15
Jul

Dying Alone. How Nursing Homes And Prison Visitation Bans Affect Loved Ones…

Last night the funeral of Bobby Brooks Caffey took place at Hawkins Funeral Home in Boyd, Texas.

His daughter, Debbie cried as she told me how many months it had been since she had seen him. Her grief expanded describing phone calls from her father begging her to come pick him up. She was helpless due to a visitation ban put in place by our Texas Governor.

Since mid March Texas along with many other states that have put visitation bans in place have left seniors to die alone without family nearby in their final moments. You won’t see this on the news because the reality doesn’t fit their agenda.

Inmates and seniors are in the same boat of no visitors due to Covid-19. They are cut off from the anchor of in person visits. Our government fails to address this situation month after month after month.

TDCJ has “hinted” at video visitation but only 12 Units in Texas are equipped for video visitation. What about the other Units? What about Federal or ICE Units? This band aid won’t solve problems for millions of loved ones across the United States.

I’ve been asked about video weddings. While it’s true that I conduct video weddings in other states it’s critical to understand that these ceremonies follow strict guidelines. You don’t just hop on a video call with an inmate to marry and assume that the Unit that has a procedure in place will recognize the marriage as valid. In order for the Unit whether it’s State, Federal or ICE to accept the marriage as valid, the guidelines must be followed to the letter.

In Texas, the I60 Request For Inmate Marriage is a REQUIREMENT. This document starts in the law library then travels to inmate records before moving to the DRC. It leaves the DRC and goes back to the Unit. The Warden is the last signor before handing the document to the Chaplain to schedule the ceremony. Going around or circumventing the protocol isn’t a good idea. Why? Because the Unit doesn’t have to recognize the marriage as valid if guidelines weren’t followed wholly and entirely.

Last weekend Cindy and I were in Missouri performing County Jail Weddings. Oklahoma, Missouri and Delaware are the ONLY states in the United States to have so far reinstated visitation. However, these states also have guidelines for marriage ceremonies to occur within State, Federal and ICE Facilities.

On the one hand a County Jail Ceremony is and can be more difficult to achieve due to the paperwork. Why? County Jails do not have law libraries or notaries. Texas and Missouri allow the use of an Absentee Affidavit. This document is valuable in states that allow it because states that don’t charge the inmate a transfer fee to the clerks office. These fees can amount to several hundred dollars. The expense is often cost prohibitive to clients wishing to marry an inmate. Without the use of a notary, the Absentee Affidavit is invalid. Meaning it isn’t legal. Missouri has a page 3 associated with the Absentee Affidavit pertaining to inmate marriage. This is a required part of the Absentee Affidavit. Without it the clerk will not issue a marriage license.

The difference between a County Jail Ceremony can be significant. I’ve had clients tell me for years “I wish I had waited to marry once he was moved.” Why? The ability to have a contact ceremony is removed entirely in County. There is no kiss. There are no photos.

Obtaining the necessary paperwork to buy the marriage license is also a hurdle unless the inmate has an attorney who can access a notary for the Absentee Affidavit. Mobile notaries are expensive and Tarrant County for instance requires an attorney accompany the notary inside the Unit. This can be really tricky unless the inmate is transferred to Green Bay Unit where this requirement is waived.

For four months now I’ve been mailing checks to clients who were cancelled or never scheduled at all at venues and prisons across the United States to cover 1/2 the cost to replace their first marriage license with a second marriage license. With my client load this is and continues to be a “hefty expense.” But, we are all in this together.

I’m going to revisit the many people trying to get into your pockets by requiring a deposit for a wedding we don’t know will happen within the shelf life of the marriage license. Be aware that anyone requiring a deposit during this unprecedented time is deliberately taking money right out of your pocket during a time when you need money most. I haven’t been taking deposits since late April upon realizing that a two week shutdown would be extended over and over again. Keep your money. You need it.

A number of people have contacted me regarding paying someone only to find their phone had been disconnected or the officiant refused to answer their phone. I answer my phone 7 days a week from 8AM-9PM. Loyalty and transparency are critical. Know who you are hiring and do research about who you are hiring. It’s out there. It’s easy to find. You are a single income household and as such need to provide for your family first and foremost. My fees aren’t due until 7 days prior to a scheduled ceremony. I’m waiving booking deposits and have been for months.

Because there are so many loved ones of seniors fighting these visitation bans as well as loved ones of inmates fighting them, there is strength in numbers. Both sets of people are in the same situation. There are many organizations fighting these visitation bans. Oklahoma, Missouri and Delaware folded to the pressure.

I want to address the client base of previous inmate weddings who are scheduling Vow Renewals upon release as a group. Currently many counties have a group limit of 10 people. These limits are subject to change. We are happy to move your dates to accommodate a date beyond the current limits. Stay calm. We will get this worked out.

Masks at ceremonies. The strong possibility of this requirement is a reality when visitation is reinstated. However, I’m going to encourage you to lift your mask for the kiss at the end of my ceremony. I’m also going to encourage you to write your own vows to extend or timeline inside the Unit. There are no special visits after a wedding in Texas although many of our other states allow one. Texas does not. Because of this and the fact that we have a minimum of 20 minutes and my ceremony lasts 12-14 minutes, please consider writing song lyrics, heartfelt memories, scripture or poetry to buy us more time on the inside.

Unit Photos- We cannot Request Retakes. Because of this, I buy 3 Units photos if they are available as a courtesy.

Guests- No guests are authorized however, guests are encouraged to wait in the parking area as they are welcome to join you in bridal or groom photos with me once we leave the Unit. I will have enough additional inventory of bouquets, tiaras, fascinators, veils, signs and fun props for up to 10 additional people.

Rings- Ring exchanges are not permitted in Texas. Oklahoma, you have a limit as to the value of $50.

California, it’s imperative you check your audio for video weddings. Please do this prior to your scheduled video wedding. Audio problems are continuing to get weddings rescheduled. Call a friend. Call me. Check your audio settings.

New York- I have emailed you on changes. Please check your email.

Louisianna- We have no idea when in person ceremonies will resume however we have emailed updates this morning.

Arkansas- Please check your emails.

All other service area states, wait to buy the replacement licenses until we have more information to prevent your second marriage license expiring.

It’s important to remember that while we worry about inmates that they are worrying about loved ones on the outside too. Although it’s difficult, please try to remain positive and hopeful when calling or writing your loved one.

I’m in Dallas County today and will check emails, phone calls and texts between clients.