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A dating life trapped by my prison record

For six years, I worried about who would hold my criminal record against me when I left prison and returned to the dating scene.

I knew that my name would be Googled by people and they would know a story about me before we even met.

Years ago, people would learn about each other by interacting, choosing what to reveal and when to reveal it. Now we have electronic dossiers guiding us through our interactions with any new prospect.

"Let's just hope that when you meet someone, he won't Google your name," a friend of a friend told me.

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"He will," I predicted.

"Maybe after you've already gone out?" The hope in her voice had become a weak squeak.

"He will."

Displayed like a museum of dysfunction, my trial, convictions, myriad incorrect psychiatric diagnoses and my family's problems will lay themselves out for perusal.

I don't fear that these things will come out. They are out. People who haven't already read these items will simply discover them after they meet me.

My convictions remain on appeal, but I am still a woman with a rap. I assumed that the only guys who would date me would be those with their own records, statistically not an intellectual crowd.

Meeting someone who has not done time hangs me with a Catch- 22: Either I must disclose everything from the start and risk rejection, or conceal the matter, hoping that I can explain it when confronted.

"Change your name" is the advice I get most often. But changing my name assumes that I will never again interact with anyone I meet with my given name. Now in my 40s, I am already known.

And I am known in ways I never expected.

"Hi Beautiful! I read about your story. I am so glad you're out. Are you single?"

Since I was released from prison three years ago, I have received more than 100 of these types of messages through Facebook.

Hearing about these advances, my friend Carol said: "There are guys who like women who just got out of prison."

When I was released, she had been out for four years and knew the ropes of a single woman paired with a felony conviction.

"Who would want someone with a record?" I guffawed at her.

"A lot of them," she said.

After wondering who would hold my past against me, now I worried about who would hold it in my favour, this underground cabal of men who text each other links to the news stories of our arrests and convictions with the message "She's out. On Facebook."

For the first several months of my freedom, I batted away messages and friend requests from men from Sydney, Australia; Bonn, Germany; Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia; Inglewood, California; and towns near me in Connecticut.

Men all willing to travel to meet me because they Googled my name and were convinced I was the stereotypical released female offender: sex-starved, lonely and lawless.

One of the messages stood out for being more polite. "May I send you a friend request?" He was friends with six of my friends, so I said sure.

We started messaging each other. Sometimes about the World Cup. Or about the screenplay I was writing. He said he was earning his Master of Business Administration while working in a health centre. Meaningless exchanges, but notes with the intellectual edge of college education.

It was conversation I never had in prison. Unlike most inmates, I had graduated from an Ivy League school about a decade before my arrest and convictions.

We would spar and he would never drop an apostrophe or split an infinitive. Occasionally, he riffed on how women like men who treat them badly, that they reject the nice ones because they are too safe.

I assumed he said this because he was one of the good guys.

He seemed somewhat cute in his pictures. I had not been on a date in seven years. But if he knew my friends from York Correctional Institution (CI), then he already knew that I had been there too.

"C'mon, Pretty, I want to meet you. Of course in a public place. You can come with your friends for backup," he prodded me.

As I decided whether we should meet, I noticed the ranks of his female-offender Facebook friends growing as we messaged back and forth.

So I asked: "How do I know that you're not one of those guys who look for women from York?"

He said: "What does 'women from York' even mean?"

"The prison. York CI."

Then I wrote: "Look, if you don't want to talk to me anymore, I understand. I assumed that you knew. I wasn't trying to hide anything."

"I don't care. I still want to meet you," he wrote and I cried - not because I liked him or was attracted to him, but because I thought I had a chance for social redemption.

In his next message, he embedded an inappropriate video of himself. I blocked him immediately.

Then - just as quickly - I unblocked him, hoping he would reveal an excuse: Sorry, I was drunk.

Or: I thought you would like that.

I would have accepted either of those reasons to keep my hope of ever meeting someone who would not judge me.

But nothing came for days.

"You went to school with this guy?" I messaged Aimee.

"No, I thought you knew him," Aimee informed me.

From Amanda, formerly incarcerated for larceny: "I just accepted him because Kristen did."

He had parlayed a connection with one inmate to collect a bevy of released offenders, each of whom he was messaging, trying to meet her.

I finally heard from him the day we were scheduled to meet.

"We still on for noon?"

I blocked him again.

A woman released two months after I was, asked me later: "Do you know this guy who poked me?"

It was him.

We put out a PIP warning - Predators Into Prisoners.

Released offenders are the biggest dupes. Walled off by shame and desperation for affection, we are lifers in a kind of social prison.

Some of my friends have boyfriends, but most of them were around before their girlfriends' time in prison.

Will the rest of us ever meet someone who is sincere yet does not care about our records?

WASHINGTON POST

• Chandra Bozelko was in prison for six years after being convicted of 14 white collar crimes.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on June 11, 2017, with the headline 'A dating life trapped by my prison record'. Print Edition | Subscribe