A dating website for inmates: tales of love from behind bars
'I believe everybody deserves a second chance,' says site founder
Bachelor No. 1 boasts about his "bad-boy body and sweet-guy attitude" and Bachelor No. 2 wants a woman to join him as he closes a dark chapter from his past.
Bachelor No. 3, meanwhile, says he can't be available for a first date for awhile — at least not before 2021.
Not only do these men share a quest for love, they have something else in common: they're all in prison for murder.
The suitors are among dozens of male and female cons who have posted personal profiles and photos on a matchmaking website with a twist.
This site hooks up people on the inside with those on the outside.
The federal prisoners, many behind bars for violent offences like attempted murder, sexual assault and first-degree murder, have written blurbs highlighting their personal qualities — and, in some cases, their crimes.
Which leads us to Bachelor No. 4.
He claims to hold the Toronto record for robbing the most banks in the shortest span: 11 financial institutions knocked off in four-and-a-half hours.
"Not something I am really proud of," Alex Nikoloski writes in his profile.
The page indicates that any prospective partner should be ready to wait for his expected May 2015 release date, adding: "But I am worth it."
Canadian Inmates Connect Inc. showcases numerous prisoners serving life sentences and helps the incarcerated find pen pals and, perhaps, much more.
The 16-month-old website, which promotes some 40 convict profiles, has even churned out a few lockup love stories.
Prisoners find their special someone
The site's founder says several prisoners have asked her to remove their bios because they have already found that special someone.
Melissa, who does not want her family name published due to privacy and safety concerns, was inspired to start the website after seeing similar ones in the United States.
Initially, the 35-year-old Toronto mom thought she would make a profit for her effort, but she said she quickly realized she would have to spend her own money to keep it alive.
It doesn't matter, insists Melissa, who says the site helps prisoners pass the time and "get back into the swing of things" as they reconnect with women.
"I'm making a difference, for sure — and that's become most important to me," said Melissa, whose website is open to any offender.
"It doesn't matter what they've done. It's not for me to judge … I'm just a firm believer in redemption and rehabilitation … I believe everybody deserves a second chance."
Warning from founder of matchmaking site
Melissa, however, has a warning for those interested in contacting one of the inmates on her website: proceed with caution.
The profiles are authored entirely by the convicts, which means nobody double-checks them for accuracy. In a disclaimer on the website, Canadian Inmates Connect states that it's not responsible for any type of relationship developed through its pages.
"It's up to the people out there," said Melissa, who recommends that homework, such as Internet searches, be conducted on the prisoners.
"They're taking the chance to write to these guys."
Since inmates don't have Internet access in the clink, initial contact must be made via snail-mail to their respective penitentiary.
Melissa says most of the profiled prisoners heard about the website through word of mouth and inmate committees. They mailed her a blurb, photos of themselves and a $35 annual membership fee.
Happily ever after
For some, the results have led to jailhouse bliss.
Julie Young, a single mother from Truro, N.S., credits the website for introducing her to a convicted bank robber she hopes to marry one day.
"I would marry him because I love him and I see him having a really good future now," said Young, whose sweetheart, Steve Mehlenbacher, is serving his fourth federal sentence after a total of 16 bank-heist convictions.
"We get really deep and personal in our letters about our pasts and just stuff like that, so we're able to open up to one another.
"I never was able to open up to anybody before him."
Young, 24, first connected with Mehlenbacher, 42, in November after she sent Christmas cards to a few of the inmates on the website.
She plans to move across the country this month to be closer to her man, who's locked up in the medium-security Mountain Institution in Agassiz, B.C., about 140 kilometres east of Vancouver.
They have never met in person, but they exchange letters regularly and have daily chats on the phone, which Mehlenbacher is permitted to do at his institution. He says his statutory release date is September 2017, though he hopes to be paroled earlier.
Eventually, they plan to go to school together to become child-care workers.
Young argues that it's probably safer to get to know a convict than to meet someone at a bar or on standard dating websites.
"I heard from a lot of people there's a lot of weirdos on there," she said, referring to one popular matchmaking website.