18
Apr

People, Prisons & Places- Travels Of A TDCJ Officiant And My Twin Sister…

Leaving Fort Worth Tuesday morning at 3:45AM with my twin sister complaining “we should have left at 3:30,” the Texas Twins hit the highway. 

It would be at least two hours before Cindy’s twin granddaughters, Maryssa and Makenna even began to roll out of bed in Weatherford, Texas at Cindy’s home. Cindy’s daughter, Leigh Ann would call complaining about Maryssa running late somewhere between 6AM and 6:30AM. How do I know? It happens each and every time we have a “red eye run” to a distant Unit. 

Cindy’s husband, Steve is a long haul truck driver who is rarely home more than one day a week. I can give Steve a mile marker and he often knows exactly where we are in Texas. Steve literally has been down pretty much every road in the US and Canada the last fifty years of driving. 

Cindy always spends the night with me when we are headed off to a Texas Prison before daybreak. 

Our destination? McConnell Unit in Beeville, Texas. McConnell is located near Garza East and Garza West as well as being in close proximity to Connally Unit. 

Texas Department Of Criminal Justice operates numerous state owned facilities. There are a few privately owned prisons in Texas as well as Federal and ICE Detention Centers. TDCJ oversees both state and privately owned facilities. Texas ranks first in the nation regarding the number of people incarcerated. It’s a shocking statistic. 

TDCJ McConnell Unit is a little over five hours one way from my location in Westover Hills, Texas. A few months ago, Cindy and I made the journey to McConnell in exactly five hours. My Tuesday bride had opted to stay at a hotel as my previous McConnell Unit bride had. 

It’s rare for Cindy and I to book a hotel for a number of reasons. First, Cindy has the Twins at home. I have a husband and feisty Beagle as well as numerous commitments with venues that I’m on staff at and Client bookings for Texas Twins Events and The Pawning Planners. Destination trips can get tricky so whenever possible, I skip booking a hotel. 

My Tuesday bride and her soon to be sister in law were meeting us at Goodwill in Beeville where I would drop Cindy to search for bargains while I was at McConnell at 9:30AM. McConnell was a 6-8 minute drive from Goodwill. 

I always find a nearby location for Cindy to “junk shop” for an hour or two. Flipped items are listed at our storefront where Texas Twins Treasures items are sold worldwide. The inventory can either be refurbished items originally taken in trade through The Pawning Planners or something Cindy and I have found in another state at a Destination Event or at a resale shop near a Texas Prison. We know what we are looking for. How? Cindy and I have been “flipping items” since we were in our 20’s. 

Cindy and I have thirty years of resale experience that when combined with our extensive product knowledge from dueling careers in sales, makes us both knowledgeable appraisers. It is rare for my twin and I to “take a hit on a flip, swap or trade.” We have had a few “bust barters” but, they were learning curves. Like anyone else, we learn from mistakes. 

I no longer accept non running vehicles that require a hefty investment on our end through The Pawning Planners. Such barters have frequently and nearly always “bitten us in the a$$.” When you lose money on a barter- you remember why and how you “took a hit” and are subsequently, far more cautious. We are. 

Many people are surprised to learn that we not only barter but that “we do Prison Weddings.” Often, our traditional clients will call or email during the week while Cindy or I are driving to or from a Texas Prison. The cell reception on back roads is always the “first clue.” My phone never stops ringing. Brok had called about his upcoming wedding while we were headed to Beeville and wanted to incorporate hand written vows. Asking if “I had time to talk?” I advised him that we had at least two hours to talk since we were driving to a Prison. I’m really looking forward to finally meeting Brok and his fiancée next week. I always take client calls while driving. It’s truly the only time I’m not juggling a client standing in front of me or emailing me. In any given month outside wedding season, I can be juggling 10-20 clients. In season? Upwards of 20-25 booked clients while fielding new client requests on a daily basis. 

Between Texas Twins Events and TDCJ Weddings, I literally HAD TO add more staff to address our burgeoning client bases. Our growth has stunned others. After all, I’ve never advertised. “How does she do it?” Well, when I started Texas Twins Events, I priced our services far below our competition. When a few people still couldn’t afford to book with us, I rebranded and expanded by merging Texas Twins Events and Texas Twins Treasures to create the barter option of The Pawning Planners. When someone came to me because she couldn’t find anyone to marry her at a Texas Prison, I AGAIN expanded Texas Twins Events to include Texas Prison Weddings. Exceeding client expectations has earned us referral businesss each and every year we’ve been in business. Previous clients re book for Vow Renewal Ceremonies upon release of their loved one from a Texas Prison or a Baptism, birthday party, Quincinera or even Memorial for a family member. It’s not uncommon for a previous client or one of their family members to book several times for different events with us. In fact, it’s quite common. Previous clients become threads of our journey and the door never closes.  

I’m not a “country person” although many assume that Cindy and I were born and raised in Texas. Cindy and I were born in California. We’ve left Texas twice to move to California and back again as adults. 

For a number of years, I kept a home in San Clemente and Fort Worth. For another number of years, I kept a home on Beaver Lake in Arkansas and another in Fort Worth. I’m out of the vacation home in another state business. Everyone wants to stay at your “vacation home” at your expense. I now book Cindy and I or my Team at luxury hotels instead and let someone wait on me instead. Don’t be offended. I’m honest. Having a holiday home is the biggest way to have everyone and their dog wanting to “stay at your other home” while you are working your a$$ off to pay for it. The lake house was an ongoing escapade of “friends” not only borrowing the house but also the boats and eating the food without replacing it or putting gas in the boats. I will never own another lake home unless of course it’s my primary residence. I don’t need friends who use me for their benefit. 

I’ve traveled the world extensively and prefer to live near the heart of the city. Cindy and I are Compensating Personality Twins. My twin grandnieces are as well. 

I’m always asked what “Compensating Personality” means. Literally though the definition means two halves make a whole. If you are unfamiliar with Compensating Personality Multiples, I’m adding a link– Twin Studies Compensating Personalities.

Why one twin would be more driven or bossy while the other twin is more complacent or happy to go along with the stronger minded twin continues to be something that confuses scientists. 

Part of the issue is that many assume that identical twins are identical thinkers. This isn’t true in our case, Cindy’s twin granddaughters case or any of the nine other sets of twins in our family. 

Also, for the many who assume that twins aren’t genetic, Twins have been born every other generation on both sides of our family for over 200 years. Identical twins are genetic. Fraternal twins are not. 

Identical twins are almost always  “closer” than fraternal twins although the variation has been studied over and over again. 

Twin studies are “big business.” My twin grandnieces love gift cards and other “perks” for being involved in twin research. 

Cindy and I have very little time to devote to twin studies although on a weekly, monthly and yearly basis, a researcher will contact us begging for Cindy and I to spend hours filling out questionnaires. 

A far better approach would be for researchers to call Cindy and I while we are spending hours driving together to a Texas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Arkansas, California or other state Prison. 

Neither Cindy or I have the time or the inclination to spend hours we don’t have filling out forms regardless of what the “perk” offered might be. Why? Cindy and I work seven days a week. Cindy and I juggle TDCJ Clients, Texas Twins Treasures Clients, Texas Twins Events Clients and Pawning Planners Clients. Time is priceless to Cindy and I. 

Cindy is funny, witty and never without something to say. I am far more reserved, reflective and detail oriented. Together, we are the perfect team. 

My sister and I are happiest when we are together and due to our unique ability to “merge our talents,” capable of overcoming damn near anything on location. Wherever that location might be. Our mini me twins, Maryssa and Makenna closely mirror Cindy and I. Maryssa isn’t driven and far more social than Makenna. Makenna is a stellar student and far less interested in having a social circle. 

Maryssa and Makenna have worked with our clients since they were two years old as flower girls, ring bearers & ushers. At fourteen, they now book with clients as princess characters for fundraisers and birthday parties to “save money for their first car.” 

The “tiny Texas twins” are no longer tiny and are now taller than Cindy and I. Maryssa and Makenna are both comfortable on camera and have been filmed for numerous media projects. 

Maryssa and Makenna are by far “lighter skinned” than Cindy or I. The reason for this is that our grandfather was a full blood Cherokee Indian and also, an identical twin. Our grandmother was Scottish with milky white skin, green eyes and red hair. I’ve been asked “why do most of your businesses have the word twin in them?” The reason is that we are a twin family. 

Cindy and I “came up with” the name Texas Twins Events moments before my surgery at Baylor Hospital. Not expecting to survive, I had told my twin “if this doesn’t kill me, I’m hanging up my courthouse heels and doing something I enjoy.” Cindy had asked me “what would it be?” 

Thinking about a great way to have fun and meet people that my twin could join me doing while also bringing her twin granddaughters with her, I decided to create a People Over Profit based business and, Texas Twins Events was born. 

Cindy had given up “her day job” to take on the responsibility of raising her twin granddaughters fourteen years ago. Isolated and overwhelmed, Cindy needed a way to get out of the house and we created one. 

Within one week of my website going LIVE, Discovery Communications contacted me. The difference between Texas Twins Events and other event vendors was significant. Why? We helped anyone. We didn’t care what made you different or if you had extraordinary circumstances. We became the people we had never met. 

Our versatility was based entirely on our own experience when planning our weddings. 

We didn’t have family or friends to help us years ago and subsequently, became the people we wished we had known but had never met. We are “different” and “being different” is also why we are so successful.  Our success surprises people but, as children, we learned at a young age that caring about someone else’s journey was rare. Why try to be like everyone else? That market was saturated. 

Driving to McConnell, Cindy and I took calls and checked up on the twins. Cindy’s daughter, Leigh Ann was texting photos she had edited from the weekend before at a wedding and complaining that “Maryssa was making everyone late again.” Cindy and I both did an eye roll. 

Midway through our drive to Beeville, I had Cindy screen shot a navigation pic to my beautiful bride to let her know where we were and that we would be arriving between 9:15AM and 9:30AM at Goodwill in Beeville.

Rolling onto the 130 HWY with a posted speed limit of 85MPH, Cindy laughed and said “only in Texas.” I’m not comfortable driving 85MPH although for many years I was a General Motors Certified salesperson familiar with Ride and Drives and various vehicles. 

At one XLR-V Ride and Drive in Texas, my driver amped up the speed to 120MPH. Was I comfortable at that speed? Not really. I prefer to drive 70-75MPH quite frankly because stopping distance and other factors are involved. 

Put me in an evening gown next to an XLR and I’m far more comfortable. I don’t enjoy “going real fast” in anything. I’m a safe driver because I don’t take risks. 

“Every Valero gas station restroom looks the same.” Cindy has become a public restroom connoisseur. It’s rare to “wow us” with an exceptionally clean rest area or public bathroom but, it has happened. The rest area near Huntsville, Texas is sparkling clean but, also has a rooster chasing you around. Once again, only in Texas! Cindy and I always laugh about the Huntsville rest area.

Rolling into Beeville, Leigh Ann calls to see if “we’ve looked at the photos she sent to our phones?” I pull over and take a quick look. It’s 9:03AM and I’m two minutes from Goodwill and our meeting point. 

The bride (a traditional client) wasn’t comfortable about wearing a tiara. I talked her into it. Her mother however, loved the idea! I have amassed an inventory specifically to loan clients for photo shoots. Why? So they don’t have to buy items they will only use once. I know, it’s different but, I’m different. I care remember? 

“Creating an inventory to LOAN CLIENTS AT YOUR OWN EXPENSE? ARE YOU CRAZY?” No, I’m not crazy but I am committed to “changing the wedding and events industry one client or barter at a time from Fort Worth, Texas.” The smile on the bride “wearing her very first tiara” thrilled me.I buy tiaras from many countries in numerous colors. I also either create my own bouquets or buy them. My rolling photo booth can also feature clothing from one of my 6 closets, boas, mink coats, jewelry, and more. 

Unloading one of our suvs while a surprised and delighted client sees everything we’ve brought to make their photo shoot special is a sight to behold. 

My McConnell bride jumped into my SUV and together we drove to the Unit. Every TDCJ Client is nervous at a Prison Wedding. 

Whether I’m in Texas or another state officiating a Prison Wedding, I’ve yet to meet a client who wasn’t a bit apprehensive. Why? Because no one “plans” to marry inside a Prison.

In August, Texas Twins Events Prison Weddings will be expanding into California. My niece, Leigh Ann will handle California Prison Weddings as well as photography and traditional bookings. Cindy and I will continue to address Destination Events and occasionally, if needed, I will continue to handle a few California Prison Wedding bookings myself. Yes, I’ve officiated numerous “high profile” Prison Weddings and many of these particular clients only want me to handle their Prison Wedding Planning Process and subsequent ceremony. 

Before anyone starts panicking that I won’t be performing California Prison Weddings or Destination Bookings with Cindy, calm down kids, I’m still going to book in California but, we need someone living in California and that someone is Leigh Ann. My niece enjoys working with all types of clients and is looking forward to her move.  Leigh Ann will be based out of Oxnard, California. My niece is also a Notary, experienced photographer and TDCJ Officiant and enjoys creating memorable ceremonies and moments with clients. 

I personally trained Leigh Ann and know she will thrill you with her stellar work ethics. When needed, Leigh Ann will fly back and forth to Fort Worth for Client photography bookings in Texas. Leigh Ann is always the “first choice for photography” bookings although my son and his wife also do their own photography and Officiant packages. Cindy and I will continue to do our own photos with TDCJ Clients and are buying new equipment to begin offering professional photography with either Cindy or myself handling your photos at traditional bookings. Leigh Ann is training my twin and I about professional photography before leaving for California. 

My McConnell groom had written his own vows. I love creative input. It makes the Wedding Ceremony far more personal and unique.Visiting with the Chaplain and guards in the visitation area while my clients had a few moments for a visit after the wedding ceremony, I was thrilled to learn that one of the guards was from Fort Worth and familiar with TCGPWA and the parade. 

Every year, Texas Twins Events and my Team look forward to being sponsors of the parade and seeing all of our friends in the LBGT Community. Leaving the Unit, I check in with Cindy and head back to Goodwill. As usual, Cindy has a shopping cart full of treasures. I rarely list new items at Texas Twins Events “in season” because I simply don’t have the time. 

Instead, during the winter months, Cindy and I walk our storage units and pull silk flowers to create new bouquets and pick or choose items to either send out to refurbish or list as is.

Unloading my SUV, my bride and her new sister in law are thrilled with the wide array of options I had left packed in my main SUV from the Saturday wedding. 

Everyone loves my tiaras. I have several more coming that are currently in customs and ladies, ya all are going to love them! Leaving the photo shoot, I check in with my husband regarding the “Stinky Skunk Development.” For weeks now, Matthew has been trying to remove the smell of skunk from his Springtown, Texas development. I’ve bounced ideas while he has sent crews to tear out walls, the bathtub and even hired someone to leave ozone machines. So far, every effort has failed.

Cindy googles for a solution that we haven’t tried yet. I order something on Amazon wondering whether it will work or not? The amount of money spent on trying to solve this “stinky problem” would shock you. 

Although I had suggested not replacing the tub, yesterday my husband had to tub pulled and ordered a new one. The skunk had somehow gotten under the tub and died but not before spraying a wide area in the master bath. 

My husband is depressed trying to find a solution for the “Stinky Springtown Skunk” issue. After all, in fifty years this is a situation that he has never encountered yet. 

Matthew will be relieved when we finally close out the Springtown Development and effectively say goodbye to the skunk problem. It will be a “two-fer.” 

Being a builder and developer isn’t an “easy job” but, my husband has far more patience than I do. Matthew can effectively “draw a development on a cocktail napkin.” He sees possibility in a field. I see a field. 

My husband tries to explain why “keeping those trees and leaving nature is the best way to develop land” while I prefer to stay safely in the SUV while he walks the land. I worry about poison ivy while my husband puts on hiking boots. I’m not really a “nature walking type of person.” 

In fact, I didn’t even own a pair of sneakers until after marrying my husband. We were in Austin, Texas “walking” a possible development. I was wearing Stuart Weitzman high heeled sandals. I will never forget trying to navigate my way while stylishly attired through a forest and my husband probably won’t either. 

My husband had laughingly asked “are you going to walk this property in THOSE SHOES? Listen, I know you’ve been a model and commercial actress most of your life but, in the real estate world we aren’t on camera and you need to buy jeans and sneakers.” 

Offended, I had responded “why would I spend good money on ugly clothing and accessories?!” Years later, I have jeans and sneakers. True story. Could the Amazon order of Natures Miracle solve the stinky problem? I have no idea but, it arrived last night while I was at a rehearsal with clients. 

This morning, my husband couldn’t wait to get to Springtown and “give Natures Miracle” a shot at solving the stinky problem. Warily, I predict that nothing is going to fix skunk house. Ugh.

Heading off to the courthouse this morning before meeting clients at Dallas North Tower, Parker County Jail and Tarrant County Jail, my calendar for months is intimidating to say the least. 

A day off for the Texas Twins isn’t coming any time soon but, Maryssa and Makenna are looking forward to the Easter break from school. 

This weekend will be spent on location with foster children at an Easter Egg Hunt that Cindy and I along with my Texas Twins Events Team are sponsoring. I look forward to meeting our new clients on location soon and wish you a Blessed Weekend full of family, fun and adventure..,