Love On The Rocks- Why Choosing To Marry An Illegal Immigrant Held At An ICE Detention Center Isn’t For Everyone…

The highly controversial marriages taking place inside ICE facilities or requests for marriage ceremonies continue although getting through the process isn’t a “given.” 

It’s up to Detention Authorities to Approve or Deny a request for marriage while in custody.  

There are strict guidelines regarding Visas. What is a Fiancée Visa? Let’s take a look-Fiancée Visa U.S. Citizens.

Johnson County is only one of many ICE Detention Facilities-Johnson County, Texas Detention Center.

As a TDCJ Officiant, the couples coming to me for a marriage ceremony aren’t “in a hurry” due to immigration issues. They have had long term relationships and formed a union. Also, they are deeply in love and in it for the long run. 

There are differences between a Marriage Visa and a Spouse Visa– Acquiring citizenship through marriage is a decision that has to be carefully made. 

With so many categories of visas available, you need to methodically review the eligibility requirements of each one to determine the best option. 

Two visas in particular, fiance visa and spouse visa, both have their individual characteristics.

What are the unique variations between a Fiancé Visa vs Spouse Visa? 

As a U.S. citizen, you can bring your Fiancé(e) to the United States with the intention to marry and live here with a Fiancé(e) K1 Visa. 

With the K1 visa, the foreign fiance will be able to travel to the U.S. and marry their sponsor within the 90 days window. Afterwards, the foreign citizen can apply for an adjustment of status to become a legal permanent resident (LPR) with USCIS. 

One advantage of the K1 visa is that the process is relatively fast and typically speedier than a K3 or CR-1 visa (for married individuals). 

The fiance visa process is about 6 months and becoming a permanent resident thereafter takes about 10.5 months.

Spouse visas on the other hand offer two possible options–IR-1 or CR-1 and K3 visas. You can bring your spouse to the U.S. by way of a Petition for Alien Relative, I-130 or nonimmigrant visa (K3). 

A “spouse” is defined as the legally wedded husband or wife, including same sex spouses of U.S. citizens and LPRs. 

In some cases, common-law spouses may qualify for the same benefits. The CR-1 spousal visa is valid for 6 months and permits the holder to come to the U.S. and reside permanently. With this visa, no adjustment of status is necessary.

Spouse of Permanent Residents- 
In some cases, the spouse of a permanent resident will be on a wait list until the visa or green card becomes available but this waiting period is shorter than other family immigration categories.

Comparison of Fiance Visa vs Spouse Visa
With both visas, you must demonstrate proof that you have a bona fide relationship. 

With a fiance visa, you must get married in the United states whereas a K3 spouse visa is for those who were married outside the country. 

Individuals who are eligible for a K3 nonimmigrant visa include:
An individual in marriage to a U.S. citizen
An individual with a Petition for Alien Relative filed by the citizen spouse

An individual with an approved I-129F, forwarded to the American consulate abroad with the intention of applying for a K-3 or K-4 visa.

A sponsor for a K-4 petition would need a number of documents when filing the petition including:

Signed Petition for Alien Relative
Evidence of citizenship in the form of a birth certificate, U.S. passport, Certificate of Naturalization, etc.

Completed G-325A forms for the sponsor and the fiancé. 

Any prior marriage nullification documents.

Passport style color photos of the sponsor and spouse.

It’s important to keep in mind that the consular officer may request additional information or documentation so it’s best to consult an spouse visa attorney to learn more.

Texas has several ICE Immigration Detention Centers. For a list, here’s the link– Immigration Detention Centers In Texas.

Marriage requests at ICE Detention Centers are on the rise but, they are also very closely scrutinized. 

To obtain permission to marry at an ICE Facility is a lengthy process– Marriage Requests I.C.E. Detention Facilities Procedures.

I’m well aware of certain types of marriages that are deemed illegal in the United States as I educate myself to the pros and cons of officiating legally binding unions. 

I don’t make exceptions regarding a marriage ceremony for anyone or for any reason when it comes to officiating a wedding. After all, I’m signing a legally binding document. If your license has expired, you will need to purchase a new one. If your marriage license is from another state, you will need to be married within the state it was issued or buy a new license in the state you plan to marry within. 

Be aware that finding an Officiant who follows the rules and guidelines is in your best interest. If someone isn’t authorized to marry you- there will be worse surprises down the road. 

As alarming as it may sound, I’ve had numerous clients over the years who had initially hired someone else only to later find that they WERE NOT LEGALLY MARRIED. 

It’s astounding to me how frequently my phone rings from a couple who trusted the WRONG person to Officiate their marriage. 

In fact, there have been numerous lawsuits against Officiants who either didn’t understand their role or forgot to file the license. Ruining a wedding? Yes, it’s happened and will continue to happen as long as people hire “a friend” or “relative” who has no idea of the burden that lies with their duty as an Officiant. 

Hire a professional Officiant. You will save yourself a lot of time and heartache. I cannot stress this suggestion enough for any couple planning to marry. 

I take my “job” seriously. If you are officiating a ceremony and don’t know what you are doing or the laws associated with marriage ceremonies, you shouldn’t be performing the task. 

Officiants have been subpoenaed in certain situations and arrested in others when it comes to a questionable marriage ceremony and fraud. Marriage Fraud is a felony. Anyone involved with a Marriage Fraud situation is also held accountable. Ignorance of the law will never be an adequate defense. 

ICE has a fairly enlightening flyer regarding “walking down the aisle for the wrong reasons” describing Marriage or Immigration Fraud that anyone planning to marry or even officiating inmate wedding ceremonies at ICE facilities should be aware of. 

I’m adding the link to better describe what exactly Marriage Fraud is–Marriage Fraud Is A Crime Brochure.  

Arranging or entering into such a marriage to deceive public officials is itself a separate violation of the law of some countries. In the United States, sham marriage for purposes of immigration fraud is a felony. 

For immigrants already incarcerated, there are no guarantees that the inmate won’t be deported EVEN after marrying in a detention facility. 

If you are choosing to marry someone in a detention center in an attempt to “save them from deportation,” then you are not marrying for the right reasons. I strongly suggest seeking legal counsel with an immigration attorney prior to making this type of a decision. 

To obtain permission to marry at an Immigration Detention Center in Texas is a process similar to obtaining permission to marry an inmate in a Texas Prison. 

The differences between a Prison and County Jail are normally significant because Texas Department Of Criminal Justice overees Prison Weddings. 

There MUST be permission for an inmate to marry at a Texas Prison. ONLY a TDCJ Approved Officiant may conduct the ceremony in a Texas Prison. 

ICE Detention Centers have far more people involved than a Warden and Chaplain at a Prison do. The process to obtain permission to marry is also far more difficult at an ICE Facility versus a traditional inmate seeking to marry. There are numerous government agencies involved at ICE Detention Centers verses a state or privately owned Prison. 

If your reasons to marry an illegal alien are solely to prevent deportation, you could very well face “Marriage Fraud” charges. 

You should also be aware that by participating in this type of union, you will still undergo the same scrutiny as anyone outside a lockdown facility would. If you are marrying solely for visa purposes, you are also committing a crime. 

Last month, someone contacted me from a Dutch Television station regarding foreigners marrying specifically Death Row inmates. I have never married someone from another country to a Texas inmate in Death Row (Polunsky) or any other Unit. 

Quite frankly, I’m uncomfortable performing this type of ceremony due to immigration laws and guidelines to be honest with you. Inmate marriages are on the rise but, there are far less “hurdles” involved at a state Prison than an ICE Detention Facility. Why? Because both parties are U.S. Citizens. 

Although I’ve “heard these marriages are taking place,” I’ve never personally married anyone from Northern Europe or abroad to someone seeking to marry an inmate whether they were on Death Row or not. 

Pen pals from other countries marrying inmates are highly suspicious to me and most likely everyone else too. Why would someone from another country choose to marry someone in a U.S. based Prison? They obviously aren’t going to visit every weekend and phone calls in state are high enough already to inmates. Can you imagine international inmate call Fees? 

Marriage Until Death Do You Part or Your Visa Expires? The truth is that there are women out there who are directly targeted by “Don Juan’s” seeking a Visa. 

Ask yourself if your relationship is based on other factors that have nothing to do with love before jumping in on the “wedding train.” 

Let’s examine a “Marriage of Convenience” aka “Marriage Fraud” or “Sham Marriage” or even “Visa Marriage” for the sole purpose of a green card. 

A sham marriage is one that is entered into in order to get around (“evade”) the U.S. immigration laws. (See I.N.A. Section 204(c).)

For a marriage to be valid under the law, it is not enough that the couple had a real marriage ceremony and got all the right governmental stamps on their marriage certificate. They have to intend to live in a real marital relationship, namely to establish a life together, following the marriage ceremony–and prove their intention through their actions. 

If the couple doesn’t intend to establish a life together, their marriage is a sham.
Another way in which an immigration application based on marriage can be found fraudulent is if it isn’t legally valid. Say, for example, that you are already married to another person, and were never able to get a legal divorce. 

Even if you truly love your new spouse, this current marriage is invalid. Applying for U.S. lawful permanent residence (a green card) on the basis of an invalid marriage is, indeed, considered fraudulent.

If U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has doubts about whether the marriage that you’re using as the basis to apply for a green card is a real one, they will summon your spouse and you (if you’re in the U.S.) for an interview before approving the I-130 petition (the one your spouse filed to classify you as the spouse of a U.S. citizen or permanent resident). 

The purpose is to provide USCIS an opportunity to ask questions about your marriage, to make sure it’s not just a fake arrangement to get you lawful permanent residence.

The U.S. government tends to believe that a large number of the marriage-based immigration applications it receives are fraudulent or fake – that they’re just a means for the would-be immigrant to obtain U.S. residence. 

Nevertheless, the relevant immigration agencies will give some applications a closer look than others, particularly when it spots the “red flags” described in this article.

Bear in mind that, to qualify for a marriage-based green card, you must prove more than the fact that you are legally married. 

The U.S. government requires evidence that you are sharing, or are making arrangements to share, a life together.

The following types of personal characteristics or living situations raise questions in the eyes of USCIS or the consulate.

1. No shared language. If the couple can’t talk to each other, how can they really build a shared life together?

2. Vast difference in age. People of different ages certainly do get married sometimes. But when combined with other red flags, the thinking is that it may represent a compromise by someone who is either interested in obtaining a green card or in being paid to help someone else do so.

3. Difference in religion. Because religious beliefs are fundamental to many people’s approach to life and daily behavior, the U.S. government takes a second look at applications from people of different religions who have married.

4. Different social class or cultural background. People of different wealth levels or place in society often get married, too – but the U.S. government will be curious to know more about how this occurred, and whether it’s for real.

5. Difference in race. You can see a pattern here – any time a couple doesn’t share basic characteristics, it raises questions.

6. Unequal educational background. Studies show that most women don’t believe they could admire a man less educated than they; and that men put intelligence and education at number five on their ranking of desirable qualities in a mate. So if one person in the couple is highly educated and the other not, expect questions.

7. Different addresses. After marriage, most couples live together. If you don’t – particularly if both of you are living in the same country – you will need to provide a good explanation, for example, that one of you is finishing a university degree and the other one can’t leave his or her job. Also be ready to show that you plan to live together as soon as possible.

8. Same house, but no actual interaction. If, for instance, your work and other schedules are set up so that you are never home at the same time, the U.S. government will wonder whether that was intentional.

9. Secret marriage. If you haven’t told your friends and family, USCIS will wonder whether it’s because you don’t want them to get all excited about a marriage that you plan to end as soon as the immigrant gets a green card.

10. All-too-convenient timing of marriage. A goodly number of marriages happen after an undocumented person in the U.S. is caught and placed into removal proceedings, or before someone on a nonimmigrant visa is reaching the date by which he or she must leave the United States. (One can apply for a green card based on marriage as a defense to deportation.) 

You will have to explain why you didn’t choose to marry until it became a matter of urgency. You will also attend an interview at least once. For more information on the interview, visit this link– Immigration Applicant Interview.

11. Attempts to manufacture evidence of shared life right before the interview. You will be asked to provide evidence of joint accounts, assets, memberships, and so on. Those items will likely have dates showing when they were begun. If those dates are mere weeks before the green card or visa interview date, it will create suspicion that you were trying to make your case look good rather than taking natural steps to join your lives.

12. Marriage soon after you met. Most people like to take at least several months to consider getting married. If you got married after only a few meetings or weeks, the government will wonder whether the cause was more romance or, say, money.

13. Marriage soon after a divorce. Again, this would indicate that the “courtship” was suspiciously short. (Or you might have to prove the existence of a long affair!)

14. History of U.S. petitioner sponsoring other spousal immigrants. If the U.S. citizen or permanent resident has married and petitioned for one or more other immigrants in the past, it stands to reason that those marriages ended in divorce. 

Did that mean a real marriage fell apart – or was the earlier marriage(s) nothing more than a green card scam? And now, since the petitioner didn’t get caught the first time around, is he or she trying it again?

15. Noncitizen comes from a country with a history of immigration fraud. The U.S. government keeps track of which countries’ citizens commit visa or other immigration fraud at high rates. Though it’s not your fault, if the immigrant spouse comes from one of these countries, he or she will face extra scrutiny.

16. No children if woman is of childbearing age. Having children is not a requirement of marriage – but if no children is an added factor in an otherwise questionable case, it won’t help.

17. Impoverished U.S. citizen or resident petitioner. If the U.S. member of the couple lacks a job or apparently needs money, the immigration authorities might wonder whether he or she is looking to make some quick bucks through a fraudulent marriage.

18. History of crimes, fraud, or lies by either spouse. Anyone who has committed past illegal acts may be looked at as more likely or willing to enter into marriage fraud.

Clearly, any or many of these factors may be present in a perfectly real marriage. And couples whose cases present no red flags may nevertheless be given a hard time by the immigration decision-makers.

For brides or grooms choosing to marry an ICE inmate, you need to be aware that finding someone to Officiate the ceremony or even getting permission to have the ceremony will be a journey.

If you are applying for a U.S. visa or for lawful permanent residence (a “green card”), the government officials reviewing your application will take steps to make sure that you are not “inadmissible” to the United States. If you are inadmissible, it means that you will be denied the green card or visa unless the law provides an opportunity for you to apply for legal forgiveness, called a “waiver,” and you successfully do so.

The grounds of inadmissibility are found in Section 212(a) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (I.N.A.). They include various crimes, along with other things like communicable diseases, past immigration violations, and the likelihood of needing government financial assistance.

Crimes, however, tend to present a major problem for many immigrants. Still, not every crime on a person’s record makes him or her inadmissible. This article discusses the ones that do.

Note that crimes on a person’s record are also a problem after an immigrant receives a U.S. visa or green card. However, these crimes are analyzed under a separate part of the immigration law, referred to as the grounds of “deportability.” 

Some overlap exists; anyone who has committed a serious or violent crime is likely to be both inadmissible and deportable.

Here is a summary of the crimes or related activities that the I.N.A. lists as inadmissible. Note that not all of them require an actual conviction in court to make the applicant inadmissible. 

Do not rely on this list alone in assessing your immigration situation; get help from an experienced immigration attorney.

Conviction of a crime involving moral turpitude (but not a purely political offense). This includes any attempt or conspiracy to commit such a crime. It excludes crimes committed when the person was under the age of 18 years, so long as the person was released from jail more than five years before applying for a visa or other immigration benefit. It also excludes crimes for which the maximum penalty did not exceed one year in prison and the person was not, in fact, sentenced to more than six months in prison.

Conviction or admission of a controlled substance violation, whether under U.S. or foreign law. This includes any conspiracy to commit such a crime.

Convictions for two or more crimes (other than purely political ones) for which the prison sentences totaled at least five years. 

This multiple-offense ground of inadmissibility applies whether or not the convictions came from a single trial and whether or not the offenses arose from a single scheme of misconduct or involved moral turpitude.

Conviction of or participation in (according to the reasonable belief of the U.S. government) controlled substance trafficking. This includes anyone who knowingly aided, abetted, assisted, conspired, or colluded in illicit drug trafficking. It also includes the spouse, son, or daughter of the inadmissible applicant if that person has, within the last five years, received any financial or other benefit from the illicit activities, and knew or reasonably should have known where the money or benefit came from.

Having the purpose of engaging in prostitution or commercialized vice upon coming to the United States, or a history, within the previous ten years, of having engaged in prostitution.

Procurement or attempted procurement or importation of prostitutes, directly or indirectly, or receipt of proceeds of prostitution, any of which occurred within the previous ten years.

Assertion of immunity from prosecution after committing a serious criminal offense in the U.S., if the person was thus able to depart the U.S. and has not since submitted fully to the jurisdiction of the relevant U.S. court .

Commission of particularly severe violations of religious freedom while serving as a foreign government official.

Commission of or conspiracy to commit human trafficking offenses, within or outside the U.S., or being a knowing aider, abettor, assister, conspirator, or colluder with such a trafficker according to the knowledge or reasonable belief of the U.S. government. 

Also inadmissible are the spouse, son, or daughter the applicant if they, within the previous five years (but when older than children), received financial or other benefits from the illicit activity and knew or reasonably should have known that the money or other benefit came from the illicit activity.

Conviction of an aggravated felony, if the person was removed from the U.S. and seeks to return (this ground of inadmissibility lasts for 20 years)

Seeking to enter the U.S. to engage in money laundering, or a history of having laundered money, or having been (according to the knowledge of the U.S. government) a knowing aider, abettor, assister, conspirator, or colluder with money launderers.

If your marriage is deemed “fraudulent,” you are putting yourself and your freedom in a precarious position. 

Think before you leap….see an experienced Immigration Attorney before choosing to marry an illegal alien being held at an ICE Detention Center. 

Walking Away From The Walls Unit. Prisoner Releases Are A Celebration…

Last Thursday, my previous client, Priscilla stood outside a Huntsville Prison awaiting the release of her husband. A little over two years ago, I had married Joe and Priscilla at Sanders Estes Unit in Venus, Texas.

Six months ago, Priscilla contacted me regarding planning a Vow Renewal October 2019. 

Texas has the largest prison system in America, with more than 150,000 prisoners behind bars. The headquarters of the state’s Department of Criminal Justice is in Huntsville, a small, conservative town that’s home to nine state prisons. 

In the center of Huntsville is the Walls Unit. The oldest prison in Texas, it has gained notoriety in recent years as the location of Texas’ famously-frequent executions. 

But another, less-known function of the Walls Unit is mustering out the Texas system’s prisoners: every day, more than 150 men are processed, paroled and released. Priscilla’s husband was one of those released inmates.

I had three brides that day at Estes Unit and bridal photos following the ceremonies. It was a long day. Priscilla brought her mother with her as a guest which is unusual at a Prison Wedding. 

Guests are almost never allowed. In fact, I’ve only had two occasions where a guest was present at a Prison Wedding and both times were at Estes Unit.Looking back at the day I had officiated the marriage ceremony for Priscilla and Joe, I remember that it was a full day of weddings at Sanders Estes and I was struggling with the pain of a kidney stone that I thought was my appendix. There aren’t any sick days for me officiating Prison Weddings. I had travelled to Estes Unit knowing that I would go to the ER upon my return to Fort Worth. 

What I thought was appendicitis would turn out to be a kidney infection with two stones causing me more pain than I have ever experienced in my life. 

But, I was still managing to hold it together throughout a day of weddings and photo shoots with all of my Estes brides. I have a high tolerance of pain. 

In fact, I even joined Priscilla and her mom for lunch after their photo shoot but, hours later, I was at Harris Hospital. My twin sister, Cindy met me at the ER and took photos for her usual “FB updates.” I had changed clothes after leaving Venus, Texas and for a few moments was without stabbing, jarring pain. 

The pain would come back though. My weekend was spent in and out of the ER. If you’ve never had a kidney stone, be thankful. Two days later, due to my rigid schedule, I flew to California to film This Time Next Year with my twin sister, Cindy. 

We brought my niece and grandniece with us and although I was still in a bit of pain, Cindy and I managed to get through filming and enjoy our trip. 

Priscilla, like many of my other clients became a FB friend and was shocked that a few hours after her wedding I had been in the ER. I’ve followed all of her visits to Joe and we kept up with one another. My TDCJ Clients become friends for life. I share their journey. Being sick or in pain didn’t disrupt my schedule. In fact, nothing does. No matter what is going on in my personal life, I show up ready to go to work. 

Priscilla and Joe had taken marriage classes while he was an inmate. These classes prepare couples for their lives together. Priscilla really enjoyed the classes and the opportunity to share learning with Joe.The Walls Unit isn’t normally a location for celebration but, for families awaiting the release of their loved ones, the environment becomes celebratory with many loved ones taking videos and selfies. 

Releases mark the end of prison visits and expensive phone calls for loved ones. Releases also mark the beginning of life beyond Prison walls.I’m happy that Priscilla found her happily ever after and looking forward to seeing her again in October…. 

Parole Packets & People Selling Them Who Aren’t Attorneys. Stop. Look. Listen…

I’ve had a few clients contact me considering buying Parole Packets being sold online through FB or Instagram. The problem is that these folks aren’t attorneys. 

Preparing legal documents for anyone other than yourself (Pro Se) is considered Practicing Law Without a License and, it’s also a crime.

The Texas Criminal Justice Coalition will help you for FREE. That’s right, no charge whatsoever. For everyone wondering how to get in contact with them, I’m adding a link on their site that walks you through How To Write A Parole Packet. 

Jorge Antonio Renaud walks you through the process of helping a loved one prepare their own Parole Packet: Texas Criminal Justice Coalition. Article On How To Write A Parole Packet.

What you need to know is that paying someone with no experience in legal matters to address legal issues is a problem for not only them but also, you. Why? You cannot get your money back and although you’ve paid someone in good faith, you paid someone who isn’t in a position or educated in the area of which you sought help in the first place. 

Be aware of snake oil salesmen who make it appear that they are either experienced or educated to perform a task that generally involves an attorney.

There are experienced Parole Attorneys out there who handle these types of matters on a regular basis. They visit the inmate a few times before compiling their presentation but, this service isn’t free. 

If you are like other loved ones of inmates, you most likely don’t have $1500-2500 to pay a Parole Attorney to help you prepare a packet. If this is the case, you can easily read and understand Jorge’s synopsis on properly handling and/or preparing a Parole Packet yourself or having your incarcerated loved one do it themselves as Jorge did. 

If you’ve paid someone for a service they shouldn’t have been selling in the first place, I strongly advise you to demand a refund. 

If you feel you were given misleading legal advice and were unaware the person providing this fee based advice misrepresented themselves, I’m adding the link to file a complaint in Texas for Unlicensed Practice Of Law more commonly termed, UPL. Here’s the link– Texas UPL Committee.

Don’t be a victim and don’t fall for scams. Parole Packets aren’t “one size fits all.” They are customized to the individual. 

Be aware of “too good to be true” promises and ask questions. If someone is giving you legal advice, ask if of where they went to school. Ask where there Law License came  from? 

Whatever you do, ASK QUESTIONS! Never pay someone for a service they really cannot provide. Save your money and spare yourself the drama of getting run around…

A Hitch In Time. County Jail Or Texas Prison Wedding Ceremonies & The Impact Of Video Visitation…

In my opinion, inmate phone calls are ridiculously expensive and I should know. My niece was incarcerated in Cotton County five years ago. This would be my first “hint” to the expensive phone calls to my twin sister or I. 

From setting up a phone account, to the actual charge per minute, these phone calls are a hefty expense. Did my niece realize she was costing her mother and I hundreds of dollars a month to call home? I doubt it but, as we wait for her to be transferred from JPS/LCA to Parker County Jail, we are buckling up for more months of expensive phone calls. 

Having a conversation with my niece who wants to call home several times a day while also wanting money on her books and expecting my sister to pay her probation fees to Cotton County, a discussion was in order regarding “entitlement.” My niece is 31 years old and for nearly a year and a half now, expects her mother to continue paying her bills. Numerous traffic violations and losing her car have added on the expenses for my niece. Although she is complaining about not having a car, my niece should be focusing on finding work to pay her massive fees. 

Parents and loved ones alike take on a heavy burden when it comes to phone calls but, video visits seem be more popular these days for County Jails than phone calls. My niece prefers to call her mother or I and I’m looking in to the cost of video versus phone calls. Hundreds of dollars in calls a month as well as money on the books adds up and quickly. 

The flip side of inmate phone calls is video visitation. I don’t believe you can replace the human contact of a visit with video but, a number of county Jails are doing just that. I’ve visited my niece is County Jails for over twelve years now. It’s not easy trying to cheer someone up in Jail but after 13 involuntary commitments, visiting my niece in a mental institute is equally taxing for me. I’ve also had to visit my father in a mental institution and my grandniece. 

Quite frankly, my Pom Poms are losing their streamers these days. My family have no idea the amount of stress they bring to the table. Work is my salvation. 

Video visitation continues to be an issue for prospects contacting me to Officiate a County Jail Wedding at a Unit that ONLY allows video conferencing. 

I will not conduct a ceremony via video for a number of reasons but mainly because video, cell phone or other forms of communication aren’t a legally binding ceremony. Why? Unless it’s a Proxy Marriage, the internet is not a legal entity. Communicating via the internet to marry might sound like a good idea but, it isn’t. 

My clients are always right in front of me whether they are separated by a glass partition or not. 

Prior to the Administrative Directive in Texas, inmate marriages were not allowed unless they were performed by Proxy. The Administrative Directive changed all of that. 

Proxy Marriage is no longer allowed in Texas Prisons. Proxy Marriage is also highly controversial to such an extent that many states no longer allow it. 

In the United States, proxy marriages are provided for in law or by customary practice in Texas, Colorado, Kansas, and Montana Of these, Montana is the only state that allows double-proxy marriage. Proxy marriages cannot be solemnized in any other U.S. states.

On July 28, 2015, the TDCJ revised Administrative Directive AD-03.42, concerning prisoner marriages. Under the revised policy, prison officials “shall permit offenders to be married on TDCJ property or contracted facilities.” Each prison “shall provide two non-visitation workdays per month for offenders to be married in the visitation area of the offender’s assigned unit.” Marriages between two prisoners are not permitted, ceremonies can not be held in prison chapels, nor can a non-incarcerated spouse bring in a wedding ring to give to the prisoner they are marrying. 

Offenders who are eligible for contact visits shall be allowed to hold hands during the ceremony and can share “a brief embrace and kiss at the end of the process.”

Administrative Directive AD-03.42 made inmate Proxy Marriage a thing of the past. For two years, I’ve been officiating Prison Weddings. Long before that though, I officiated County Jail Weddings. 

I’m not interested in why an inmate is in custody since it’s the first question anyone who realizes that I Officiate inmate weddings ask me. It’s not for me or anyone else to judge. 

There are differences when it comes to a County Jail or Prison Wedding Ceremony. The main difference being that only a TDCJ Approved Officiant is authorized to conduct the ceremony. 

County Jails have no such limitations. The only requirement for a County Jail Wedding is that the Officiant be authorized to conduct a marriage ceremony.

Prison Wedding Planning is a process. There is paperwork to be filed and the Prison Unit must give permission for couples to marry. 

County Jails and prisons both have dress codes in force to visitors. Be aware of this. You CANNOT “wear whatever you want” to an inmate wedding whether it’s in a County Jail, State Prison or Federal Prison. 

If an inmate is behind glass, they can hear and understand the ceremony. Depending on the level of custody, certain inmates may be restricted to their cells. Let’s look at custody levels. 

S1 (Often called Trustee one or Stat one)

S2 (Often called Trustee two or Stat two)

S3 (Often called Trustee three or Stat three)

S4 (Often called Trustee four or Stat four)

There are only a handful of S1’s in all of TDCJ. For most prisoners S2 is as high as they will go. For some crimes (homicides in particular) S3 is as high as the prisoner can go. 

Generally, unit disciplinary cases are the cause of a prisoner dropping in class. Prisoners generally rise in class levels by serving their time case free. How often and how many class levels a prisoners rises is a decision made by unit authorities. As a rule of thumb a prisoner usually rises one or two classes at a time and reclassifications occur between every six months and every year.

Prisoners have to reach the line class they entered into the TDCJ system as in order to become eligible for parole again. So if the prisoner entered as a Trusty IV and unit disciplinary case brought him down to a Line III, he will have to continue to have good disciplinary till he reclasses to a Trusty IV. 

G1 General Population Level 1 (Previously Minimum-Out)
G2 General Population Level 2 (Previously Minimum-In)

G3 General Population Level 3 (If offender has a sentence of 50 years or greater, 3G must serve 10 flat and non 3G must serve 5 flat, to move to a less restrictive custody; job and housing assignments will be restricted.)

G4 General Population Level 4 (Previously Medium)

G5 General Population Level 5 (Previously Close-Custody)

The G3 custody is what is being called the “new custody” and it is primarily utilized for those offenders with lengthy sentences who have not served a significant amount of time. 

An offender who is assigned to G3 custody will not be allowed to live in dormitories that are outside of the main building of a facility. They may not be assigned to jobs such as maintenance, back door worker, SSI, any clerk position, or any job where the offender would have access to multiple areas of the facility. This custody will retain the same privileges as a G2 offender (currently MI). 

The guidelines are as follows:
50 year 3G (murder, capital murder, indecency with a child, aggravated kidnapping sexual assault, aggravated sexual assault, aggravated robbery, health and safety code, chapter 481.134 (d), (d) and (f), and any offense with affirmative findings for use of a deadly weapon) will be required to serve 10 flat years before they are eligible to promote to a custody less restrictive than G3.

50 year non 3G offenses will be required to serve 5 flat years before they are eligible to promote to a custody level less restrictive than G3.

II. UNIT CLASSIFICATION
A. Custody Levels On the unit of assignment, an offender is given a custody designation which indicates several things. It tells where and with whom he can live, how much supervision he will need, and what job he can be assigned to.

An offender’s custody level depends on his current institutional behavior, his previous institutional behavior, and his current offense and sentence length. 

If he (or she) violates rules, he (or she) will be placed in a more restrictive custody. If he (or she) complies with the rules, he (or she) will be assigned a less restrictive custody level.

Institutional Offender Custody Levels:

1. Administrative Segregation

2. General Population Level 5 (G5) 

3. General Population Level 4 (G4) 

4. General Population Level 3 (G3) 

5. General Population Level 2 (G2) 

6. General Population Level 1 (G1)

State Jail Offender Custody Levels:

1. Special Management 

2. General Population Level 5 (J5) 

3. General Population Level 4 (J4) 

4. General Population Level 2 (J2) 

5. General Population Level 1 (J1) Administrative Segregation or Special Management refers to offenders who must be separated from the general population because they are dangerous, either to other offenders or staff, or they are in danger from other offenders. 

Additionally, offenders who, according to the SCC, are members of security threat groups designated by TDCJ may be given this custody level. 

These offenders leave their cells, for the most part, only for showers and limited recreation. (Offenders assigned to Administrative Segregation in expansion cellblocks shower in their cells.) 

General Population Level 5 (G5) or (J5) custody refers to offenders who have assaultive or aggressive disciplinary records. 

G5 or J5 custody offenders must live in cells. They may not work outside the security fence without direct, armed supervision.

General Population Level 4 (G4) or (J4) custody means the offender must live in a cell, with few exceptions, and may work outside the security fence under direct armed supervision. J4 State Jail offenders may be housed in designated dorms. 

General Population Level 3 (G3) refers to Institutional offenders who may live in dorms or cells inside the main building of the unit. 

G3 offenders are ineligible to live in dorms outside the main building of a unit, inside the security fence. 

G3 offenders will be generally assigned to field force and secure jobs inside the perimeter as designated by the Warden. They may work outside the security fence under direct armed supervision. (State Jail offenders are not assigned to level 3 custody.) 

General Population Level 2 (G2) or (J2) custody refers to offenders who may live in dorms or cells inside the security fence. They may work outside the security fence under direct armed supervision.

General Population Level 1 (G1) or (J1) custody allows offenders to live in dorms outside the security fence. They may work outside the security fence with periodic unarmed supervision.

Note: Offenders in all of the above general population custody levels may also be given a safekeeping status if they need an added level of protection from other offenders.

Since I’ve been asked about being in 2 locations on the same day, there are limits in my ability to get from one Unit to the next based on distance. I cannot be in Childress and Allred on the same day. I can be at Michael, Beto or Coffield on the same day. Why? Because Tennessee Colony like Huntsville or Gatesville has numerous Units. 

If I’m within 30 minutes to an hour of a Unit, it’s possible to be at two Units within a certain distance on the same day. 

Normally a “stacked” day for me involves 1 to up to 8 clients at the same Unit. Moving from one Unit to the next can be stressful as I have no idea how long we will be “inside” making calculating my timeline difficult if not impossible.

Because of this, I limit new clients for Prison Weddings every month to ensure my availability. 

Like anyone else I’ve talked to, I’m against video visitation. The personal element is removed entirely with video. Several county Jails also remove the ability to visit in person entirely when installing video cameras. 

Families of loved ones can and do video chats from anywhere for a fee but, is it worth it? I don’t think so but, I’m adding a link for those unaware of video visitation to enlighten you– Video Visitation. What is it and how does it work?

For clients marrying an inmate, an Absentee Affidavit and notarized ID are necessary to purchase the marriage license. There cannot be any corrections on either document. 

If you’re planning to get married, there is one thing you can’t forget: the marriage license AND an Officiant. You can’t get legally “hitched” without a marriage license. A marriage license is sort of a permit, kind of like a driver’s license. It says that you are legally allowed to marry, although obtaining one does not mean that you are married. 

Marriage licenses are not free OR provided by the Officiant. The couple must purchase a marriage license at the Clerks office. 

You still must tie the knot before someone with the power to marry people legally, with the license at hand. The rules and requirements for getting a marriage license vary from state to state and from country to country. 

To make sure that you have all your ducks in a row, contact your city, county, or town clerk’s office which will direct you to the pertinent information. Many cities and counties have websites with marriage license requirements spelled out, and you often can fill out the application online and pay fees with a credit card. That said, there are certain basic pieces of information that you will need no matter where you apply for a marriage license. 

Timeframe: Find out if there is a waiting period and for how long marriage licenses are valid. You’ll likely need to apply during the week or two before your ceremony. What documents you’ll need: Some states require birth certificates, proof of citizenship and/or residence; virtually all states require a driver’s license or another type of photo ID. 

If you have been widowed or divorced, you should also have a copy of the death certificate or divorce decree. Fees and how to pay them: If there is a fee, you might need to pay it with a money order, cashier’s check, or cash. You also might be able to pay with a credit card, depending on the state. 

Blood tests: Although this requirement is no longer widespread, some states still require blood tests. 

If you are planning a destination wedding or getting married in a state other than where you live, you’ll also need to find out about residency requirements, if any. This includes how long you must be in the county before you can apply or any other rules at the location you’ve chosen for your ceremony. 

The bride and groom take identification, any necessary paperwork, fees, and sometimes blood test results to the county clerk in the jurisdiction where the ceremony will take place to apply for a marriage license. 

The marriage license is either mailed to or picked up by the bride and groom. There is sometimes a waiting period, depending on your state. You are married by someone legally allowed to do so in your state. 

The person who performs the ceremony, two witnesses (if required), and sometimes the bride and groom sign the marriage license. 

The marriage license is returned to the county clerk’s office by the person who performs the ceremony or, the couple if they choose to file the signed license in person. 

About a week later, copies of the certified marriage certificate can be purchased from the clerk’s office.

Marriage is a process whether you are marrying an inmate or not. Please be aware of timelines pertaining to the marriage license. There is a shelf life. If your marriage liscense expires, you will need to purchase a new one. 

If your Absentee Affidavit expires or contains corrections, you will need a new one as well. 

I hope this clarifies Proxy Marriage and explains why the Administrative Directive changed Prison Proxy Marriage or any confusion regarding video or internet ceremonies and why both parties must be present if I’m officiating your ceremony. 

Furloughs To Forever Homes- Why Releases Are Cause For Celebration And Planning For My Clients…

Last night my Hodge Unit bride called me with good news that her husband was up for Furlough in a few weeks. I love getting updates from my clients and hearing happy endings. 

This month, my Estes bride will also finally be reunited with her husband. A few months ago, my Hutchins State Jail bride said goodbye to weekends visits and hello to her husband. Maria like all of my prison wives was thrilled to begin life beyond the razor wire. 

Weekend visits to Texas Prisons often involve long drives for my clients. Phone calls are also a huge expense. It’s not easy or inexpensive to be the “bride or groom on the outside.” Being on the outside is expensive. 

A lot of people assume that my clients were pen pals but, the truth is that very few of my clients (less than 2%) were pen pals. 

All of my clients (male or female) share their love story with me voluntarily. They often tell me how they met and when and how a mistake caused them to lose their love to Lock Up.

No one going into a relationship “plans for Prison” to be a part of the equation. In fact, it’s quite rare for any of my clients to not have known the inmate prior to incarceration. 

Hodge Unit is about two and a half hours from my location. When my Hodge Unit bride initially contacted me months ago, I had just been to the same unit two weeks prior. It would have been easier to perform her ceremony at the same time I was performing another at the same Unit but, this isn’t always possible.  

Units normally “stack” my clients but, occasionally due to slow paperwork this cannot always occur. Paperwork and permission or Approval to marry an inmate involve a process. 

The end result is that I may be driving to the same Unit twice in the same month. I spend several hours a week driving to Texas Prisons and Jails Monday through Friday. In fact, Prison Weddings occupy up to 85% of my bookings through Texas Twins Events and The Pawning Planners.

Most of my previous clients plan Vow Renewals after release in order to have a traditional ceremony. 

I’m at Tarrant County Greenbay Unit tomorrow and Estes Unit rolling into the weekend at Bell Tower Chapel, Marty Leonard Chapel and The Tower in Dallas this weekend. Working seven days a week keeps me busy.

Rolling into February, I’m at Bridgeport, Allred, Ferguson, Michael, Coffield, Parker County and Tarrant County Units. It surprises folks that I bounce from an exclusive venue to a Prison or Park but, variety is the spice of life.

Since a few readers have been following the saga of dealing with my dad, niece and grandniece this past year or called when I was leaving yet another mental institution visit, my dad left Fort Worth nearly eight weeks ago on an internet date and never returned. I’m okay with this. I’m tired of juggling dad, Stephaney and Maryssa. 

Quite frankly, my family life has been a mess for over a year. My niece, Stephaney went off the rails in October 2017. Her mom and I had been thrilled to get Stephaney back on track after she had been a passenger in a stolen semi tractor truck in Oklahoma five years ago. At the time Stephaney went missing, she was supposed to be working a $300k wedding with me in Fort Worth at the T&P as my bilingual translator. 

For fourteen years now, looking for Stephaney has been an emotionally debilitating and often exhausting unpaid job for my twin sister and I. Stephaney is our biggest failure. Perhaps because she was put on probation with mandatory drug testing, the three years we had of her being stable stopped the moment the drug testing did. 

When you walk in and out of Prisons five days a week, you find yourself wondering why Stephaney isn’t an inmate. Would Prison straighten her out? I have no idea but, I know this, often Prison is the only thing that straightens a few folks out. 

I saved Stephaney from prison and after over a year of her antics, I’m now doubting my decision. In Oklahoma, inmates are charged a fee to be in jail or prison. These fees are added to probation and restitution costs. Stephaney’s fees for six months in Cotton County Jail were over $6k. 

While Stephaney was living at home rent free with my sister, Stephaney paid off her fines. Stephaney has never paid rent. I’m guessing this was a mistake on our part but, I will never know if not forcing her to pay rent gave her the money to go buy drugs? While we had hoped that Stephaney would snap out of it and become a permanent part of our lives, Stephaney loved meth more. It’s this devastating reality that has torn our family apart. 

From the downward spiral of Stephaney’s choices, her daughter, Maryssa began acting out too. In the midst of all of this, my father began acting oddly. A few months into Stephaney’s wild behavior, my father began believing invisible intruders were living in his attic. 

Between dad and Stephaney, Cindy and I were literally overwhelmed. Trying to convince my dad that no one could possibly be living in his attic while trying to find Stephaney who continued to disappear and run wild, Cindy and I had diverted our attention to dad and Stephaney who were both involuntarily committed in July 2017. Unbeknownst to Cindy or I, Maryssa would use this window to begin acting out herself. 

Visiting mental hospitals is similar to walking into a Texas Prison. How? You are frisked doing both. Inmates don’t act crazy but, other patients do. It’s an eye opener to visit a family member in a Psych Ward if you’ve never done so before. My first visit to one was for my niece, Stephaney. Cindy and I went through the process of getting cleared, giving the patients ID # and being herded in with other other poor people struggling through the process. It reminded me of entering a Prison. By the time my dad was committed, Cindy and I “knew the drill.”

Yesterday, I write a blog regarding the importance of vending machines in Visitation Areas. If you missed it, here’s the link– Visitation Areas, Vending Machines & Doing Our Very Best In A Bad Situation.

The only “breaks” I’ve had the past year have been inside Texas Prisons. There isn’t anything unpredictable occurring. I’ve found the structure and predictability to be relaxing. For a few hours, the problems of my family are put in a box. For a few hours, I’m not worrying about my niece, grandniece or my father. Road trips to Texas Prisons are actually an escape of sorts for Cindy and I. The problems at home are put away giving us a break from the ongoing issues of having three family members who have no idea of the strain they’ve caused to our families. 

Mixing work and family isn’t a choice. My family and I work together. Due to my dad’s behavior, I’ve removed him from County Jail Wedding Services and am now handling them myself when my other niece, Leigh Ann or my son are unavailable to take on a new client. Initially, I had assumed that I would bounce clients requesting jail weddings to dad but, obviously I cannot count on someone unreliable. I’ve whipped through our staff this past year and cut bilingual services because Stephaney is the only bilingual person in our family. I wish I was bilingual but, I’m not. No one else is either. 

Since I also handle destination event services, Cindy and I coordinate and Officiate traditional bookings with my niece, Leigh Ann handling photography. Since I’ve been asked, Cindy and I work as a team at all event services other than inside Texas Prisons. 

There aren’t any visitors allowed in Units. I walk in alone with my clients. Cindy waits for me at area thrift shops or a cafe along with guests who travelled with my client. 

Guests and family members can join my client for photos after we meet up again upon leaving a Unit. Photo shoots bring the fun after the stress of marrying in a Texas Prison are in the rear view mirror. Clothing at Texas Prison Weddings continues to be an issue for clients who “assume” that because it’s their wedding day, they can wear what they want. You can’t. Visitation dress codes are in force on wedding day. You CAN wear sandals. You CANNOT wear revealing clothing. 

I have a specific contract for Texas Prison Weddings With Wendy Wortham that outlines client conduct at Units. 

I want your day to be as pleasant as possible. Because of this, while County Jail Weddings are far more relaxed, Prison Weddings aren’t. You must follow all TDCJ Guidelines. Following the Rules will make your wedding ceremony far more pleasant.

Because County Jail Visitation can occur seven days a week and wedding ceremonies are scheduled during visitation, I cannot Officiate on weekends at County Jails due to my schedule. County Jail Weddings are scheduled with Prison Weddings Monday through Friday in order to accommodate my existing bookings on weekends. Please be aware of this. 

My niece, Stephaney will be released from JPS LCA in the next few weeks. Of course, I’m concerned about what to expect as is Cindy. However, our focus is on Maryssa and Stephaney must find her own path. At this time, I’m not adding another bilingual translator. 

My father is apparently happy wherever he is and I’m happy I’m not consistently trying to convince him that no one is living in his attic. I’m also happy to not be visiting him daily at Wellbridge as is Cindy. 

I’m looking forward to meeting our new clients at Texas Jails and Prisons in the coming months and seeing our previous clients at their Vow Renewal Ceremonies soon. 

Congratulations to all of our Prison Wives and Husband’s on your journey home far from the steel doors and razor wire…

People Who Shine From Within Don’t Need A Spotlight-

Last night my Ferguson Unit Bride sent me a text. I was saddened to hear that she was planning to cancel her wedding scheduled for January 16th @1PM due to financial difficulties. Alarmed, I called her. She was crying and I told her to calm down that I wasn’t going to cancel. 

This decision is one that most likely no one else would make but, what makes me different also makes me far more sought after. I advised my Bride that she could pay out the balance and send a small deposit instead. 

Ferguson Unit is about three hours one way from Fort Worth. My last visit to Ferguson was a bit of a surprise because it was the first time that the inmate was behind glass. I wasn’t expecting this and after walking into the visitation area with my Client, felt saddened that my Bride wouldn’t be able to kiss her Groom.

Apparently, my Client wasn’t nearly as bothered by the glass as I was and she loved the photo of them together that merged their faces. Since I’ve been asked if inmates can hear and understand the ceremony, the answer is yes. 

Occasionally, there is a phone that my client and I take turns talking into but usually, there’s a small opening under the glass. Leaving Ferguson Unit, I was grappling with the glass in my mind and wishing my client could have held hands or even hugged her new husband but, my Client wasn’t upset by the glass. It was only I who felt sad about the circumstances.

My niece, Leigh Ann was waiting for me in the parking lot and asked “what’s wrong?” I told her that the glass had scared me initially as to whether the inmate could understand the ceremony and secondly I was hoping my bride could at least “seal the deal with a kiss.” 

A few miles away from the Unit, we pulled over and began unloading many of the items I had packed for our “rolling photo booth.” 

Although my heart was heavy about the glass, it wasn’t at all weighing heavily on my client who had a great time with us and was thrilled to finally be married. 

I have learned to put my own feelings aside for weddings that take place in less than celebratory locations from a prison or even a hospital death bed. 

Years ago, someone contacted me who wasn’t expected to live. They wanted to marry their partner from the confines of a hospital bed in order to leave their worldly possessions to them via marriage. 

I’ve also given Last Rites at area hospitals for many years. Most people requesting Last Rites were often not religious throughout their life. However, I’ve learned that when near death, religious preferences change dramatically. I don’t judge anyone. In fact, I believe that it’s better to find faith late than it is to never find it.

For over an hour, my joyous client continued to text me. She couldn’t believe that I would make an exception. But, I don’t “have” to work. I haven’t in many years. I trust my clients. We’ve built a relationship together. I know that my client will make good on her promise and I could hear how devastated she was about the change of her financial situation in her voice. I’m “everyone’s mother” on a regular basis. 

Walking into a Prison with a nervous client, they know that I will be with them every step of the way. They are all nervous. They never expected to be marrying at a Texas Prison either. Who would? 

For the first year of Texas Prison Weddings, I felt more comfortable knowing “that I wouldn’t be alone.” I felt more comfortable knowing my client “knew the ropes.” The situation has changed now and I’m no longer intimidated by slamming steel doors behind me or razor wire glistening in the Texas sun. 

My clients know the Unit and are familiar with the screening process. I was never alone and this helped ease my wild imagination regarding what to expect more than anyone realized.

When I agreed to undergo the screening process for Misty two years ago, I was perhaps far more nervous about walking into a prison than Misty realized. The only Prisons I had ever seen were from Texas highways or on television. 

I had actually met Misty before undergoing the process and again before the wedding for her bridal photo shoot. Back then, Estes didn’t allow photos at weddings. They now do. By divine intervention perhaps, Estes Unit was a minimum security prison. Driving in, I wondered where the guards were? The dogs? The razor wire? Who was keeping everyone in or out? But, my relief at what wasn’t what I had expected would “turn” less than a week later at TDCJ Michael Unit.

At Estes, we were cleared and escorted to the visitation area. Most Units have beautifully painted walls that provide a backdrop. Estes did. The steel door slamming behind did cause me to jump a bit but, I didn’t have a heart attack or panic that we wouldn’t be able to leave. 

Misty calmed me significantly without even realizing it. I was inside my very first prison. I wasn’t hyperventilating and I wasn’t worried about a riot. These thoughts had kept me awake for days prior to my first Prison wedding. My thoughts and fears were unfounded. 

I also realized that Prison Weddings were scheduled during the week because the ceremony generally takes place in the visitation area. The visitation area is used on weekends and therefore unavailable. 

At the time I agreed to help Misty and become a TDCJ Approved Officiant, all of my events or bookings were on weekends or evenings making Prison Weddings “a perfect fit” for my schedule. Shocking right? I couldn’t believe it myself. 

Prison weddings were so easy to squeeze into my schedule that I decided to expand Texas Twins Events to include Texas Prison Weddings. Two years later, I do far more Prison Weddings than any other event booking. Prior to Prison Weddings, half of my Client base was LBGT. 

I’m somewhat infamous for being LBGT friendly from the start of Texas Twins Events. Since I’m always asked, yes I also perform LBGT Prison Weddings. 

Did I know two years ago that Prison Weddings would occupy up to 85 percent of new bookings? No. Who would? I had no idea how many people wanted to marry an inmate. But, between my bookings at venues and existing client bases for Texas Twins Events and The Pawning Planners, Texas Prison Wedding bookings would add a completely different dimension to my Client base. 

A few days after officiating Misty’s wedding ceremony at Estes Unit, I was driving to Tennessee Colony, Texas. Tennessee Colony is a city of Prisons.I was shocked by this and the sign rolling into town that listed all of the Units in a small country town with only one convenience store. The store was unlike any I’ve ever been to. There was a barber shop. There was a cleaners. There was a grill. There was also plumbing supplies being sold next to milk and eggs. 

The General store was a surprising pit stop for not only me but also my twin sister who was going to wait for me while shopping at this out of the way country store. 

I had expected Michael Unit to be just like Estes Unit with a nice parking lot and couldn’t have been more shocked driving into the Unit by the remarkable differences between Estes and Michael. 

TDCJ Michael Unit had a guard shack. Michael Unit also had razor wire and everything that I had expected Estes to have. Yes, I was at a maximum security unit. The variations between minimum and maximum are significant. My fear of a riot or being locked in returned tenfold. 

Trying to control my breathing, I was SO THANKFUL that Trishelle had offered to let me ride to the unit with her there are no words to express my relief. The glistening razor wire in the Texas sun was blinding. I actually held Trishelle’a hand to steady my frazzled nerves. Wobbly legs aside, Trishelle was comfortable about walking me into my first maximum security unit. 

Michael Unit was similar to the Prisons I had seen on TV. It was intimidating to say the least. Since then, I’ve been in many maximum security units including Death Row Prisons. I’ve overcome my claustrophobia and I’ve learned that I’m safer in a Prison than anywhere else. 

Trishelle had dropped her mother and friends with Cindy to wait for us while inside the Unit. I was so thankful that I wasn’t alone removing my shoes and blazer that I didn’t lose my balance and trip or start hyperventilating you have no idea.

Trishelle was comfortable and not at all intimidated. Walking into the visitation area with vending machine trash surrounding us, I couldn’t “get over” where the ceremony would be taking place. I asked to move the trash around our feet away from the couple before proceeding with the ceremony. The trash bothered me. 

Riding back to the General store, I was relieved to be leaving the first maximum security unit I had ever been inside. I was thankful that I didn’t walk in alone. I managed to keep my composure and put my fear at bay. I had done it! Thank God for Trishelle. 

My relief at getting through my first maximum security unit wedding ceremony was behind me as Trishelle and her group jumped in for fun wedding photos. My mini photo sessions are a celebration for clients. 

I’ve created an extensive inventory of wedding dresses, bouquets, boutenniers and other items that my clients love to borrow. 

What made me different made me successful. Having an identical twin and partner, we look forward to more road trips and rest areas. 

Cindy and I have met some pretty amazing people and along the way, we have also learned that working together was the best decision we could have ever made…

Hitchin A Ride- Fort Worth To Goree Unit-Following The Groom…

Sending my twin a text this morning, my sinus infection had my head pounding while the threat of inclement weather Wednesday decided which SUV we would be taking to Huntsville. 

Cindy has AWD while my SUV is front wheel drive. As I pray that sleet and snow skip over North Texas, planning road trips during ice storms continues to worry me. 

My sister though isn’t worried at all. Her Mitsubishi Outlander has never let her down. I wonder if maybe I should trade my Hyundai Santa Fe for an AWD Mitsubishi? Ice is rare in Texas but, Prison Weddings aren’t seasonal. They are year round. 

Last February, Cindy and I left Fort Worth on a Greyhound bus headed to Allred Unit. The “plan” was for Cindy to wait at the terminal for me. What we couldn’t have “planned” was that the terminal would close. 

Thankfully, my amazing bride along with her mother and future mother in law saved the day by picking us up at the terminal and dropping my bride and I at Allred. 

It’s so rare for me to decide to take the bus that this would be the 2nd time in my life to choose Greyhound but, my fear of driving on icy roads led me to the decision last February just as it had in the 90’s when I was due in Houston and icy road conditions were being speculated. Buses don’t bother me. The people were friendly and there were convenient outlets to plug your phone in. The chairs weren’t uncomfortable and although I didn’t need to use the restroom, there was one aboard the bus. Greyhound had thought of everything. Cindy was as impressed as I was with the ease of buying a ticket and boarding the bus. 

My husband had been so concerned about Cindy and I freezing to death between Fort Worth and Wichita Falls that the bus seemed like a safer option. 

I never call in sick because there aren’t any sick days in the events industry. Last Thursday while on location at Parker County Jail my ear began throbbing. I wearily recognized the signs of a sinus infection coming on but as usual had no time to get into my PCP. 

My grandniece, Makenna was struggling with abdominal pain so rather than addressing my ear, I took Makenna to Harris Hospital and found that she had a golf ball sized cyst on her ovary. Makenna has been struggling with cysts the past year. At fourteen, this surprises me. But, we are trying to find solutions to a painful problem for Makenna.

Friday morning, I was due on location for a photo shoot. The frigid temperatures and wind certainly didn’t help my ears or sinuses but, braving the weather for three hours would get me far more sick by the time we wrapped up the photo shoot.

I had planned to go to Parker County Urgent Care for my usual steroid shot and did at 4PM but, by then I was really getting sick. My neck was stiff and both ears clogged. 

Picking up my prescription at Walmart for antibiotics, I wearily told my sister “I hope the shots and antibiotics get me over this soon. We are at Goree on the 2nd and all over the place for prison Weddings this month.” 

The weather (as usual) didn’t occur to me. My husband would bring up the weather as I miserably sat next to my vaporizer at home struggling to clear my head. My husband always watches the weather because he knows that driving to Texas Prisons can get tricky with a winter mix. 

Last February, the cold snap and combination of sleet didn’t slow down my brides mother who was driving her car through the icy streets like Speed Racer.

The roads didn’t bother her at all. We had a great time with our new friends and even stopped for Mexican food on our way back to the terminal. 

Although hitching a ride had never occurred to me before, our new friends made sure that I made it back to the bus terminal in Fort Worth safely. 

Those three ladies were truly amazing and a Godsend to Cindy and I since the Greyhound terminal had closed in Wichita Falls leaving Cindy and I without transportation.I’ve decided that if the buses are going to shut down, it’s probably better to rely on my sisters trusty SUV. It’s never left my sister stranded.

Usually, the worst months for weather in Texas are January and February. Although icy roads terrify me, Cindy takes driving in treacherous conditions in stride. In fact, today, Cindy is busy getting her SUV ready for our next road trip. 

Hopefully, my head clears up before Wednesday. I continue to sip hot tea and try to snap myself out of being down with a head cold. I should have worn a hat to the photo shoot and protected my ears. 

Hindsight is 20/20 and knowing how easily I get sick these days, protecting my ears should have been a priority but, dealing with Tardy clients had my focus elsewhere.

As others come up with New Years Resolutions, my resolution is to get over this blasted head cold. 

I’m looking forward to finally meeting my Bride. We had been scheduled for her wedding at Allred Unit when the groom was transferred to Goree. 

Transfers slow down the process even after a couple have been assigned a date. Once transferred, an inmate will need to file a new I60 Request For Marriage Form. 

Please be aware that based on distance from the original unit, an additional travel fee may apply if the inmate is transferred further from my location than the original unit was when booking your Texas Prison wedding. 

If the Absentee Affidavit and notarized ID expire, you will need to repeat the process if you haven’t already purchased your marriage license. Marriage licenses also have a shelf life. If the license expires while waiting to marry, you will need to purchase a new license.

Wishing all of my clients a wonderful me prosperous New Year and hoping ice days are few and far between in Texas…

Fort Worth To TDCJ Allred Unit To Winstar Casino To Bell Tower Chapel- Two Weddings & A Rehearsal…

Planning my schedule takes a certain amount of flexibility. Why? Because traffic, Client calls and other things factor heavily into my ability to bounce from one location to the next. 

Due to my existing schedule, a wedding ceremony on Christmas Eve wasn’t possible since I’m already booked for a Vow Renewal and Baptism in two different cities Christmas Eve. 

To solve the scheduling problem on Christmas Eve, I checked the distance Allred Unit from Fort Worth then from the Unit to Winstar Casino and, as long as I left Wichita Falls by 2:30-3PM, knew I could arrive at Winstar by 4:30-5PM. 

I was due at a wedding rehearsal at 8PM in Fort Worth so, I double checked the distance from Winstar to Bell Tower. The drive time and traffic play a huge part in my planning process. 

When you spend as much time traveling as I do with Cindy, it’s best to overestimate the commute when a Client is waiting on you. I’m always early because I don’t want to be late. 

My days and hours are far from 9-5 although TDCJ Weddings occur Monday through Friday from 9-5. Why? Travel time is a large consideration. Texas is a large state. 

Secondly, the amount of time spent inside a Unit can be “up in the air.” There isn’t a definite timeline of the Unit locating an inmate or the ceremony starting on time. 

A number of things can cause a delay once arriving at the Unit. Please be patient. 

I normally estimate up to 2 hours once inside a TDCJ Unit although I was once waiting with my Client at Stiles Unit nearly 3 hours for her ceremony. 

Since Stiles Unit was 5+ hours from Fort Worth, the additional time inside the Unit along with my travel home a FULL DAY. 

If your Unit is 3.5 hours one way, I do not schedule other Events on the same day unless of course, they are at the same Unit. 

It’s not unusual for me to Officiate 3 and even up to 8 weddings at a Texas Prison on the same day. The reason for this is travel time and the Unit working with me to “stack my Clients” at the same location.

My schedule is normally stacked whenever possible to accommodate my Clients. Since I’m also on staff at other venues including Bell Tower Chapel, flexibility is a requirement in order to address new Clients as well as existing bookings. 

It’s well known that I have a full staff and only I am TDCJ Approved to Officiate Texas Prison Weddings. My other Officiants and photographers on staff address traditional bookings as well as County Jail Wedding requests. 

The continued issues regarding clothing or attire have become so distressing to my Clients that I’m going to once again go over why it’s best to overdress rather than underdress to your Unit Wedding. 

During the Prison Wedding Planning Process, I often ask what you plan to wear in order to alleviate any issues. 

Let’s go over what you CAN or CANNOT wear to your Texas Prison Wedding as the SAME dress code applies to Prison Weddings as Visitation Guidelines: 

Offender Visitation Dress Code

Visitors are encouraged to dress conservatively.
Sandals, flip-flops, and open-toe shoes may be worn.

Clothing that is tight fitting, revealing, or made with see-through fabrics shall not be allowed.

Sleeveless shirts and dresses are allowed, but must cover the shoulders.

Shorts and skirts no shorter than three inches above the middle of the knee while standing, capri pants, or long pants are allowed.

Length is not restricted for pre-adolescent boys and girls, generally ages 10 and younger.

Clothing with pictures or language that may be considered profane or offensive by current public standards shall not be allowed.

Note: The duty warden shall make the final decision on whether clothing is appropriate.

It’s essential to understand the guidelines of marrying at a Texas Prison because unlike a “wedding on the outside,” the Client isn’t in control. The Prison Unit is. 

Today, I’d like to go over why my Client and I were left waiting for hours at Stiles Unit and why if you are asked to wear a cafeteria smock, it’s upsetting and occasionally embarrassing due to your clothing or attire being deemed “inappropriate.” 

I’ve had several questions regarding the similarities between the Stiles and Estes dresses. “Why did Stiles have to wear a smock and why were her photos taken without it?” Or, “I saw one of your other brides wearing a dress that wasn’t in the code. How did she wear that when I couldn’t to the Unit?” Or, “Your Prison Wedding at Michael had friends in her photos. Why can’t I bring friends to my wedding?” 

First off- bridal or groom photography can and does include guests. Prison Weddings DO NOT allow guests. Guests can wait while we are inside the Unit and join you in bridal photos. You can also wear whatever you want or change clothes for your photo shoot with me. 

Unless a photo is of my Client and I INSIDE A UNIT, clothing, guests, flowers and other items are taken outside the Unit. I offer complimentary photograohy as a courtesy to Clients and their friends or family. I also bring a wide array of photo booth items as well as bouquets, boutenierres and other items to pull photo shoots together. 

If Clients wish to bring friends or family or additional items or even a change of clothes to photo shoots, I also encourage them to do so. 

The Stiles dress was covered walking to the visitation area with a cafeteria smock. Only once inside was my Bride allowed to remove the smock. 

In her wedding photos, you can see she had been crying. Nothing is more upsetting to my Clients than being handed a cafeteria smock to wear walking into the Unit. 

It’s deeply disturbing and upsetting for my clients who wanted to look beautiful and certainly didn’t anticipate being to be required to wear a cafeteria smock to overdress rather than underdress.

Because of this occurring more than once, we will once again revisit Prison Wedding attire. I will always be wearing a suit. I wear flats or sandals based on the season or weather. I wear easy to remove shoes intentionally as our feet and hands will be screened. 

I can assist you in taking off your shoes prior to screening in. I cannot assist you in putting your shoes back on once we are screened. There may or may not be an area for you to sit and put your shoes back on. Please be aware of this. Putting shoes back on while standing on one foot is tricky. You may be forced to lean against a wall if there isn’t a bench or chair. 

The Estes bride borrowed one of my jackets and was able to marry in her dress covered by my jacket. First, we will look at her Unit photo in my suit jacket.Now, let’s look at her bridal photos taken by me at Botanic Garden. My Bride had arrived in Fort Worth at the Greyhound bus station. I had picked her up and drove her to my home to change clothes. 

Upon seeing her dress, I suggested bringing one of my jackets as I wearily realized the Unit (most likely) wouldn’t allow her dress. Below is a photo of the dress that is low cut and also above the knee. 

This dress on its own would never have been deemed appropriate. Rather than upset my Client, I loaned her clothes to “cover up.” My Stiles Unit bride arrived in a white form fitting dress. Although it was full length, the bodice was low cut and the dress was deemed “too sheer.” 

I had asked if she could remove the smock for her wedding photos and the Warden allowed this only once inside a private area. Look at her eyes. 

Walking all the way into the Unit wearing a cafeteria smock, my heart broke at what was supposed to be a joyous day for her turning into a “walk of shame” in that smock. Leaving the Unit, I had found a park for her bridal photos. The smock left behind at Stiles and the stress behind her, my Bride was relieved and once again, happy. 

Bridal photos give my Clients an opportunity to have fun and leave the stress and occasionally, the embarrassment of wearing a smock behind them. You can wear whatever you want to your bridal or groom photo shoot. 

You CANNOT wear whatever you want to your Prison Wedding. I don’t make the rules. TDCJ does and, it’s at THEIR discretion if your attire is appropriate. Please be aware of this. It’s essential to your wedding being pleasant and worry free. My Stiles bride was also busty and the clingy fabric of her form fitting dress which was also sheer was the main issue with the Warden. Although she was wearing a slip from the waist down, had she been wearing a cami or tank under the dress to cover cleavage, it still might have been too revealing based on the tight fit. 

In this type of situation, wearing a jacket, shawl, or even a sweater over the top part of the dress might have alleviated the need to wear a smock walking into the Unit. Michael Unit does not allow dresses. My Michael Unit Brides wear jeans. Trishelle wore jeans to her wedding and then changed afterwards before joining her friends in her photo shoot. I’m adding the Unit photo below. Leaving the Unit, Trishelle and I drove to Tennessee Colony store for her to change clothes and meet up with her mother, sister and best friends.If the offender is behind glass, you cannot touch or hold hands. At Ferguson Unit, my Bride wore a dress but, the dress covered her shoulders. We had NO issues regarding cleavage because while standing, no cleavage was visible. 

Your skirt or dress length should be at your knees or within one inch. It’s “tricky.” Once the wedding ceremony was finished, my beautiful bride and I found an area near the Unit for her bridal photos. Photos cannot be taken on TDCJ Property. 

At Luther Unit, my bride wore a dress that covered her shoulders and hit at the knee. There weren’t any issues because she strictly adhered to the TDCJ visitation dress code. I’m usually wearing ankle length or floor length slacks. I’m always wearing a jacket and occasionally, a scarf. I’m busty and if any cleavage is showing, I cover it up with a scarf as I did at Hodge Unit. Last February, my beautiful bride had an amazing wedding dress but, had to wear a coat over it. After leaving Allred Unit, we found an area for fun photos in her wedding dress.Although she had a jacket that matched the wedding dress, the dress was sleeveless. Texas Department Of Criminal Justice dress code REQUIRES the shoulders be covered during visitation. Prison Wedding ceremonies follow stringent guidelines. No spaghetti straps or strapless dresses are allowed. Please be aware of this.

Yesterday, at TDCJ Allred Unit, my Bride had previously sent me a photo of the dress she planned to wear. I’m attaching it for your review. The model has cleavage showing but, the dress could be pinned. 

The length of the dress appeared within the guidelines but, the slit in the front came up a little higher on my Client.

Brandy looked beautiful coming downstairs and I quickly eyed her dress. There wasn’t any cleavage showing and the back of the dress hit below her knees. Because of this, I believed we were fine. But, the Unit has the final call on attire. Not I or my Client. 

Brandy and her best friend had as much fun at their hotel photo shoot as I did. We were planning a great day filled with fun and promise but, once at the Unit, things would change.I had dropped Brandy’s friend to shop while we headed on to Allred Unit. Because the wedding was scheduled for 1PM, we arrived at 12:30PM and checked in with Chaplain Lawler. 

Brandy and her beau had both written their vows. My couple had put a lot of thought into their ceremony but, within minutes, a day that Brandy had looked forward to would be altered.

The assistant Warden strongly advised us both that Brandy’s dress was “unacceptable.” Because of this, I ran to my SUV to grab a scarf and pins to cover the bottom portion of her dress. 

Moments later, the assistant Warden told Brandy that she couldn’t marry in the dress at all. The only option was to wear the smock. Nothing causes me more stress than to see a Client crying because they must wear a smock to their ceremony. 

Because of this, I’m ONCE AGAIN warning my Clients that the possibility of having to wear a smock exists and if the dress length is deemed too short, warning you of the stress of wearing a smock to your ceremony will bring.

It’s better to err on the side of caution regarding clothing or, to bring a change of clothes to your Unit Wedding. Brandy had a change of clothes but, they were in her car back at the hotel. I wish we had brought them with us in my SUV but, hindsight is 20/20. 

I want your wedding to be seamless and worry free. I want your experience to be pleasant and I care about you and your feelings. 

Having a Client walking in with me upset about what they are wearing is so sad to me that I’m writing this blog in the hopes of preventing a similar circumstance happening to someone else…

Texas Prison Weddings And Love After Lock Up- TDCJ Allred To TDCJ Hughes Unit…

Following The Groom or Bride- 

No one was more surprised than I was to hear an inmate was being transferred on his wedding day at TDCJ Allred Unit yesterday. 

Unit transfers happen. Don’t get discouraged. It’s a process but, timelines are changed. 

If you have been assigned a date, the date will also be changed. Stay calm, you are going to get married. Transfers like Lock Downs are simply a bump in the road. 

My bride had sent me an email and a text to alert me to the wedding being cancelled due to the transfer at 10PM. Please let me know ASAP if there are any changes to your assigned date and time. 

Due to the transfer, we will now wait for more information and a reschedule at the new Unit. I have 9 brides waiting on dates at Allred currently. Your wedding may be stacked at Allred and other Units as Chaplains and Wardens stack my weddings as a courtesy. I perform up to 10 weddings at the same Unit on the same day.

Transfer After Scheduled Unit Wedding Information- 

First, once the inmate is moved, advise me of the Unit. Secondly, the inmate must go to the Law Library and check to see if the I60 paperwork was transferred. If it wasn’t, have the inmate file a new I60 at the new Unit. This is a 7-21 day process. Be calm. Don’t continue calling the Unit. 

Travel Fees- 

Changes to the location of a Unit after the initial agreement are involved. Based on distance, the new Unit may be closer to Fort Worth or further away. If the Unit is further away, a calculation of mileage will be added to the initial agreement and Unit. 

Emergency Officiant Fees- 

If you have hired another TDCJ Officiant and they don’t honor your end of the agreement, this is a problem between you and the original Officiant. I.E. you will need to get your money back and THEN contact me. Short notice or emergency Officiant Fees are significantly higher because the Client wasn’t factored into my scheduling. 

Contacting me with less than one weeks notice regarding a Prison or Jail Wedding doesn’t always “work” with schedule. If however, I’m available, it’s because I’ve scheduled the date in question off since I work seven days a week. Dropping everything to run to a Unit literally is a “juggling act” for me. 

You have paid someone else and they still have your money- 

Although this is deeply concerning and sad to me, I cannot work without compensation. I need you to get your money back. Paying someone else doesn’t cover my gas or expenses. 

The continuing saga of con artists taking money for a service they fail to provide is actually a criminal act. It’s fraud.

As a consumer, you have rights and, I must insist you use them to obtain a refund. It’s not up to me to get your money back- it’s up to you. 

Because this an ongoing issue with frantic people contacting me about the “other Officiant” flaking out, I’m going to tell you how to get your money back although this isn’t legal advice. 

If you’ve paid someone for a service they fail to provide, you can either escalate a claim on Paypal, send a demand letter for a refund via certified mail or file a small claims suit. 

Personally, I would do all three but, I don’t allow others to take advantage of me and suggest you fight back as well. 

It’s come to my attention that many of the clients who had to hire me AFTER hiring someone else were being taken advantage of by a person who is IN NO WAY AFFILIATED WITH ME and also failed to honor their obligations and Officiate the Prison Wedding. 

Someone calling me crying because they had paid someone else and had no idea how to get their money back in order to hire me has happened 22 times in the past year. Buyers Beware. There’s a con game going on out there and I’m going to tell you how these despicable liars play it.

It starts by “hooking” that’s right I said hooking the prospect or “mark” with a very low bid. The quote is so unbelievable that the prospect quickly goes for it and it’s always via Paypal. 

The con artist knows if they send something with tracking to the prospect, Paypal won’t issue a refund. BE AWARE OF HOW THIS WORKS. 

Let’s go over this Snake Oil Scheme: The other person tells you to take a Two Together In Texas class. They send you the booklets but don’t give you the certificate. The certificate is essential. You also paid an inflated cost for a course that costs $29 per Couple online. 

They NOW have a tracking number. Do not fall for this bait and switch game because the person low balling you with a price never planned on following through. It’s a game. A sick game by sick people taking advantage of others and fleecing them. 

File a lawsuit. Escalate a claim but, don’t fall into the “I sent her or he this or that and have tracking information” to Paypal game. I know two Officiants who have been doing this for over a year. Go on Prison forums and you will too. Other people talk about how “so and so” took my money but wouldn’t do my wedding so, I found Wendy.  I have never rescheduled anything. I will never let you down. My Clients love me because I exceed their expectations. 

What you paid the scammer aka “other Officiant” for was to marry you in a Texas Prison which obviously they didn’t do or you wouldn’t be contacting me. Fight back and get your money. 

NEVER take a Two Together Class with someone selling it. Go straight to Two Together and buy the course for $29. It is the best advice I can give you. 

Take the Two Together In Texas certificate with you to buy the Marriage License. You will also need your ID, the notarized ID and Absentee Affidavit of the inmate. 

The TTIT certificate will waive the 3 day waiting period and discount the cost of the Marriage License by $60. 

It’s very sad to me that the people who have been doing this are still doing it. I strongly encourage you to file a complaint with the Courts in Huntsville. Also, keep all texts and emails from anyone who has taken money from you and failed to provide a service. It’s proof of what you paid for and more importantly, what you didn’t get.

Inmate is CLM & It Isn’t To You- 

This CLM (Common Law Marriage) will prevent you from marrying an inmate if the person listed as being Informally Married to the inmate isn’t you. You cannot marry a Texas inmate who is already listed as married. What to do? Have the inmate get a divorce or file a Corrected Affidavit. ANY DOCUMENT REQUIRING a notary seal is a legal document. For everyone telling me “I just signed that so we can have contact visits” be AWARE that TDCJ views those documents as Common Law Marriages. 

Outside the Prison, these documents aren’t filed with the clerk and are therefore, not legally binding. Inside the Prison, they will prevent permission to marry from ever being granted to anyone other than the party named on the Affidavit I.E. the “other woman” or “other man.” 

If you didn’t realize that the document you were signing wasn’t legal, you can file a Correctional Affidavit voiding or amending the initial document. Often, this is far easier than a divorce for an inmate. 

Let’s go over what an Informal Marriage Affidavit actually is— Parties wishing to be recognized as married but, not wishing to have a formal marriage ceremony, file it at the Clerks Office. 

To dissolve an Informal OR Formal Marriage FILED at the clerks office, a DIVORCE is MANDATORY. 

In a Prison, a CLM status lists the inmate as “married.” Be aware of this. It’s a REAL problem if you are attempting to marry an inmate. 

Ask questions and get answers early in your Prison Wedding Planning Process. 

This issue has come up so many times that I must address it. You will not get permission to marry under these circumstances. Only the inmate can file a Correctional Affidavit. The law library is the best place to research this matter.

Refunds, Cancellations, Tardiness– 

I do not offer refunds. My reason for this is that when you booked with me, I kept slots open in my schedule to accommodate your needs.  It can take 2-3 weeks and more for your wedding to be scheduled. Because of this and the fact that Prison Weddings take place on weekdays, I limit new Clients to 12 per month. 

If you are booking mid month, you are moved to the following month. I don’t overbook. This is intentional on my part which is why short notice or emergency bookings are not always possible. Booked Clients are my highest priority. 

If I’ve talked to you or emailed you- you ARE NOT A CLIENT. Until a deposit is paid and a contract is signed and countersigned, I do not allow anyone to “use my name and credentials” to obtain a date for a TDCJ Wedding. I hate surprises and Wardens now verify you are a Client prior to issuing and approving a wedding date. 

Pulling my name off the internet of even speaking to me and using my name without my consent is a bad idea. I’m not going to drive 2-10 hours to a wedding that wasn’t on my books and therefore, not my responsibility.

If you are late or inappropriately dressed for your Texas Prison Wedding, the Warden can cancel it. If I’ve traveled to the Unit and your wedding is cancelled, you will forfeit your payment due to non compliance and my contact. 

If you are drunk or under the influence of anything, you have voided the terms of our agreement and your wedding will be cancelled. We are going into a Prison. Your conduct reflects on me. As my Client, I expect you to be courteous and appropriate. I cannot stress this enough. No matter what happens, I need you to realize that if we are waiting 1-3 hours, we will wait patiently. We will not complain or cause a scene. We will sit quietly and at some point, begin your ceremony. I need you to be professional and courteous. It will make the process far more pleasant. 

What you can bring to your Prison Wedding- 

You MUST have your Marriage License. You MUST have your ID. You can bring your car keys and hand written vows as well as quarters for Unit Photos ($3 each). You cannot bring anything other than these items with you to a Unit. No paper money, no cell phones, no cameras, no rings, nothing other than the above items is authorized for a Prison Wedding. 

Visit times after the ceremony- 

Every Unit is different, some Units allow visits for up to 15-20 minutes following the ceremony while others do not. Please do not argue this point with guards. They have been given an assignment and they have been given a timeline. At all costs, we remain pleasant and courteous. 

You are wearing revealing clothing- 

If your clothing is deemed “risqué” you will either be given something to wear and over up or your wedding will be cancelled by the Warden. This issue continues to come up. If you are wearing white, wear something under it. Do not wear jeans with holes, tank tops, mini skirts or other clothing that is in violation of the dress code. I know it’s your wedding day but, we aren’t making the rules. 

Complimentary photos after the wedding- 

I offer complimentary photos for Clients as a courtesy. I bring bouquets, bubbles, props, traveling photo booth items and more to bring fun to your bridal or groom photography as a courtesy. I want you to have fun and celebrate your marriage. 

Many of my clients find their twenty minute photo shoot to be the best part of their day. If you have photos or other items you’d like to bring, I encourage you to. Guests aren’t allowed at Unit Weddings but, they can wait and join you in your photo shoot. 

Other questions, comments or concerns- 

I know you are nervous. I know you didn’t plan to marry in a Prison. You will at no point be alone. I will be with you. I am comfortable in a Prison and not nervous. If you have questions about anything not discussed in this blog, contact me. 

If you have paid someone and and feel there is an issue please, please, get a refund. No one can change an I60 Officiant on an existing form. A new I60 and Officiant must be filed. I cannot stress this enough, hire someone you trust. Hire someone who makes you an your Dream Event a priority.

I look forward to meeting you soon at your Texas Prison Wedding…

Tire Trouble, Tiaras, Torres Unit & Trying To Stay Fit

This morning, my twin sister called me about gaining weight over the holidays. Sadly, she wasn’t alone. We have both put on a few pounds after working so hard to lose weight in our fifties a little over a year ago.

From Halloween to Christmas, watching our weight is an ongoing challenge.

Twinning through the Holidays includes work, working out, and laughing at my sisters saucy observations. “You can’t cherry pick a withered branch from a barren tree.” You can’t expect results without effort.

While Cindy’s daughter, Leigh Ann continues to lose weight after her Gastric Bypass, Cindy and I have fought and fought midlife weight gain since turning 50 four years ago. Leigh Ann’s weight is falling off.

I had planned to go to the gym yesterday but, instead got caught up with a previous client who wanted a Winter Wonderland Photo Shoot in December.

Somewhat confused, I reiterated that Leigh Ann is running a Christmas Mini Shoot special but, was unaware of an option regarding Winter Wonderland.

Sending Leigh Ann a text, I decided to research Winter Wonderland shoots that mostly featured snow.

Since snow is rare in Texas and certainly not “scheduled,” I replied to the text trying to get more information instead.

The client specifically “didn’t want” Christmas themed photos. Okay. It was in my court to find out what exactly she did want and decipher whether or not it was something we offered.

Several texts later, it became apparent that snow wasn’t necessary but fun winter photos were.

Communication is key with every client. If I don’t understand what they want, it’s far harder for me to decide whether a booking will work or not.

I went through winter photos the past eight years to find suitable similar pictures to text the client. From a mother/daughter photo shoot for Mothers Day with coordinating tiaras that we re shot at the wedding with the daughter a few years older to the little boy holding one of my lanterns from our Texas Twins Treasures Inventory, I came up with a few cute photo ideas and locations thinking the situation had been solved with my creative input. But, I jumped the gun.

The client wanted to know if we could photoshop a winter background onto the photos? Well, it’s something we don’t offer. We edit photos and since this client had actually won a contest with my niece that was specifically for family photos emailed to the client and free, these add on options were somewhat surprising to Leigh Ann.

No good deed goes unpunished. My saucy sister “came up with” one of her Cindyism Quotes based on a similar situation years ago. “Don’t ask me for an apple and expect me to bake you a pie.”

Limiting or reigning in what is wanted or expected regarding a free service is not only necessary but, also essential. Try calling someone else for a service or item you didn’t pay for and see how far you get.

What was the situation? I had a bride who needed a wedding dress. Since I often buy them to have on hand to loan Pawning Planners Clients, I took the wedding dress to her.

A few days later, she called me to pick it up and have it altered. I advised her that I don’t sew or alter clothing that I’m loaning to someone. Sure, I was stunned. 

But, I’m not spending money to alter an item that I PAID FOR and LOANED YOU or GIFTED YOU as a courtesy.

Last year, yet another incident had me rattled with a client who wanted to borrow my flowers BUT, wanted them in her colors.  

After explaining to “the Diva” that loaned floral inventory “is what it is,” she began texting me photos of what she wanted. 

I began texting her what it would cost and that I would require a deposit. This ended the “looking a gift horse in the mouth situation.”

I created an inventory to loan to clients at MY OWN EXPENSE. If you don’t want to borrow my inventory, GO BUY YOUR OWN. 

“if COMMON sense was COUNTED in COINS, some PEOPLE got SHORTCHANGED, without a PENNY in their POCKETS” God bless us all.

A few years ago, another bride had found that I sell christening gowns at Texas Twins Treasures and wanted to add a Baptism for her child at her wedding.

Looking back, I should’ve SOLD her the christening gown but, my generosity AGAIN bit me in the butt when I paid priority shipping and mailed her the gown at no cost.

A few days later, rather than thanking me, the bride wanted me to PAY to have a “free to her” christening gown altered. I cannot make this shit up! Seriously. I have met far too many Demanding Divas that didn’t wanted everything BUT didn’t want to pay for it. 

Enlightening and educating these Princesses became such a hassle that I now simply “cut em loose early” and let someone else deal with their drama. You can’t pay me enough to deal with an unreasonable person or client.

There have been so many times that I’ve had to let someone know that I’m not a Fairy Godmother or seamstress that it would stun you. The bride was advised to find someone who sews or pay for alterations.

If I’m GIVING you something- the last thing you should be doing is asking for more, more, more. After all, no one GAVE it to me. I bartered it or bought it. 

Throughout my life on more than one occasion, being the person I’ve never met often has others believing that I’m either stupid or a pushover. I’m neither.

I decided to “meet in the middle” regarding the December photo shoot and visit my storage room for winter props. Sending a few more photos and ideas, I also went on eBay to buy tiaras and Winter Wonderland themed items assuming that we could incorporate them into our holiday photo shoot bookings through January.

I knew my TDCJ Prison Brides would love tiaras at their photo shoots and saw the investment paying off in the long run. 

After all, every year, I add new bouquets, props and other items to my existing inventory to replace and refresh items we use in our traveling photo booth so, I felt that “bending rather than breaking” to accommodate the complimentary photo shoot would work.

I’m not a photographer but, I’ve been a commercial actress and print model as well as actress for over thirty years and know quite a bit about poses and backgrounds.

What I didn’t know about photoshop, my niece, Leigh Ann did. Apparently, it’s not only time consuming but also, rather expensive.

Let’s look at what traditional price points are for photography first and then go into why editing and/or prints incur addition fees:

How Much Do Photographers Charge?

Hobbyist: Free or (under $100).

Amateur: $25 – $75 per hour.

Student: $50-100 per hour / $25-100 per image.

Semi-Pro: $50–$150 per hour / $25-125 per image.

Professional: $75-$250 per hour / $75-$250 per image.

Top Professional: $200-$500+ per hour / $250-$1,500 per image.

Leigh Ann is a professional photographer and seasoned. The package she offered in her giveaway was for 5-7 photos emailed to the client and didn’t involve prints. It also didn’t involve photoshop or various other background options. Leigh Ann needs to be more specific on her target ads and giveaways.

Since I was already “caught in the middle,” by responding to the client, I had also suggested using the Stockyard area for photos approximately 45 minutes from Leigh Ann who had planned to use Holland Lake Park three minutes from her home.

My niece often creates Mini Session Specials. I had a talk with her about specifics after a recent booking a few months ago.

What? Why? Well, the client booked Leigh Ann at $75 for one hour. The client showed up twenty minutes late. This particular client was also pretty demanding.

The client didn’t pay $25 for a photo disc but, as a courtesy, Leigh Ann provided one anyway. The client then wanted Leigh Ann to email ALL photos to her after editing. The client was either too lazy or too cheap to go print photos from the disc.

The client was a DIVA. Showing up late to her photo shoot? Check. Asking for more than she paid for? Check. Not bothering to promote Leigh Ann for going above and beyond? Check.

I’m not going to name any names here but…if you are late, there’s a late fee in all of my contracts. The reason for this is that after years of waiting on clients and running to my next event, I decided that a contract and deposit were essential to getting paid.

For years, getting paid because I gave clients the option to “settle their balance” on the day of the event made my job far more difficult. I have changed things up. 

I now REQUIRE payment in FULL one week prior to the event date. Trying to get paid on the day of an event is a thing of the past for me.

If you are bartering through The Pawning Planners, the trade and contract take place 30 days prior to the event.

I suggested Leigh Ann prepare a contract that specifically details what clients can expect and what she expects of them. Contracts eliminate misconceptions.

I’m now preparing a contract for her to use for photography bookings from this point forward as well as giving her tips on travel fees and deposits.

March- June and September- January are our busiest months. Why? Texas weather. 

December is a very busy month for my entire staff and the client who had won the giveaway waited months after Mothers Day to book her “free session.”

I also advised Leigh Ann to put a time limit on giveaways from now on to prevent unexpected bookings during a busy window. 

I.E. If you have won a giveaway with Leigh Ann, you have two weeks to book or forfeit the session. Period. A second place winner will be drawn to replace the first place winner. 

Let’s get back to that “apple” and the tardy party client. She posted photos on FB but, failed to promote Leigh Ann after being late to her photo shoot and forcing Leigh Ann to email edited photos which took over an hour. No good deed goes unpunished. Leigh Ann was lit about this.

I advised Leigh Ann to start adding a logo to her photos if the client was demanding emailed photos in order to promote herself.

In order to limit the work and time involved that a few clients or divas don’t realize photography entails, Leigh Ann now puts a price on it.

My new additions to Texas Twins Treasures for impromptu photo shoots with clients from Texas Prison Weddings With Wendy Wortham are sure to provide some fun and memorable photos. I love the tiara idea for props!I created Texas Twins Events years ago to help people who couldn’t afford traditional vendors. My twin was my first team member. 

Did I expect four generations of my family to join us? No. But, we’ve expanded and rebranded over and over again. Why? We go above and beyond. Our clients are like family to us.

Cindy’s Quote for going above and beyond? “People are like yeast in bread- they rise to every opportunity!”

We became the people we had never met. By doing things for our clients that no other vendor would do, clients loved our hilarious personalities and props. Cindy has never met a stranger.

I’m also adding new bling bouquets, furs, and holiday decor. We are currently sold out of the emerald and ruby bling bouquets and won’t be restocking bling bouquets for sale at Texas Twins Treasures until February.

If you are interested in custom bling bouquets, please allow 6-8 weeks off season and 8-10 weeks in season for delivery. A deposit is required on any custom order.

Our traditional in stock items are either solid or multi color silk roses with brooch details.

From the grey multi to the pink multi or the sold red, purple, or other colors, it should be noted that full brooch bouquets are heavy. Be aware of this.

A full brooch bouquet can weigh 2-4 lbs while a rosette brooch bouquet weighs 1-2 lbs. 

My rear tire was flat for some reason and I never made it to the gym yesterday but, I did text my son who I haven’t heard from since the Thanksgiving ruckus over my niece, Stephaney joining us. I juggle work and family on an everyday basis.

I also scheduled the winter wonderland photo shoot for December and realized that giving Leigh Ann advice regarding clients needs, wants and the reality or cost of what they are wanting is a necessary conversation.

To resolve the photoshopping issue, I suggested the client using our photos and having them photoshopped elsewhere. This way everyone is happy and there isn’t any confusion in a few weeks regarding add-ons.

If one of my clients changes the contract- I now write a new one. My reasons for this are that add-on items aren’t free.

I offer a wide variety of complimentary items that no one else does and because of this, limit add on items for purchase but not for free.

A few years ago, I was hired to Officiate a wedding. This takes 1-2 hours on location and if there’s a rehearsal, 3. Months into the planning process, the bride added 2 photographers. I gave her the cost and added that printed photos incurred an additional fee. I never asked for a deposit because it was agreed we would be paid on the day of the event.

One week prior to the event, the mother of the bride wanted my Team on location for set up making the total amount of time at this event 8 hours. This was one of the biggest business mistakes I’ve ever made. First, I didn’t require a contract and deposit. Second, adding on additional staff and additional time on site dramatically increased the cost. My staff and I were never paid. I sued the client and won. Theft Of Services whether the original contract was in writing or oral, if you can prove you privided services and didn’t get paid, sue them. I do. 

But, I can also write up a lawsuit on a paper napkin. I’m more than a little “familiar” with court. In fact, I have handled myself Pro Se in Federal Court (suing an employer who fired me while on medical leave and then moved my original lawsuit to Federal Court). Assuming that I would never be able to amend my original petition was a mistake on their part and yes, I won for unlawful termination while under a medical absence. I don’t suffer fools lightly. This Kitty has Claws. I’m nice but I’m far from a pushover. If you steal from me, you will wish you hadn’t. 

There is a good reason I require a contract. Over and over again, I’ve trusted people to do the right thing and from bounced checks to no payment at all or broken promises, I’ve learned that as a business, you cannot pay your bills on broken promises.

Teaching my son, daughter in law, nieces and grandnieces this ahead of time will spare them the experiences that I’ve encountered.

I cannot stress the importance of a contract enough to anyone booking a vendor or the vendor themselves. If you can’t write your own contract, hire an attorney but, get a contract.

Getting my tires checked this morning while waiting at Discount Tires, it should be noted that all of my blogs are written from my iPhone in venue or prison parking lots or even when waiting on clients. Blogging is squeezed into my schedule and a diary of sorts for me.

While I’m dreading trying to get my entire family together for Christmas and hoping that this year they will attempt to get along with each other, my shopping list is being worked into my schedule as most things are.

Getting back to the gym will also be carefully scheduled in today as I leave my SUV and hop into Cindy’s SUV for a lift to Tarrant County Jail to meet my three clients this afternoon.

Jail Weddings are traditionally handled by my son or my niece as my father is currently in Waco and unavailable. 

However, my son is working for his father today and Leigh Ann is editing photos. Jail Weddings are remarkably different from Prison Weddings for a number of reasons. 

First, you are not required to be Approved by Texas Department Of Criminal Justice. 

Secondly, there are no photos available for purchase. Third, many inmates are waiting to be transported to a Texas Prison and want their status to be married going in.

State Jails ARE PRISONS. Because of this, only a TDCJ Approved Officiant (me) can Officiate the ceremony inside a Texas Prison.

My schedule at Texas Prisons is booked through January. Normally, I book only a month out at a time. However, numerous Lock Downs have moved my October and November TDCJ Clients to December and January.

Texas Prison Weddings take place Monday through Friday from 8AM-5PM. The reason for this is that most Unit Weddings take place in the visitation area which is in use on weekends.

If you are a “traditional booking,” your event is either on the weekend or evening which is how I successfully expanded my bookings to include TDCJ Weddings. The “fit” with my schedule was perfect.

Death Row Weddings do not take place in the visitation area. Please be aware of this. There is no contact at a Death Row Wedding.

Traditionally, Prison Weddings allow holding hands, appropriate kissing and hugs. Death Row Wedding Ceremonies do not allow contact.

Cindy and I look forward to meeting our prospective Pawning Planners Clients this week and appraising your items. We are also traveling to several units and mailing out Texas Twins Treasures sales items.

Pawning Planners Apparel featuring Cindy Daniel’s Cindyism Quotes are on a 7-10 day ship time. If you need another language, 14-21 days. We are thrilled with sales from Pawning Planners Apparel and appreciate your patronage. 

To choose your favorite Redneck Reality Quote, google #Cindyism or Pawning Planners Apparel. We are now out of stock on TDCJ Watch Caps and will restock in January. The caps are still available as are hoodies, light jackets and long sleeve tees.

I order these from a third party and don’t produce TDCJ items for sale in our inventory. Because of this, sizes and inventory vary.  If you have a particular size needed, please contact us and we will try to work with our suppliers to restock in plus sizes. We do not sell patches. Texas Prison Museum has a variety of patches available for purchase.
I never actually thought that TDCJ items would be best sellers. In fact, I was wearing a hat that had been given to me in Tennessee Colony when someone asked if they could buy it. Our TDCJ Inventory varies so please check back frequently for new items.

Cindy and I are looking forward to getting back on track and fit in our fifties although the gym isn’t exactly our favorite location.

Nipping this holiday weight gain in the bud early will keep us from going back to Boot Camp. Cindy and I aren’t afraid of hard work and elbow grease. We just don’t love the gym. It’s in and out for us and we clock it.

Cindy and I are also going to the photo shoot with Leigh Ann and packing our suvs with winter props to hopefully give the client what she wants while keeping the photo shoot fun.

I started the prop trend years ago because 1. I’m an experienced floral designer and 2. Pawning Planners Clients cannot afford to provide their own floral designs.

Did I expect that my inventory would grow over the years to include furniture, signs, seasonal items and more? No. But, our clients love photo booth items and we love to add new items.

Cindy and I never planned on selling brooch bouquets either but, one of our bouquets was such a hit that the orders started rolling in.

My twin and I look forward to seeing all of our new and previous clients on location in the coming months and hopefully my tire issue is minor but, it’s better to find out while in Fort Worth than in the boondocks headed to a Texas Prison…