TAMPA — It began with card games after lock-down in the jail pod 26-year-old Lacrecia White shared with six dozen women. Soon she learned the smiling, hazel-eyed woman who kept winning at spades was a college-educated engineer, someone who could help White figure out where her life had gone wrong.
"That's how we started talking," White recalled. "That's how it became more than just a spades game."
But as the relationship shifted from friendship to romance, it would take on dimensions White had not anticipated. That's because her new companion was Sharyn Hakken, the 34-year-old Tampa woman who made international headlines in April when she and her husband, Joshua Hakken, allegedly kidnapped their two young sons and sailed with them to Cuba after losing their parental rights.
Among the unforeseen revelations in the Hakkens' story have been allegations of spousal abuse, exotic suspicions of government and an obsession with the books of blockbuster fantasy writer Terry Goodkind. But few developments have been as unexpected as Sharyn Hakken's headlong pursuit of a jailhouse love affair with a younger woman even as her husband, Joshua Hakken, 35, continued to express his devotion in handwritten letters.
Sharyn Hakken's relationship with White came to light Monday, when the Hillsborough State Attorney's Office released more than 1,500 pages of evidence in the Hakkens' case. The couple are in jail awaiting trial on charges of kidnapping, child abuse and other offenses. Their sons, ages 3 and 5, are now in the care of Sharyn Hakken's parents.
Among the documents released Monday was an 18-page love letter Hakken wrote to White in late August. In the letter, Hakken called White her "girlfriend" and said she was "head over heels in love" with her. At one point, Hakken exclaimed, "Let's get married!"
The letter was further evidence of problems between the Hakkens that could be consequential for their defense strategies. In the face of indications that Joshua Hakken might have beaten and choked his wife, Sharyn Hakken's attorney has said he might argue his client was a victim of battered-spouse syndrome.
In an interview at her Seminole Heights home on Wednesday, White, a felony probationer studying to be an electrician, confirmed that she is involved in a relationship with Sharyn Hakken, albeit one that is complicated by the walls that now separate them.
"It's kind of hard to be girlfriends when we're distant," White said. Yet she said she continues to talk to Sharyn on the phone every day, and sometimes visits her in jail.
White dismissed prurient interest in the relationship, saying she and Sharyn never physically consummated their bond during their four weeks together in jail. "We would just talk to each other all day," she said. "I think she's one of the most amazing people I've ever met, which is why I had to keep talking to her."
White, who was jailed for violating her probation on a charge of dealing in stolen property, said Hakken had a contagiously positive attitude.
"She helped me break myself apart and find my insecurities and figure out why they were there," said White, who is herself the mother of a 5-year-old girl.
Wary of affecting her criminal case, Sharyn Hakken rarely talked about her husband or sons, White said. When she did talk about the boys, White said, she dropped her sunny exterior and became very emotional.
Peter Jamison can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 226-3337. Follow him on Twitter @petejamison.