07
Aug

Headed To TDCJ Hilltop Unit And Gatesville, Texas A City Of Women’s Prisons…

Gatesville is one of the cities I frequent due to the number of Units located there. I had been contacted a few weeks ago by my client wishing to marry there and although this would be my first visit to Hilltop, I knew exactly where it was from passing it numerous times on my way to Hughes, Crain and my other “regular Unit stops.”

Gatesville is a city in and the county seat of Coryell County, Texas, United States. The population was 15,751 at the 2010 census. The city has five of the eight prisons and state jails for women operated by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.

Hilltop is the hub of the six prisons in Gatesville. The Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) described it as “a true prison farm” that “fittingly serves as the headquarters for the area’s agricultural operations.” 

The unit has pigs fed on feeder slabs and sixty horses used by field officers from surrounding prison units. The regional operations and maintenance departments are located at Hilltop. The unit hosts the pre-service and in-service area training facilities. Hilltop is the center of vehicle maintenance and repair work, and it serves as the area fuel depot.

The exteriors of the Hilltop buildings have bright white paint; the TDCJ says that the buildings “sparkle like white diamonds when the light is right.” Many building interiors have moldings dating from the 1890s. Some staircases are topped by pressed tin ceilings from era that the former Gatesville State School was built in. 

The Texas Building of Hilltop Unit was formerly Ferguson Hall; its current name stems from the concrete letters, colored in red, white, and blue, spelling “TEXAS.” The Texas Building’s first floor has classrooms and a library. The upstairs has an auditorium and a walled-in projection room. 

A cemetery containing graves of children of the former state school who died there is located across Business Highway 36.

Hilltop houses a program for female young offenders, located in the main Hilltop school. As of 2002 about 15 girls are in the program. 

The Hackberry Unit houses a Parole Modification and a Substance Abuse Felony Punishment Facility.

My groom had met his fiancée while visiting another inmate and former church member housed at Hilltop Unit. My groom was very excited to finally be marrying and I was surprised to learn he was from Azle, Texas. 

My husband has numerous developments in the Azle, Springtown, Lake Worth and Saginaw areas and as teens, Cindy and I briefly attended Azle High School. I never ask why an inmate is incarcerated however, my clients always wish to share the details. Delwyn was no exception. 

A deeply religious man, Delwyn arrived initially across the yard from my SUV at the Hilltop Unit but told me that “the visitation entry was on the other side.” Since I hadn’t been to this Unit before, I moved my SUV to follow and parked across from the Regional Directors Offices. Delwyn and I walked inside as Cindy waited in my SUV. We were of course in the wrong building and told to go back over to the main entrance. 

Delwyn and I both drove back to the main entrance at Hilltop and approached the tower guard. Due to the back and forth from one entrance to the next, Delwyn and I were both sweating profusely as we waited in the Texas sun for the guard to come out and count quarters for Unit photos after verifying our ID’s and then instructing us to go back over to the visitation entrance on the other side of the building. This was really unusual as traditionally, I enter through the main building, screen in with my clients and wait for an escort to the visitation area. 

Back parked at the visitation area, Delwyn and I were screened in. We walked across the street with two guards to wait on the gates to be unlocked but one of the keys wasn’t working. If I was overheated at the main entrance, I was really overheating waiting on another guard to come unlock the gate on the other side. But, waiting is the role of a prison wedding Officiant as well as my clients. We waited together as our escorts unlocked the gates and finally met Stacie standing smiling outside the visitation room. 

Upon entering the room, I went over “the rules.” There are strict rules regarding inappropriate contact during a prison wedding. Both parties are allowed two “pec kisses” and allowed to hold hands and briefly hug. 

Since I’m always asked about this, there are no conjugal visits at TDCJ facilities. Marriage ceremonies are generally “contact visits” unless the inmate is G4 or G5 status or for some other reason behind glass. If the inmate is behind glass, there is no contact.

Delwyn had sent me several “poses” he wanted for his wedding photos. I generally prefer to do photos after the ceremony because clients are relieved to get the wedding behind them and far more relaxed. 

Delwyn had also written his vows and the opening for my ceremony which is unusual but I enjoy creative client input. My couple were somewhat nervous as most couples marrying inside a prison are. 

Delwyn had brought a derby hat with him to the ceremony so I reached over to grab it and put it on him for one of their wedding photos together. I loved his bow tie too.

Hilltop didn’t have the painted walls in the visitation area that most Texas Units do but a beautiful tapestry had been hung on the wall which provided a dash of color. 

There are no special visits after a TDCJ wedding ceremony. We have 20-25 minutes inside the visitation area for your wedding. I time my ceremony to incorporate your vows and our timeline to give you sufficient time to say what you would like. If you have handwritten elements, please bring them with you.

As Delwyn and I were escorted back out of the visitation area, we both said goodbye to Stacie to follow the guard to the clearing area to await our photos to print. My favorite was the photo below because it shows just how much love Delwyn has for Stacie. I had decided to use the Coryell County Courthouse for a few groom photos and followed Delwyn there. Since my Grooms rarely take more than a few photos at their shoot, I had packed a few bouteniers and a sign for Delwyn and planned to incorporate his signed wedding license into the photos as well. 

Delwyn and I were both fairly overheated from standing outside Hilltop for over an hour together. I’m really looking forward to seeing Delwyn and Stacie again for their Vow Renewal and honored to have shared their Life Event at Hilltop Unit. Leaving the courthouse, I headed to the Dairy Queen drive through and was as surprised and delighted to see Delwyn standing at the counter across from me as he was to see Cindy and I. Like me, Delwyn had a long drive back to Azle while we were headed to Fort Worth and was thrilled to finally be married after a lengthy process to be granted permission to marry.

I’m at Connally Unit tomorrow with my beautiful bride, Victoria and at Buster Cole with Kelly on Friday. Can’t wait to meet you both.

My San Saba transfer from Plane Unit client had emailed me about August 20th at San Saba but I’m at Estelle Unit on the 20th about four hours from San Saba and due to the distance between both Units had to call San Saba for a secondary date. The first option was August 13th but, I’m at Telford Unit on the 13th so I will finally meet my groom at San Saba on August 27th at 10AM.

I answer a lot of questions about scheduling. The timeline to plan and execute your Prison wedding in Texas is 4-8 weeks. Clients booking first are my first priority. I cannot and will not “move an existing client and confirmed date at another Unit” to accommodate a new booking. What I can do is choose my next available date. As you know, I do not and will not advertise. My reasons for this are to keep my schedule flexible for my booked clients. 

I have other family members Approved to officiate your Texas Prison Wedding however, most clients only want me to officiate their wedding. Because of this, first booked clients take priority. Clients booking mid month are at the end of the month are accommodated based on my existing schedule.

My Gib Lewis booking for next Thursday was “chained out.” We now follow the groom. There are many chains in Texas at this time so when an inmate is “on a chain,” we wait and refill the I60 once the inmate is situated at the next Unit. 

For my Louisiana, Oklahoma, Arkansas and California clients, we look forward to meeting ya all soon and like you wish that you had two days per month as an option to marry. However, the limited window available for your Prison Weddings are how I can move from one state to the next. If every state had two days per month to marry, it would be impossible for me to be everywhere on the limited number of days available which is why “stacking” works not only for you but also me. Stacked clients are discounted because I’m at one Unit with more than one client. Because of this, I discount all of my clients as a courtesy. 

It’s another busy weekend coming up with destination wedding in Colorado for our traditional clients who have booked a Vow Renewal. My last visit to Colorado was to spread my father in law’s ashes and I’m looking forward to a joyous visit this time around to Colorado.

Please remember to bring your marriage license, ID and quarters if you wish to buy Unit photos with you to your Texas or other state prison wedding.