A British woman who is engaged to a convicted US killer she has never met now plans to marry him in prison – even though he could be locked up until 2034.
Naomi Wise, 26, of Chelmsford, Essex, first met Victor Oquendo, 30, when she searched online for someone to mentor as practice for her counselling course.
The inmate, who is behind bars in Michigan, is currently serving a minimum of 24 years for double homicide, home invasion and three counts of armed robbery.
“Never in my wildest dreams did I plan to fall in love with an inmate but it happened and I wouldn’t change it,” Wise said.
“Victor is the kindest man I have ever met and I know people might judge before knowing the full story but I can’t imagine my life without him.”
The pair met after Wise’s counselling course was halted in March 2020 by the coronavirus outbreak.
She said: “I had only completed three lessons when COVID hit, so I asked my tutor if there was any way I could still get experience and she suggested volunteering my time with a hotline or a charity.
“Looking online, I found a website through which I could write to a prisoner and figured it would be the perfect place to start – they’ve lived fascinating lives. I mentored one man for a few weeks before I got in touch with Victor.”
Wise chose the Michigan inmate at random by scrolling her mouse on writeaprisoner.com until it landed on his mugshot.
“I wasn’t sure if I should message him at first because, obviously, he’s very attractive,” she admitted.
Wise decided to go ahead with her email, which Oquendo received on a tablet kept in a communal area in prison. Her first message introduced herself, stating that she was looking to improve her people skills.
After 12 hours, Oquendo replied saying that he would love to have someone to talk to. The pair started to chat back and forth over email, talking about their upbringings and backgrounds.
“I didn’t ask about his crime,” Wise said. “But I made it clear that I wouldn’t speak to him if his crime was against women or children.
“He assured me it wasn’t, he said it had been a gang related shooting so, beyond that, I didn’t want to pry into why he was in prison.”
After two weeks, Oquendo opened up about his convictions. He said he committed the offences in 2010 when he was 19-years-old and was sentenced to 24 years in prison for double homicide, home invasion and three counts of armed robbery.
“I was shocked. It was a lot to take in and I wanted to know how he felt about what he’d done,” Wise said.
“If he didn’t seem to care that would have been a red flag, but he’s extremely remorseful. He told me that he struggles to live with himself and has night terrors most nights. It said a lot to me about the kind of person he really is.”
Wise said that from the beginning her conversations with Oquendo were “different” from when she mentored a previous prisoner.
“I couldn’t stop thinking about Victor,” she explained. “I checked my phone constantly and got butterflies when I saw he’d replied.
"“After a few weeks, I knew I couldn’t deny it any longer and I told Victor that I was sorry but I’d started to get feelings and needed to pull away.
He begged me to let him ring me, and on the phone, he admitted he had feelings for me too. It was the first time we’d spoken on the phone and I was surprised by how nice his voice was. It was very deep and calming.”
The pair now speak on the phone to each other up to 20 times a day.
“We swapped pictures and Victor sent me love letters and art in the post,” Wise continued. “The first was a handwritten letter telling me that he believes we’re more than just a relationship, that it’s a partnership. I replied in agreement. He also sent portraits he’d drawn of me. He’s a brilliant artist and does tattoos in prison.”
Initially Wise decided to keep her burgeoning romance with Oquendo to herself.
“At first it was an adjustment because I was used to having a partner I could see most days. Conventional things like going out on dates or cuddling on the sofa aren’t possible when dating an inmate, but Victor and I are so much closer than I ever was with my previous partners,” she said.
“I knew my family would be worried and I also didn’t want to deal with any judgement and questions while I was still figuring out what our relationship was. Over time, though, I realised things were getting serious between us.”
Oquendo proposed to Wise three times on the phone over the next few months, telling her she was his soulmate, but each time she refused.
“I told him he was mad – we hadn’t even met yet and had no idea when we could meet due to travel restrictions during the coronavirus pandemic meaning I can’t visit him in prison,” she said.
On 18 September, 2020, Wise received a large bunch of lilies and roses, and a black velvet ring box.
“I opened the note and it was from Victor, asking me to marry him,” she explained. “He must have got one of his family members to help him send it but along with the note was a beautiful diamond ring.
“It felt different to the other proposals because this time it felt serious and real. He rang me that day and I was in tears. He finally got a yes.”
At the time, Wise was living on her own in Manchester, but moved back in with her mum in Chelmsford in November 2020.
She continued: “I was still keeping things quiet but it must have been obvious something was going on once I came back home.
“Victor was sending loads of letters and artwork that he’d drawn. One of them was even a drawing of us on our future wedding day, it wasn’t very subtle. My mum must have seen it but she hasn’t commented, perhaps she was waiting for me to talk to her about it.”
Wise estimates she spends about £270 a month on calls to the prison.
“Emails don’t cost too much, you can buy 200 messages for $20, but we mostly speak on the phone,” Wise explained.
“A 15-minute call charges me $3.14 so I reckon I spend about $380 (£270) a month on calls from prison. Every three months, Victor’s prison allows people to send an inmate a food package costing $100 so I’ve started doing that for him. He sends me a grocery list of things like ramen noodles, crisps, meat sticks, cheese, envelopes, stamps, batteries and stationary.”
Despite never meeting in person, Wise says the pair feels “emotionally connected”.
“Conjugal visits aren’t permitted in Michigan, so it’ll be a long time before we can actually be intimate in person. It’s difficult but it’s worth it if you’ve met the right person,” she continues.
“Sex is a big part of a relationship, but it’s not a deal breaker for me, I’m happy to stay faithful. We have an active sex life and try to be intimate on the phone when we can. It’s difficult for Victor as he’s constantly being monitored, but we find moments to have intimacy together.
"We’re always in contact with each other throughout the day and Victor is such a good listener.”
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Wise added she and Oquendo plan to marry as soon as Covid restrictions ease and visitation is allowed again.
“I’ve never been a marriage person but Victor has changed that about me. I assume it’s because I’ve never loved someone as much as I love him,” Wise said.
“We both want me to have his last name and eventually have kids together. A chaplain can marry us in the prison, so we’re planning to do that when visitation is allowed again after the pandemic. I’m a bit worried about visiting the prison – I’ve never been to a prison before so it is quite intimidating.”
Wise is hoping that she will be able to meet Oquendo for the first time in person in May or June, depending on travel restrictions and she said they are hoping to marry in September.
“My family know I’m marrying Victor but we haven’t talked about it and they haven’t commented on it. I’m hoping by the wedding they’ll have come round to the idea,” she added.
“At the moment, it’s still rocky. They love me and are obviously worried so I know it’s going to take some time.”
Using his letters, Wise had Oquendo’s handwriting and signature tattooed on her ribs.
“A couple of weeks ago I decided to have a go at doing a tattoo myself. I inked his initials onto my wrist,” she added.
Despite his earlier release date being in 2034, Wise hopes a potential new law could shorten Oquendo’s sentence.
“Michigan are voting next year on possibly introducing the Good Behaviour Act to the state which could mean Victor might be released as early as 2027,” she explained.
“I’m hoping that’s the case as I really do feel like he deserves a second chance at life. But he’s committed those crimes. In no way do I condone what he did, and he’s been serving a lot of time for it.”
While Oquendo is still in prison, Wise eventually wants to move closer to him.
“I’m hoping to move over to the US in the next year so I can set up our life, ready for the day he leaves prison,” she said. “I’m planning to either get a work visa or study over there and get a student visa.”
Wise is also keen to silence critics who condemn her relationship. “People like to tell me that I’m stupid for getting into a relationship with a man like Victor but I’m not naïve, I’ve done a lot of research,” she explained.
“He’s not a monster, he’s a human being. I know he is an inmate but he’s a lot more than that. Victor is a person who loves candy no matter what time of the day it is. His favourite thing to do is blast music and draw. His favourite colour is green, his pet peeve is slamming doors. His laugh is ridiculously infectious and he’s also the kindest person I’ve ever met.”
She added: “He has dreams and aspirations just like I do. We both just want a really nice, boring life with a nine to five job, a house and a family.
“To me, he’s not just a criminal – he’s Victor, and he’s the man I want to spend the rest of my life with.”
Wise is currently campaigning for Oquendo to be granted clemency. You can visit her petition here: http://chng.it/LyR4SPkK
Additional reporting by PA.