A woman who lost her family contemplated ending her life until her friend convinced her to write letters to a man in prison she’ d never met – and now they are engaged.
Laura Belmer lost her mother in 2013, father in 2016, and sister in 2018 – all within five years.
Her best friend suggested that she start writing to Stephen, who has been incarcerated in upstate New York since January 2015.
Laura and Stephen shared some mutual friends, but had never met face-to-face.
Customer service manager Laura, 30, who lives in Staten Island, New York, said: ”[Losing my family] was the worst experience ever. I felt completely alone.
“My friend said that Stephen was also feeling very alone and she thought we might be able to help each other.
“She thought that building a friendship with him might help me with the depression I was feeling.”
In December 2018 Laura wrote her first letter to Stephen. Little did she know that this would be the start of a whole new life for her.
The two learned about each other through self help books.
Laura would purchase books that invited readers to ask themselves questions such as: “What have you never done but would really like to do?”
She would write her responses and send them to Stephen, 29, who would reply with his own answers.
As they continued their correspondence a profound romance blossomed.
“Getting those letters was the only thing that made me feel alive,” said Laura.
“Without him I probably would have committed suicide. I felt like I didn’t have anyone…like everyone around me felt bad for me but he didn’t act like he felt sorry for me. He kept it real with me.”
Laura said she would literally wait for the mailman to arrive with Stephen’s letters.
“I have two binders of letters between us now, so there must be at least 100 of them,” she said.
“Some letters are five to six pages back and forth.”
By June 2019 the pair were engaged and in December 2019 Laura got a tattoo on her forearm which reads: “L&S forever.”
Four months later they began corresponding by email.
In Stephen’s first email to Laura he wrote, in part: “You’re my wife who can make anything work. So I’ll be waiting anxiously for your response.
“Baby please stay strong with me out there OK? All of this is going to pass and be so worth it, and our life is going to be so beautiful when I come home to you.
“Be my Queen forever and I’ll forever remain your King. I love you with everything in me…the most beautiful woman I’ve ever laid my eyes on. Write me back babe. 3-11-19 till Forever…”
Laura now visits Stephen every weekend or every other weekend, based on her work schedule.
She endures a six-hour drive to reach his prison, leaving Staten Island at midnight to arrive there at 6 a.m, in order to be the first visitor in line.
“I’ve stood in snowstorms for him,” admitted Laura, who does not own a car, so Stephen pays for her to rent a vehicle for each visit.
“The prison staff don’t let people in until 8 or 8:30 a.m, at that point I get processed and go into the visiting area.
“I get to see him for six hours and then I drive back home.
“We are able to hold hands but the correctional officers also let us kiss sometimes.
“We have to sit across from one another but if I go with his mom I get to sit next to him.
“On the days I can’t visit we speak on the phone for 30 minutes every day.”
They have taken dozens of photos in the prison together, which cost two dollars each. The backdrops of the photos are painted by prison inmates, who also take the photos.
Laura said she cannot imagine herself without Stephen anymore.
“He gave me a new family. His mum is so good to me as well as his sister and grandmother, and they talk to me everyday.
“I didn’t think about kids before, or a family…now we both want it so badly. It feels so right. I feel so grateful. I might not be here today if it were not for him.”
Laura hopes that sharing her unusual love story will inspire others in their times of need.
“I want people to be more open minded about meeting other people and falling in love,” she said.
Stephen will be released in 2023, or sooner if he is granted parole.