I was hanging out with friends when I first saw him across the car park. He seemed mysterious and shy, and like he had lots going on in his head. He was also incredibly handsome.
Aged 16, I was curious about the stranger. I found out his name was Michael and he was 17.
Plucking up the courage, I went over to where he was standing with friends.
‘What’s going on with you?’ I asked.
That’s when his friends told me he would be going to prison.
Without skipping a beat, I said, ‘Well I’ll write to you.’
Soon after that, Michael was arrested for armed robbery and held in prison toawait trial.
Keeping my promise, I picked up a pen.
I told you I’d write to you, even though I don’t think you believed me at the time, I began.
A few days later, I received his reply.
I was happy you got in touch, he wrote.
From then on, I sent a letter every week.
Ripping open Michael’s replies, I couldn’t keep the smile off my face.
I loved learning everything about him.
In return, I told him all about school, my friends and the job I had in a shoe shop.
When my mum Anamaria saw an envelope arrive from jail, she sat me down.
Best friends, I told her everything.
‘Just be careful,’ she warned me.
‘He’s a friend,’ I said.
But over time, I knew it was more than that. And Michael felt the same way.
I’m falling for you, he wrote one day.
I knew what he’d done was wrong, but I was in love with him.
Almost a year on, I was reading the newspaper when I saw a story about Michael.
He’d been sentenced to 23 years behind bars.
Even though he’d been a child at the time of the crime, he had been tried as an adult offender.
Doing the maths, I worked out I’d be nearly 40 by the time Michael was freed. But I was prepared to wait.
I was so afraid of what people would think about me being in a relationship with someone serving a long sentence in prison, that only Mum and my best friend knew.
With Michael a 15-hour drive away, I couldn’t see him in person.
But then he was moved to a prison closer to my house.
In 2012, when we’d been writing to each other for six years, I went to visit Michael for the very first time.
When he walked into the prison meeting room, I broke down.
By now, he was 23, and taller and broader.
Scooping me into his big arms, his lips met mine.
‘Our first kiss,’ I grinned.
After that, I visited him once a month.
There was even an area at the back of the room where inmates could get photos taken with loved ones, and we’d do silly or loving poses.
In 2016, I decided I didn’t care what people thought any more.
I wanted to show the world I was in love, so I posted the photos on Instagram.
Soon after, I was on a visit to see Michael.
‘You know, I’ll always appreciate that you’ve been here for me all these years,’ he kept saying. ‘I love you and I wouldn’t want to spend my life with anyone else.’
‘I know. I love you too,’ I told him.
As we went to have our photo taken, Michael spun me onto his left arm.
As I turned back to him, he dropped down on one knee and held out a beautiful diamond ring.
‘Will you be my wife?’ he asked.
Bursting into tears, I wrapped my arms around him and kissed him with all the passion I had in my body.
Everyone in the room clapped and cheered.
Michael told me his mum, Sherry, and sister, Paige, had picked out the ring for him.
As soon as I could, I called my mum too.
‘I know it’s been tough,’ she said. ‘I’m so happy for you.’
In January 2017, I had my make-up done at home, then Mum drove me to the prison.
Sherry and Paige were in the waiting room and wrapped me in a huge hug.
While I was in a knee-length cream dress, Michael wore his jail uniform.
Kissing after our vows, I’d never felt happier.
There was no first dance, and no special wedding night together, and as Michael was led back to his cell, my heart sank.
But five months later, we were finally allowed a conjugal visit − a scheduled time prisoners are allowed to spend alone with their partners.
Walking into the bungalow in the prison grounds, we just started laughing.
Cooking together and watching TV, it felt like we were a normal couple.
Finally, we could be intimate for the first time − a decade after meeting.
I never thought I’d be consummating my marriage in a prison. But it was absolutely magic.
Michael, now 31, has grown into a mature gentleman, even mentoring younger inmates.
In 2014, a new law passed that allowed youth offenders, who’d been tried as adults, to have their sentences examined after they’d served 15 years.
That means Michael is eligible for youth offender parole in December.
We’re hoping he’ll be freed.
I visit every couple of months. We’re in the bungalow for 48 hours so we can see how we would live with each other.
I can’t wait to get him home. I signed up for better or for worse and I meant it. ●
To follow Nina and Michael’s journey, search Instagram for @9mmnina