Road Trips, Rest Areas, Reality And Resilience. Travels Of A TDCJ Officiant…
This morning as I prepare to head to Belltower Chapel where I’ve conducted wedding ceremonies for several years, I’m also looking forward to meeting my twin sister at Mesa Springs to bring Makenna home from treatment for suicidal ideation. Her feelings of hopelessness stemmed entirely from school and a bully.
Between client meetings and bookings this week, Cindy and I have worked closely with Makenna’s school to make curriculum changes while remodeling her room from Disney theme to teen theme. We would have accomplished this sooner but Makenna rarely leaves her room which made a remodel daunting.
Last night at visitation, my grandniece was excited about changes to her class schedule and her new room. Makenna was positive and had learned coping skills at Mesa Springs. She is an introverted teen while her twin is outgoing and outspoken.
Maryssa mirrors Cindy while Makenna mirrors me. I spent years of my childhood not speaking due to a chronic stutter. Speech and special education classes along with my homemade clothing, buck teeth and other factors made me an easy target for bullies. Cindy was far better at handling bullies than I was back then. I understand Makenna and her drive and ambition to be the best student. Have the best grades. But, bullies destroy self esteem. They leave scars that never really heal.
As an adult, the most liberating thing that ever happened to me was not caring what others thought or said about me.
In my line of work that many view as “controversial,” having a tough shell is a priceless commodity.
This Wednesday I made my first trip to Priairieland Detention Center in Alvarado, Texas. This is a Lasalle property for immigrant detainees. My client had first contacted me last year to marry her in Denton County Jail.
However, Denton County Jail only offers video visitation. Because of this hurdle, she was forced to wait on her fiancée to go to another facility to marry. This isn’t uncommon. I have another client who contacted me to marry her at another county jail and due to video visitation we waited for him to go into TDCJ. He’s now at Holliday Unit.
From Federal to State to County to ICE Facilities, my schedule during the week involves a lot of driving. I easily drive 1-3k miles a week to Inmate weddings. While the ceremony generally takes 20-30 minutes, planning a ceremony “inside” can take months and on rare occasions, years.
Why? Whether the inmate chained to another state or changed his mind about marrying or had a CLM issue or other unforeseen hurdle, paperwork and process dictate the timeline. My client and I wait on the process. These clients roll over on my books month after month and rarely year after year.
Next week my week kicks off with a bang at Palo Pinto and Parker County Jails Monday.
Tuesday I travel to Garza Units in Beeville.
Wednesday I start my day at Cole Unit then drive four hours to Roach Unit.
Thursday I drive to Hutchins Unit then Dallas County Jail.
Friday I drive to Stiles Unit.
Saturday and Sunday I’m with traditional bookings. I work seven days a week and also volunteer as a hospice clergy and crisis counselor. Occasionally, based on my schedule, I’m also a premarital counselor with Twogether In Texas. I stay busy.
Trying to cope with and comprehend why my beautiful niece didn’t come to Cindy or I before taking a handful of pills hasn’t been easy. We are confused, frightened and horrified about this turn of events and determined to make necessary changes.
Last Tuesday I traveled to Coffield Unit to finally meet Melissa. She had started the planning process months ago but a CLM issue caused a timeline setback. I was excited to finally meet her and get her married!
Wednesday morning I drove to Prairieland to meet a client who had stayed in touch with me for nearly a year. She also brought her sister and mother for the ceremony. There are no photos allowed at Prairieland but guests were allowed. There was also a ten minute visit following the ceremony.
Leaving the Unit I located a nearby hotel for her photo shoot. Due to the cold and wind I had decided to find an indoor location. Pulling into the lot, I began unloading my inventory.
Walking inside I asked the receptionist if “we could borrow the lobby?” As usual, she said “sure.”
A few months ago, I married someone who had contacted me five years ago. I regularly perform vow renewals for previous clients and stay in contact with them.
My son and his wife finally took baby Oliver home last week and are on paternity leave from County Jail Ceremonies.
Because they are on a break, Cindy and I are bringing my niece Leigh Ann to Texas to have coverage for our clients since neither I or Cindy “can be everywhere.”
After leaving Belltower today, I will meet Cindy and Maryssa to pick up Makenna. I’m excited and hopeful about Makenna recovering from depression and anxiety with counseling and a strong family on hand to support her.
Teaching her to communicate with us will take some time but Cindy and I as well as the rest of my family are determined to learn how to communicate and stop future problems before they start.
Makenna will be forced to “toughen up” to bullies because there will always be someone somewhere with a negative attitude and negative actions but by using her coping skills we pray that we never have another incident like this occur again…