never been loved before.”

I paused again, trying to compose myself, but I couldn’t hold back the tears. Britteni’s daughter, Ahlaysia, and close friends were all listening as I turned my heart upside down and poured out every ounce of admiration I held for her. At the same time, a number of prisoners stood in the window behind me, anxiously waiting for me to announce the verdict. My voice cracked as I proceeded.

“I threw this party because I wanted to convey, in the presence of everyone I care for, that I can’t imagine my life without you in it,” I said, pausing to let my words sink in before I asked her. “Will you, Britteni Johnson, be my wife, and the best birthday gift I could ever ask for?”

The room was silent enough to hear a needle drop on the carpet. All eyes were on Britteni. I watched the screen nervously, holding my breath like a deep-sea diver without an oxygen tank. Finally, I heard a word that lit up my insides like a thousand Christmas trees. “Yes!” she said.

At the word, the entire apartment erupted in celebration. I reached into my pocket and popped open the ring box in front of the camera. “Is that a ring box?” she asked. “Yeah, but I can’t find the ring!” I said in an exaggerated tone. Without missing a beat, Durron, Sandy’s eldest son, responded as we had practiced. “Here it is!” he yelled. He walked up to Britteni and placed the ring onto her finger, and everyone erupted once again in celebration.

Having been incarcerated since the age of 21, some days are a battle to see my life as having intrinsic value. Despite accumulating a college and seminary education while in prison, I remain restricted to a system that reduces me to a still photo attached to a prisoner’s identification number. My wife offered me something that altered the mannequin-like feeling of being incarcerated, something that gives an exhilarating meaning to the experience of what it means to be human—love.

Although I longed to reciprocate that love with flowers, gifts, and a candlelit dinner with the finest wine, these are things incarcerated individuals are unable to provide. Nevertheless, when love is genuine, it has a way of displaying itself in some of the most innovative ways—like transcending towering prison walls meant to hold everything in and let nothing out.

After nearly two decades of incarceration, I still have 48 years remaining on my sentence. But while we gracefully wait for a second chance at my freedom, I plan to navigate this relationship by being a safe place for Britteni to share her heart, an emotional supporter when life feels overwhelming, and the biggest encourager of her dreams and aspirations. And when these concrete walls no longer separate us, we’ll plan a wedding ceremony we’ll remember for eternity.