In A Society That Has You Counting Money, Carbs And Steps, Be A Rebel And Count Your Blessings…

We are all fighting our own battles. Many of us want to be thinner. The majority of us want to be wealthier. For my inmate wedding clients though their wish is to be together. Separated by glass, isolated with loneliness, exhausted from long drives to the Unit and expensive phone calls it should be noted that loving an inmate requires tenacity, dedication, resilience, strength and stamina. Big journeys begin with small steps. The Prison wedding planning process is a series of steps. 

I have several clients on my books who will not have the luxury of a contact wedding. It’s something neither they or I can control. Why? An inmates status warrants contact or non contact ceremonies. The glass is a permanent fixture for “lifers.” It’s also present for a G4 or G5 inmate in Texas. The glass can be broken on the base or edges from the fist of an inmate who became angry. Such cracks or marks bother me. I always wonder why or how someone became angry at a person that drove miles to a visit? Usually, I’m bothered to such an extent that I ask the officer to move the inmate to another cube. If the glass is dirty, I also request a move. It’s a wedding and I want everything as close to perfect as I can get it ESPECIALLY if the ceremony is non contact.

The phone won’t work or the inmate cannot hear me? A request to move. Correctional Officers are always helpful and pleasant to me because I’m respectful to them. No one likes the glass. We accept the things we cannot change.

Contact weddings are structured. Two closed mouth kisses. Hand holding. A brief embrace.

The variations of contact or non contact are the ability to touch. Non contact ceremonies are bittersweet. There is no kiss to seal the deal regardless of what state or Unit I happen to be at.

I was driving from Huntsville to Livingston Tuesday when someone from a production company called me. This isn’t unusual. Not knowing anything about my beliefs and compassion regarding my clients? Also not unusual. 

People “find me on the internet.” Whether they are reporters or production companies though the one thing they have in common is lack of research. You don’t know anything about me or my journey and yet you want to pitch me on a show concept or idea or interview me at YOUR convenience? How convenient. 

Last year, I was sent a message on Instagram during the height of wedding season by someone claiming to be casting a prison based show. This person was fairly demanding and assumed that doing his job for him at his convenience was “my luggage and my trip.” It wasn’t. 

I demanded a contract. The contract gave me everything I asked for. What? Stay tuned because this guy was a Charleton, a chameleon, a con artist and an opportunist. Chris and his phony contract were a first for me. I’ve been in the entertainment industry since I was a teen. It’s tough to shock me. Chris did. He also didn’t sign this “contract.” 

Why was he playing me? Because trying to find people in a relationship with an inmate is difficult. They are a very private group. They don’t trust strangers and over the past few years, I’ve been contacted by Love After Lock Up to find people interested. 

Unlike Chris though, Love After Lock Up producers were not demanding of my time or leading me on with a carrot. I had asked my clients if they were interested and shared the producers information to them rather than vice versa. A few of my clients have even applied to Love After Lock Up. 

Chris wanted my clients and was attempting to use me as his gateway to get to them. He was willing to fabricate a phony contract to do so. My dislike of liars is well known. 

Chris thought he had found a hillbilly in Texas to do his job for him. At his convenience and at his demands. A contract giving me the moon and the stars he didn’t bother to sign? Check and double check. During my busiest window of the year, Chris wanted me to find him the talent he couldn’t find on his own. Humph. I’m not a paid talent scout. I’m also not a casting producer. What I am is a very busy person who works seven days and week and doesn’t have time for smoke and mirrors or bullshit. Chris was full of all of the above and consistently demanding. 

I wasted a week of my life last March answering his phone calls, texts, and emails. During the same window, I was scheduled to marry Mary Martin to Lester Butcher, orchestrate a camouflage themed wedding and 9 other events. 

The worst time for a casting producer or journalist to “hit me up” is “in season.” Chris and his unsigned contract became an email suggesting that if he cast any or one of my clients for his “show,” he would pay me $1k. Sure he wouldn’t. This email offer was sent to replace the previously emailed unsigned contract. More smoke and mirrors. I blew him off after a week of being told my clients weren’t pretty enough or interesting enough. 

Chris was picky. So picky in fact that his prison based show never came to fruition. Go figure. His promises of fame and fortune to my clients behind my back through Instagram messages are why I no longer tag anyone. 

The last thing my clients need are a carrot on a stick or false hope. I protect my clients from “industry people” attempting to use them, their story or their journey for their own tag lines or log lines. These people are already fragile. These people are like my children and need to be protected from anyone “leading them on with promises of fame and fortune.”

Casting producers are always looking for “the talent.” It’s their job not mine. My job is to protect my clients. 

At about the same time last year that I was contacted by Chris, Elena Lindemans contacted me. Unlike Chris, Elena was straightforward and honest. I met Elena in Houston a few months ago with Cindy. Her project is far more interesting to me. Why? Because she’s passionate about sharing love stories of pen pals and women married or planning to marry an inmate. 

A few months ago, Jannette with the BBC contacted me. Cindy and I Skyped with her regarding a show concept. We discussed frankenbiting and creative editing. We discussed why protecting our clients and their journey is important to us. I also discussed the fact that a large percentage of our clients are LBGT and asked about whether documenting my diverse client base would involve clients from not only inmate bookings but also bartering bookings and traditional bookings? Why? Because stateside production companies think our diversity is “controversial.” To whom?

Cindy and I liked Jannette off the bat as we did Elena. Honesty and candor go a long way with me. 

Everyone is looking for a story. A pitch. A concept. Aside from Elena and Janet as well as investigative journalist, Ella who spent the day traveling to Units with Cindy and I a few months ago, finding anyone willing to accurately describe ourselves, our clients and our determination to make Dream Events a reality for anyone isn’t easy or cut and dry.

For our clients being contacted by a “producer” or “director,” we encourage you to ask questions before sending photos or sharing your story. Protect your heart and know that there are people who will pitch you who are credible but there are others who may tell you what you want to hear while leading you along with a carrot. Know the difference. Don’t believe everything you hear ladies and gentlemen because Chris was the first person I’ve ever encountered who was willing to send me an unsigned contract and believed I was dumb enough not to question it. Chris underestimated me. 

I’m more than a little familiar with both contracts and liars who will use anyone to get what they want. Ask who has the green light? Which network? If someone tells you they are casting a show, don’t take their word for it. 

Protect yourself from wolves in sheep’s clothing because I can assure you that not everyone contacting you or even me are “casting a show.” Many of them are pitching a concept that may never get picked up and are wasting your time. Chris wasted mine…

Tire Trouble, Wet Weather & Winter Weddings At Michael & Beto Units…

Leaving my office this morning at 6:15AM, I was giving myself a wide berth on time since I wasn’t on site at Michael Unit until 10AM with two beautiful brides this morning but a winter frost hit Texas last night dropping temperatures forty degrees. With wet roads and unexpected traffic situations, I prefer to err on the side of caution. Fifteen minutes early is fifteen minutes late. I prefer to be 30 minutes early always. 

Sitting on HWY 20 for 47 minutes to drive less than 12 miles to the 287 exit towards Corsicana, I knew leaving early was a smart decision. 

Rolling through Corsicana, my brother in law, Steve called while I was talking to Cindy from a gas station near the Shell station I had just filled up at. 

The “odds” of my brother in law and I being so close to each other are rare. After all, a few days ago, Steve was in Canada then California then New York then North Dakota. Steve is a truck driver. 

Passing Russell Stover with no time to stop for a candy apple, a text from my 1:30PM Beto Unit bride came through. She was confirming my arrival at Beto. I texted back “I’m at Michael with Audra and Sonja at 10AM and will meet you at Beto at 1PM.” 

I had packed two umbrellas for my brides this morning but needed three lol. “A wet day for a wedding is good luck” I told myself as I walked through puddles to the Unit. Sonja was already waiting for me. Audra was in the parking lot but I couldn’t locate her to hand her my umbrella. Michael is a massive Unit. I’m at Tennessee Colony Units at least once a month. 

My brides and I sat and waited on our escort, Miss Smith together. At 10:32AM, Miss Smith met us and advised us “the Unit camera isn’t working so we won’t have photos today. I’m so sorry.” We were sorry too. No wedding pictures. Miss Smith is an excellent photographer who always takes amazing photos. 

Walking to the Unit, I advised both my brides to use the umbrellas. After all, it was their wedding day and I wanted them beautiful and as dry as possible for their ceremonies. I don’t mind walking in the rain. 

Sadly, Sonja’s Fiancee was G4 which meant a no contact wedding. Audra was married first. We chose the area of the visitation area with a Christmas display for our backdrop which would have been beautiful for wedding photos. 

Following Audra’s wedding ceremony, I signed her license and prepared for Sonja’s ceremony. We both walked to the no contact area and picked up phones. 

I tried not to look at the broken and cracked base of the window separating us. Cracked glass at no contact unit weddings always saddens me. Someone drove for hours to visit an inmate who slammed his fists on the glass. I can’t understand this. The person who had sacrificed their time to visit was met by anger. It’s a tragedy. 

The fact that my couples can’t hold hands or hug is always difficult for me. I wish they could touch. I wish everyone had the benefit of a contact wedding but it’s something I can’t control. I looked past the cracked glass at my bride and groom a love story that would one day have a happy ending long after lock up. 

Sonja began to read her heartfelt vows which would be hard to follow as her voice cracked with emotion. She had so many memories and many things to say. Her fiancé did an amazing job writing his vows too. 

Emotion on both sides of the glass from my couple made me wish they could hold hands or seal the deal with a kiss.

Leaving Michael Unit, our three suv caravan drove to the Tennessee Colony Church for bridal photos. 

I unloaded furs, bouquets and my props. The canopy over the door protected my brides from the pouring rain. They might not have wedding photos but they would have bridal photos.  Loading up and saying goodbye to both of my new brides, I head to Palestine to Beto Unit. 

I’m somewhat hungry and get something to go from the BBQ restaurant near Beto, Gurney and Powledge. 

Returning to my suv, I see a text from my 1:30 bride Taylor. A blow out in Ennis. I check the distance to the unit from Ennis and try calling Beto for Chaplain Strange. The line is busy. Taylor has called Triple AAA. 

I decide to skip lunch and drive to Beto to locate Chaplain Strange and advise him of the situation. My phone never works at Beto, Gurney or Powledge. I have AT&T. No service (as usual). 

I walk up to the guard tower but no one comes out. This is odd. I walk to the gate and hold my State issued ID at the camera and the gate clicks open. 

I walk to the shakedown and remove my shoes, belt and watch. It’s 1PM. I ask the shakedown officer to call Chaplain Strange. I have no idea how late Taylor will be but, I plan to visit with Chaplain Strange until Taylor can make it to the unit. I always enjoy our visits and appreciate him waiting on my bride running late due to an unforeseen problem. 

Inside the Unit as I wait on the Chaplain, I notice the festive tree and Christmas lights in the window as I wait near the vending machines. Beyond the twinkling lights razor wire glistens from the falling rain. It’s a melancholy moment. The festivity Of Christmas marked by the razor wire of the prison. 

I watch officers roll in the shakedown with mail and boxes. Inmates will be spending Christmas at Units as others send cards, gifts and photos to their loved ones locked away. 

It’s not uncommon for units to be decorated for the holidays. Most units are. I recall the wedding at Hughes Unit with a backdrop that read “Merry Christmas!” I listen to the trainees excitedly preparing to start their shifts. The shakedown officer asks another officer how his daughter is doing. All prisons are busy places of employees coming or going. 

Chaplain Strange and I visit for 2 hours before he leaves to call Taylor. The officer who takes photos has left. The transport officer has left. He leaves a message regarding a reschedule on Taylor’s cell phone as I wonder if she has AT&T too?

It’s less than a minute later when I spot Taylor at the guard gate. She’s a vision in pink and white carrying the Manila folder from the clerks office. 

The duty guard is trying to locate the Chaplain while Taylor waits at the gate with 15-20 TDCJ trainees go in and out around her. The Chaplain’s left my side while trying to find a transport officer for the inmate. There will be no wedding photos but there will be a wedding. Chaplain Strange saves the day by finding a volunteer to walk the inmate to visitation. A delay results due to finding the right key. Taylor and I continue to wait. She’s relieved her wedding hasn’t been canceled. I am too. 

Leaving the unit, Taylor follows me back to the BBQ joint I was planning to order lunch from at 12:15 when I read her text about the blow out. I unload items for bridal photos. 

She’s beautiful and happy leaving while  “riding on a donut.” She will drive on to Palestine for a new tire. Palestine is closer than Corsicana. I worry about her getting there in backroads. Driving through Waxahachie, Brandi from North Dakota FaceTimed me. I had talked to Brandi last night regarding her court date next week. I had advised her to sell her truck to cover the cost of her tickets and damage to the apartment building she had driven into a few weeks ago.  Brandi always listens to my advice but rarely takes it. 

Brandi was also upset that Raul was seeing Parole “the day after her court date.” I advised Brandi to focus on solving her problems and let Raul go. He’s married to Valerie now. We shall see how focusing on Brandi works as I worry about her and her well being. 

My daughter in law calls outside of Fort Worth regarding her upcoming baby shower. 

Raymon calls about Smith Unit calling Jeremy to the law library for the absentee affidavit. I’m at Smith Unit on January 17th with another client. I’d love to stack Jeremy and Raymon but without a marriage license I can’t.  

My niece Leigh Ann calls about our trip to CA in a few weeks and is excited about the box Cindy and I sent to Maddy. She texts photos of Alex and Maddy. Cindy had found a little red velvet coat and dress for Maddy. We still shop for her and send care packages every week. My husband calls and asks if he should keep dinner warm. I send him a photo of the clouds as I drive down the freeway and call him to say I will be home late and eat cereal. I’ve been on the road 12 hours and have at least 2 more hours before I’m home. My days are long but I wouldn’t trade my life or the joy I share with clients for anything in the  world.

As I roll into Belltower Chapel and call Taylor to check on her before I meet my next clients. She has a new tire and is headed safely home. I’m relieved. I worry about my clients.

Wonderful Surprises And Happily Ever Afters…Life Events & The Endurance Of Love…

A few years ago, I married Trishelle at Michael Unit. A few months ago, Trishelle sent me a text that her husband was finally coming home. Their life after lock up as a family would finally begin. I love happy endings.

Trishelle’s mother and best friends had joined her in the drive to Tennessee Colony and because guests weren’t allowed inside the Unit, they waited with Cindy while Trishelle drove me in her car to Michael Unit. My very first maximum security prison wedding. The razor wire looked like it had been encrusted with diamonds in the sun. The guard towers and the size of the Unit were intimidating. Michael Unit has a reputation of being Texas Tough Prison. 

Looking at it through the passenger window, I was thankful that Trishelle was driving. Why? Because I was nervous. I felt intimidated. I had been at Sanders Estes Unit a minimum security Unit and assumed that other Units would be equal to it. I was wrong. Michael is massive and back then it was also intimidating to me. I mustered up the courage to tell Trishelle “I’m a bit terrified.” Trishelle laughed and said “Miss Wendy, I’m here every weekend and I know the drill. You’re with me and you will be fine.” My anxiety and claustrophobic tendencies were running high but I trusted Trishelle and her experience so… in we went. 

Taking off our shoes, belts and jewelry, we carefully put them into the containers to screen in. After a pat down, we handed our ID’s to the correctional officer at the desk and awaited our escort to the visitation area. Walking through the yard, I couldn’t help but look back at that razor wire. 

Entering the visitation area, our groom was escorted out. Vending machine trash was around the area so I moved my couple away from it to the center of the room. Trishelle was wearing a tee shirt that read Mrs Fontenot. She would change into her wedding dress later at her photo shoot with me. 

She was excited and happy and I was far more comfortable once I knew what to expect. Hearing door after door “clank” behind us, I didn’t know it then but it would take several units for me to stop jumping when I heard the clanking. We bought the photos of my newly married couple taken by a correctional officer at the Unit.The couple couple shared a brief kiss and we were escorted out of the Unit. There are no special visits at weddings. We are escorted in and escorted out within 25 minutes. 

Walking back to the parking area, I was relieved and thankful to have had Trishelle by my side throughout my first visit to a maximum security Unit. 

Driving back to meet Trishelle’s mom and friends as well as Cindy, we headed to do her bridal photos and change into her wedding dress. Cindy and I had packed bouquets and an suv of fun items for photos.Seeing Trishelle and her mom as well as Trishelle’s husband again yesterday was truly a delight and happy ending to an amazing journey. 

Lisa had contacted me to marry her to her ex husband 33 years after divorcing him. Love ALWAYS finds a way. I was honored and thrilled to share this Life Event and see Trishelle again too. I had packed a long veil that Lisa wore and brought several bouquets for her to choose from. My twin sister, Cindy handled the photos and we had a wonderful time celebrating the endurance of love and the joy of a happy family reunited… 

Comments, Questions & Concerns? Why Prison Weddings Open A Window Of Opinions From Others That Needs To Be Closed…

Late last night, someone who apparently was searching hashtags for prison weddings found me on FB and Instagram. First off, I’d like to express that if “you don’t believe that inmates should have the right to marry,” I am confused as to why you are specifically searching for people marrying an inmate? Are you bored? Nonetheless and anyhow, Donna, this blog is for you. 

Donna, I’m going to address your concerns although I strongly disagree with your opinions regarding inmate marriage because apparently, you felt strongly enough about your opinion to message me. 

First though, I’m going to express how offended I was for my clients regarding your observation of downplaying their dedication by describing their love story as “Jailbirds turned lovebirds.” 

This description is so narrow minded and one sided that I would best describe it as outrageous. It doesn’t even begin to adequately describe the relationships of my clients or their partners. 

Your assumption that most of my clients were pen pals is also far from true. The majority of my clients knew the inmate years prior to incarceration. This is a fact and believe it or not, something my clients choose to share with me. I don’t ask why their loved one is incarcerated either. 

On the flip side of the same coin, I don’t ask my traditional clients from Texas Twins Events or The Pawning Planners or ANY Client booking me through a venue I’m affiliated with if “they or their soon to be spouse has ever committed a crime and if so what it was?” No vendor would ask a question like this and I certainly won’t either. I don’t screen anyone. I’m in the people business. I help people. 

A large percentage of the people my staff and I are helping have no one else to help them. Why? Because they are judged by other vendors and effectively “screened.”

I have several clients that went to school together and even lived in the same town or on the same street. Many were lovebirds as teens and young adults long before lock up. 

I would like to point out statistics first to educate you regarding the number of people incarcerated in the United States who either personally know or have a relative in prison. Cornell University surveyed a representative sample of more than 4000 people. 

The resulting report shows that one in seven adults has had an immediate family member incarcerated for more than one year, and one in 34 has had a loved one incarcerated for 10 years or more.

One in four American adults has had a sibling incarcerated. One in five has had a parent sent to jail or prison. One in eight has had a child incarcerated.

Today, 6.5 million adults have an immediate family member currently in jail or prison.

These are staggering numbers but the above numbers were from 2018. You had stated that “I don’t believe that there are people out there wanting to marry an inmate and if there are, they have reasons other than love for choosing to do so. Prison marriage is a fad. A trend. A plea for attention.” 

This belief and statement is so wildly inaccurate that you should know that as far back as 1996, Prison Weddings were occurring in California. These weddings were not taking place because they were “trendy.” They were taking place because someone was willing to give up their life and commit themselves to someone else who was incarcerated. 

Someone loved someone else SO MUCH that even though they had very little to bring to the marriage, their heart was in the right place. Their belief that love knows no bounds led them to the decision to marry an inmate.

Prison marriage isn’t new or unique and is far from being a trend. Prison marriage REQUIRES COMMITMENT! Prison marriage isn’t for the meek. To be married to an inmate is a difficult path. You raise your children alone. You pay your bills alone. You do everything alone. It’s a very heavy cross to bear to love an inmate and commit your life to loving an inmate by marrying one. People who do not make this decision lightly. They go in with their eyes wide open. How do I know? I have met them. 

Among prison psychologists, it’s widely accepted that marriages between people who had close relationships beforehand are more likely to endure than those between people who met while one was behind bars.

“The marriages that begin in any situation where the woman is sort of aware of the person the inmate is prior to incarceration tend to last,” said Ronald Browne, a former prison psychologist at the U.S. penitentiary in Lompoc and now in private practice in Santa Maria.

The couples I have married “on the inside” have gone through a very lengthy process in order to be legally married. It isn’t something they decided to do on a whim. 

A Prison wedding is one of the very few joyous things that occur “inside” a Prison. While you and others may feel that your opinion has an impact on my clients, their choices or even their families, I can assure you that you are incorrect. 

Getting married is an act of hope. Prison marriages may be the most vivid demonstrations of this because they are undertaken in the most restrictive circumstances and hold for the husband and wife only diminished prospects for togetherness.

Prison marriage may not be for everyone but, love surpasses all things. You may not understand this but, love knows no bounds including the separation and loneliness that anyone who loves an inmate experiences. The dedication of driving every weekend to visit. The phone calls, the letters and the love locked down. 

My clients are the most determined and resilient individuals I’ve ever met or ever will meet planning to marry someone else. Marriage is a merger. It’s a commitment for anyone entering into a marriage.

On the “outside,” my couples and often my brides in particular want the perfect dress, the perfect venue, the perfect cake. 

On the “inside,” my clients cannot have these things. They must carefully choose their clothing. They must remove their shoes and belts. They must follow stringent guidelines. 

In effect, a marriage to an inmate is far more about the other person than the frivolities of couples marrying outside of a prison. 

Donna, since you apparently assume that “all prison weddings END in divorce,” I’m going to educate you with the truth and advise you that your opinion is a myth. None of my clients have filed for divorce and I’ve married many, many people inside prisons. 

On the outside though, three of my couples over the years have divorced. They had everything my Prison Weddings Clients didn’t but they still couldn’t make their marriage work. 

Marriage is give and take. Marriage to an inmate is mostly give for my clients because they are pulling the wagon alone doing time on the outside while the inmate does time on the inside. 

Only a very strong and dedicated individual can overcome all odds and make their marriage last. My clients are very strong individuals. They are passionate and perseverant. 

Long after lock up, these clients call me to schedule a Vow Renewal. That’s right. A celebration with the dress, the cakes, the music and the family who couldn’t attend their inmate wedding. 

For these clients, celebrating freedom of their spouse, the celebration isn’t about impressing others with over the top extravagance. The celebration is of love that endured through a very difficult window. A marriage that made it through the rain and the pain that will finally see a rainbow to begin their life together. No more expensive phone calls, long drives to the Unit on the weekend to stand in line and screen in, no more running to the phone every time it rings to keep from missing a call they’ve waited all day to receive. 

Vow Renewals for my former prison couples are to celebrate my couples freedom, endurance and dedication to one another. They made it through the rain, the loneliness, the pain and the despair. They survived love locked down and their journey together at last is something so exciting that I cannot even begin to put into words the joy of a Vow Renewal after lock up. You wouldn’t understand. 

Donna, what you should understand though is that none of my clients are seeking your acceptance of their choices. None of my clients feel the need or have the desire to explain their decision to you. 

I’m a sucker for a fantastic love story. I’m also a firm believer in second chances and I will go to my grave stating that love is love regardless of who people choose to love or whether or not others accept their choices… 

“Everybody Clings To Their Own Fear. Everybody Hides Their Scars” Moving On Down The Highway…

Wednesday afternoon while headed to Willow Lake Event Center, my TDCJ Beto Client called me while exiting Santa Fe towards the venue and my “traditional clients.” Sitting at the red light watching semi’s pulling out of Petro, I hit “accept” and wondered where my brother in law, Steve was driving since I hadn’t heard from him since Monday and if my niece, Stephaney would get the waitress job she had applied for at Petro? My mind never stops.

Apparently, the Warden at Beto had called my bride which is somewhat unusual. I shifted my attention to her to find out more. “He will be behind glass. The glass upsets me. I was hoping to hold his hand or hug him but, we will be separated. I’m terribly upset about this.” Dang. I was rattled myself. “The glass.” No one loves the glass. 

Since I was thirty five minutes early for my appointment at Willow Lake and only twelve minutes away, I pulled into Petro to attempt to calm down my client. 

I should note that the majority of my “upset client calls” will always be my Prison Wedding Clients. Why? Because they are not in control of a lengthy process that often confuses them and occasionally even scares or angers them. I’m the hand holder. I’m generally the go between and I’m usually the one talking to the Warden. 

The glass is something no one is ever comfortable with. Behind the glass, the inmate is also handcuffed. At Ferguson Unit, the inmate was also locked into the cage behind the glass. 

Ferguson was also the first time I would encounter an inmate behind the glass and effectively, shocking to me. I didn’t expect the glass although my client was prepared for it. Occasionally while inside the visitation area for a wedding ceremony, I will notice the glass cracked or writing on the wood. I asked one guard “how did the glass get broken?” 

The answer surprised me. “Well, Miss Wendy, the inmates get angry at visitors and hit the glass.” Hit the glass? To the person that drove all the way to the Unit? Waited in a long line. Went through the screening process? I was shocked. The wiring under (also sometimes above) the glass was how my client and I communicated with the inmate. It’s essential that the inmate can understand the commitment aspect of the wedding ceremony. 

I was more than a little nervous about the inmate hearing and subsequently, understanding me but, he could easily hear and understand the ceremony. 

The wedding photo above thrilled my client because the glass “merged them together.” Walking back to the parking lot, I hid my silent tears from my client and “braced myself” for smiles a few miles from the Unit for her wedding photos. I didn’t want her to know how rattled I was about the glass and the wedding photos. I hid my sorrow intentionally. She couldn’t touch him. It pained me. 

As a mother, the aspect of marrying an inmate is a lonely life of isolation for many of my clients marrying an inmate that is often serving 20, 30, 50 years or even life. My clients may never see their spouse on the outside. It’s not an easy path. They may never touch them. 

I worry about my TDCJ Clients and on occasion, have even talked a few out of marrying the inmate. It’s a rare occurrence but, it has happened. The “Coffield Unit Con Man” who attempted to control my client and her money needed the boot and got it. 

On my fourth phone call from my emotional Coffield client, I had suggested that she consider what the inmate was bringing to her life. If the only “gift” was strife and argument, it was a gift that she needed to give back. 

It took a month but, the Prison Wedding Planning Process isn’t “quick or easy.” If one of my TDCJ clients wants “out,” they have time to effectively “hit the highway.”

Mary was determined to marry Lester. Her path wasn’t easy. It would take months. Mary would never touch Lester. The glass would always be separating them from one another even on their wedding day. 

The glass didn’t make Mary uncomfortable as it hadn’t made Nikia uncomfortable. Mary and Nikia were prepared for the separation. I was the only one uncomfortable with the glass and the inability of my clients to touch their new spouses. It always saddens me. 

It’s difficult for me to accept that for a number of my clients, they will never touch their spouse. The glass will be a part of every visit they make to the Unit. It will be a permanent “barrier.” 

The glass is something neither I or anyone else can  change but, it always saddens me nonetheless. It’s something I must accept ascmy clients have. It’s also something “I’m working on.” G4 and G5 inmates are always behind the glass. Lifers are too. I’m never really prepared mentally to Officiate a ceremony that won’t be “sealed with a kiss.” My heart hurts. I have had hundreds and even over a thousand “other couples” to compare my wedding ceremonies to. 

From my couples “on the outside” to couples “on the inside,” the differences between both sets of my clients is significant. 

While one set of my clients worries about the perfect dress, the perfect cake, the perfect venue, the guest list, the DJ, the photographer and more, the other set of clients drives several hours to get to the Unit, worry that their clothing will be within the visitation guideline, and try to remember to bring quarters to buy low quality wedding photos for $3 each if they are even offered at the Unit. Private Units do not offer photos. 

I had finally calmed my Beto client down “about the glass” before pulling out of Petro. It wasn’t an “easy conversation” it never is when a client is upset. 

Mentally, I prepared myself for the first “behind the glass” ceremony at Beto. I wondered if they would have the phones Allred did that no one could hear using? I hoped my bride wouldn’t cry seeing the inmate behind the glass. 

I recalled my Coffield client vomiting in a trash can beside me when we walked in to find her beau behind the glass. The shock rattled her to such an extent that it took several moments to calm her before proceeding with the ceremony. She also “nearly ran” from the Unit following the ceremony. I was forced to chase her down because I feared that if she left the Unit upset, she might have a car accident. Luckily, I had plenty of time to talk her through the shock of the glass and explain to her that it was something neither of us could control. 

Normally, I leave one Unit to head to another. On the Coffield Unit day of “the glass,” I wasn’t due at another Unit for several hours and had plenty of time to spend with my client. She was so upset that she skipped doing bridal photos and I bought her lunch instead at the infamous General Store in Tennessee Colony. 

Thursday morning at 6AM, I checked in with my Beto bride. I was juggling several other “traditional clients” on my books for rehearsals Wednesday evening, Thursday evening and Friday evening for wedding ceremonies at venues on Saturday and Sunday. I was also apprehensive about how my bride would react to “the glass.” 

In fact, I was so worried about my bride that I offered to drive her myself to the Unit. This is rare but, it’s happened. My Estes bride didn’t drive and took a bus from Houston to Fort Worth. I picked her up and took her to breakfast before driving her to Sanders Estes for her ceremony and upon leaving the Unit, had a great time with her at the Botanic Gardens getting some fun bridal photos for her. 

I’m different. You will hear me say this over and over because it’s true. I care about my clients and their journey. It’s not an easy journey for TDCJ clients.

At 9:30AM Thursday, I had already been to the post office to mail photos and contracts to clients, filled up my SUV, hit the bank for quarters, met with my Saturday client to go over vendor details and driven through a Starbucks for egg white bites and a non fat latte. My Beto bride was to meet me at 9:30 and leave her car at my home. 

The drive to Beto could run two hours and fifteen minutes to two hours and thirty minutes based on traffic and road construction. 

Sitting in my SUV and responding to emails regarding Roach, Darrington, Hutchins, Bradshaw and Garza East Units while sipping my latte, I checked the time, 10:01AM. Alarmed, I sent a text to my bride to ask where she was? 

A few minutes later, she responded “my son was late to school and I need to leave him with my inlaws. They live in DeSoto.” I quickly checked the distance from DeSoto to Beto and DeSoto to my location to Beto. 

There was no way my client could get from DeSoto to me and me to drive to Beto and arrive by 1PM. Because of this, I suggested meeting me at Beto. I would arrive first and if my client was runnng late, explain her tardiness to the wardens secretary. I also immediately left my driveway headed for Beto.

With my preselected stack of cd’s beside me, it would be a day of music from artists with the first name of John. I noticed this before jumping on 20 to head to 287. Usually, I just grab a stack from my case and apparently, my husband had organized cd’s in the order of the first name. I thought I was OCD lol. 

From Johnny Cash to John Cougar Mellencamp to John Denver and John Fogerty, I opted for Fogerty and thought about the hearing and lawsuit he had won regarding being himself. For those unaware of the irony or the story, here’s the link– John Fogerty Plagiarism Suit 1988. Plagiarizing himself? How could he be anyone else. The case went before the Supreme Court. 

With “Here We Go Rocking All Over The World” blaring on my radio, I jumped onto the highway. I would be “on the dash” because I had planned to leave at 9:30AM with my client. I operate on strict timelines that allow a “cushion.” I’m not a last minute anything type of person. 

The drive through Waxahachie is often time consuming due to traffic but, I was making good time and checked in with my client on her GPS estimated arrival time. 

Taking several phone calls during my trip, Cindy and Stephaney were at her second interview at Petro. Steve was in New York. 

My son was in Arkansas and my husband was back at the “Stinky Skunk Development In Springtown.” Leigh Ann was editing photos for three clients. The skunk development has been an ongoing escapade. Everyone in my husband’s office questions “why Matthew is handling it himself?” John, the builder had never encountered a problem of this magnitude. In fact, no one had. My husband has tried everything to get the smell out of the house and if he can’t, will be the person forced to deal with the homeowner returning from Japan May 4th. The same day I’m out of town with clients and my team. Ugh.

Driving through Eureka, Texas and thinking to myself “there should be an exclamation point after the name,” I check back in with my client. She’s due to arrive at Beto at 12:47PM. I’m rolling in (according to navigation lady) at 12:32PM. 

I changed my cd to Elton John and paid attention to the words as I sang along to “let us strive to make a way to make all hatred cease. There’s a man over there. What’s his color? I don’t care. He’s my brother. Let us, let us live in peace” as I rolled on over a long bridge with a peaceful lake that no one is ever using on my trips to Tennessee Colony. Why doesn’t anyone use that lake? I wonder this on every trip across the bridge. 

Twenty minutes out from the Unit, I call Cindy before popping in John Cougar and laughing about his “hey, hit the highway!” Its funny to me because I’m always hitting the highway and “finding a lover that won’t drive you crazy” while stating that you want them to “hit the highway” is somewhat offensive and blunt to say the least. It’s also funny. John Cougar is a real character. 

The joys of road construction in Tennessee Colony continue. Now the “follow me” truck has moved from Coffield/Michael to Beto/Gurney. Jeez. I call my bride. She’s about ten minutes behind me. I remind her not to speed and get pulled over. 

As I stand in the parking area looking for my client, I decide to go to the entrance and alert the tower of my arrival. She arrives a few minutes later looking beautiful in slacks with blonde hair. I wonder if she had colored it since I had last seen her? I love the cut. As usual, I consider growing my hair out and trying to go with a new style but, who are we kidding here? I constantly try to cut my own hair and lack the patience to grow my hair out. 

Walking into the Unit, we screen in and wait. As usual, my bra sets off the metal detector and we take a seat. I’d skip the underwire but, I’m far too busty. One day, maybe when I have time, I will get a reduction.

My friendly guard comes to escort us and asks “how is your twin doing?” Cindy’s basement has flooded yet again from heavy rain and I’m headed to Parker County today after filing licenses in Tarrant County to help her mop up. The Daniel Diva house consistently floods in the basement. We’ve had twenty years of flooding at Cindy’s. It’s an ongoing escapade.

Walking in, I look for the phone or a hole under the glass. There isn’t one. The steel mesh above the glass is how the inmate will hear us. It’s difficult to get a clear photo with the glass and the area we are in is somewhat cramped. My client is doing well under the circumstances. She’s not crying or upset.

Leaving the Unit, I suggest stopping at the General Store for her to use the restroom and offer to buy her a cola. I was surprised to hear that she doesn’t consume caffeine and bought her a cranberry juice instead. 

We head to my favorite new abandoned building outside Tennessee Colony on the way back to Corsicana. I love the peeling paint and forgotten “look” of this building right off the remote back roads.My bride is joyous the wedding is over and she can now have some fun. Most of my clients have the most fun with me on location photography shoots. As I go through my rolling photo booth switching out props and changing areas, my Saturday client, Brok sends a text to confirm Saturday at 3PM. I answer “my team and I will be there with bells on.” 

Brok responds “we are so excited!” My team and I are too. I’ve been looking forward to this wedding and celebration for a month now. They are incorporating hand fasting into their ceremony and I love creative input. Brok and Ruben are so much fun. My bride loved the props I had packed and I asked “how much gas do you have? Do you have to stop for gas on your way back to DeSoto?” She did so I handed her an extra roll of quarters from my SUV and gave her a hug as I headed on to Hodge Unit to meet my next client. 

I want only good things for all of my clients. My TDCJ clients often face a difficult journey because they are effectively “pulling the wagon alone.” For many of them, the inmate faces many years but, for my Beto bride, the inmate is due for release in three. I’m happy to hear this because at the very least, she will have an opportunity to experience married life “on the outside.” 

A very large percentage of my clients will never have the opportunity. My heart is heavy for the journey they will face without ever having an opportunity to hold their partners hand. Their passion and resilience is unmatched by most couples. The sheer dedication of my clients is amazing. They don’t give up. For them, live isn’t only a four letter word. It’s their life. Love believes all things and bears all things for my TDCJ Clients. 

My husband sends a text from his office that cracks me up near Corsicana. The staff had sprinkled powder and purchased a stuffed skunk to surprise him. It’s hard to laugh about the skunk that’s caused so many problems but, my husband did.Hopefully, in the coming week, the smell is resolved before the homeowner returns. My husband saw an Elk near the new home and was amazed at the wildlife out in Springtown. I remind him of my encounter with a black bear on the patio of the lake house in Arkansas. I’m not a “country person.” If I never encounter another bear, I’m “good with it.”

Rolling back onto the highway outside Corsicana, I pop in Melissa Etheridge and “Everybody Has A Hunger No Matter Who They Are.” Melissa is right. I’m hungry for dinner back home and looking forward to sharing supper with Matthew before running off to Marty Leonard Chapel to meet clients. 

I hope my clients and connections enjoy a beautiful weekend of sunshine and enjoy a few good times, great music and Spring weather…