20
Dec

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…