Wednesday afternoon while headed to Willow Lake Event Center, my TDCJ Beto Client called me while exiting Santa Fe towards the venue and my “traditional clients.” Sitting at the red light watching semi’s pulling out of Petro, I hit “accept” and wondered where my brother in law, Steve was driving since I hadn’t heard from him since Monday and if my niece, Stephaney would get the waitress job she had applied for at Petro? My mind never stops.
Apparently, the Warden at Beto had called my bride which is somewhat unusual. I shifted my attention to her to find out more. “He will be behind glass. The glass upsets me. I was hoping to hold his hand or hug him but, we will be separated. I’m terribly upset about this.” Dang. I was rattled myself. “The glass.” No one loves the glass.
Since I was thirty five minutes early for my appointment at Willow Lake and only twelve minutes away, I pulled into Petro to attempt to calm down my client.
I should note that the majority of my “upset client calls” will always be my Prison Wedding Clients. Why? Because they are not in control of a lengthy process that often confuses them and occasionally even scares or angers them. I’m the hand holder. I’m generally the go between and I’m usually the one talking to the Warden.
The glass is something no one is ever comfortable with. Behind the glass, the inmate is also handcuffed. At Ferguson Unit, the inmate was also locked into the cage behind the glass.
Ferguson was also the first time I would encounter an inmate behind the glass and effectively, shocking to me. I didn’t expect the glass although my client was prepared for it. Occasionally while inside the visitation area for a wedding ceremony, I will notice the glass cracked or writing on the wood. I asked one guard “how did the glass get broken?”
The answer surprised me. “Well, Miss Wendy, the inmates get angry at visitors and hit the glass.” Hit the glass? To the person that drove all the way to the Unit? Waited in a long line. Went through the screening process? I was shocked. The wiring under (also sometimes above) the glass was how my client and I communicated with the inmate. It’s essential that the inmate can understand the commitment aspect of the wedding ceremony.
I was more than a little nervous about the inmate hearing and subsequently, understanding me but, he could easily hear and understand the ceremony.
The wedding photo above thrilled my client because the glass “merged them together.” Walking back to the parking lot, I hid my silent tears from my client and “braced myself” for smiles a few miles from the Unit for her wedding photos. I didn’t want her to know how rattled I was about the glass and the wedding photos. I hid my sorrow intentionally. She couldn’t touch him. It pained me.
As a mother, the aspect of marrying an inmate is a lonely life of isolation for many of my clients marrying an inmate that is often serving 20, 30, 50 years or even life. My clients may never see their spouse on the outside. It’s not an easy path. They may never touch them.
I worry about my TDCJ Clients and on occasion, have even talked a few out of marrying the inmate. It’s a rare occurrence but, it has happened. The “Coffield Unit Con Man” who attempted to control my client and her money needed the boot and got it.
On my fourth phone call from my emotional Coffield client, I had suggested that she consider what the inmate was bringing to her life. If the only “gift” was strife and argument, it was a gift that she needed to give back.
It took a month but, the Prison Wedding Planning Process isn’t “quick or easy.” If one of my TDCJ clients wants “out,” they have time to effectively “hit the highway.”
Mary was determined to marry Lester. Her path wasn’t easy. It would take months. Mary would never touch Lester. The glass would always be separating them from one another even on their wedding day.
The glass didn’t make Mary uncomfortable as it hadn’t made Nikia uncomfortable. Mary and Nikia were prepared for the separation. I was the only one uncomfortable with the glass and the inability of my clients to touch their new spouses. It always saddens me.
It’s difficult for me to accept that for a number of my clients, they will never touch their spouse. The glass will be a part of every visit they make to the Unit. It will be a permanent “barrier.”
The glass is something neither I or anyone else can change but, it always saddens me nonetheless. It’s something I must accept ascmy clients have. It’s also something “I’m working on.” G4 and G5 inmates are always behind the glass. Lifers are too. I’m never really prepared mentally to Officiate a ceremony that won’t be “sealed with a kiss.” My heart hurts. I have had hundreds and even over a thousand “other couples” to compare my wedding ceremonies to.
From my couples “on the outside” to couples “on the inside,” the differences between both sets of my clients is significant.
While one set of my clients worries about the perfect dress, the perfect cake, the perfect venue, the guest list, the DJ, the photographer and more, the other set of clients drives several hours to get to the Unit, worry that their clothing will be within the visitation guideline, and try to remember to bring quarters to buy low quality wedding photos for $3 each if they are even offered at the Unit. Private Units do not offer photos.
I had finally calmed my Beto client down “about the glass” before pulling out of Petro. It wasn’t an “easy conversation” it never is when a client is upset.
Mentally, I prepared myself for the first “behind the glass” ceremony at Beto. I wondered if they would have the phones Allred did that no one could hear using? I hoped my bride wouldn’t cry seeing the inmate behind the glass.
I recalled my Coffield client vomiting in a trash can beside me when we walked in to find her beau behind the glass. The shock rattled her to such an extent that it took several moments to calm her before proceeding with the ceremony. She also “nearly ran” from the Unit following the ceremony. I was forced to chase her down because I feared that if she left the Unit upset, she might have a car accident. Luckily, I had plenty of time to talk her through the shock of the glass and explain to her that it was something neither of us could control.
Normally, I leave one Unit to head to another. On the Coffield Unit day of “the glass,” I wasn’t due at another Unit for several hours and had plenty of time to spend with my client. She was so upset that she skipped doing bridal photos and I bought her lunch instead at the infamous General Store in Tennessee Colony.
Thursday morning at 6AM, I checked in with my Beto bride. I was juggling several other “traditional clients” on my books for rehearsals Wednesday evening, Thursday evening and Friday evening for wedding ceremonies at venues on Saturday and Sunday. I was also apprehensive about how my bride would react to “the glass.”
In fact, I was so worried about my bride that I offered to drive her myself to the Unit. This is rare but, it’s happened. My Estes bride didn’t drive and took a bus from Houston to Fort Worth. I picked her up and took her to breakfast before driving her to Sanders Estes for her ceremony and upon leaving the Unit, had a great time with her at the Botanic Gardens getting some fun bridal photos for her.
I’m different. You will hear me say this over and over because it’s true. I care about my clients and their journey. It’s not an easy journey for TDCJ clients.
At 9:30AM Thursday, I had already been to the post office to mail photos and contracts to clients, filled up my SUV, hit the bank for quarters, met with my Saturday client to go over vendor details and driven through a Starbucks for egg white bites and a non fat latte. My Beto bride was to meet me at 9:30 and leave her car at my home.
The drive to Beto could run two hours and fifteen minutes to two hours and thirty minutes based on traffic and road construction.
Sitting in my SUV and responding to emails regarding Roach, Darrington, Hutchins, Bradshaw and Garza East Units while sipping my latte, I checked the time, 10:01AM. Alarmed, I sent a text to my bride to ask where she was?
A few minutes later, she responded “my son was late to school and I need to leave him with my inlaws. They live in DeSoto.” I quickly checked the distance from DeSoto to Beto and DeSoto to my location to Beto.
There was no way my client could get from DeSoto to me and me to drive to Beto and arrive by 1PM. Because of this, I suggested meeting me at Beto. I would arrive first and if my client was runnng late, explain her tardiness to the wardens secretary. I also immediately left my driveway headed for Beto.
With my preselected stack of cd’s beside me, it would be a day of music from artists with the first name of John. I noticed this before jumping on 20 to head to 287. Usually, I just grab a stack from my case and apparently, my husband had organized cd’s in the order of the first name. I thought I was OCD lol.
From Johnny Cash to John Cougar Mellencamp to John Denver and John Fogerty, I opted for Fogerty and thought about the hearing and lawsuit he had won regarding being himself. For those unaware of the irony or the story, here’s the link– John Fogerty Plagiarism Suit 1988. Plagiarizing himself? How could he be anyone else. The case went before the Supreme Court.
With “Here We Go Rocking All Over The World” blaring on my radio, I jumped onto the highway. I would be “on the dash” because I had planned to leave at 9:30AM with my client. I operate on strict timelines that allow a “cushion.” I’m not a last minute anything type of person.
The drive through Waxahachie is often time consuming due to traffic but, I was making good time and checked in with my client on her GPS estimated arrival time.
Taking several phone calls during my trip, Cindy and Stephaney were at her second interview at Petro. Steve was in New York.
My son was in Arkansas and my husband was back at the “Stinky Skunk Development In Springtown.” Leigh Ann was editing photos for three clients. The skunk development has been an ongoing escapade. Everyone in my husband’s office questions “why Matthew is handling it himself?” John, the builder had never encountered a problem of this magnitude. In fact, no one had. My husband has tried everything to get the smell out of the house and if he can’t, will be the person forced to deal with the homeowner returning from Japan May 4th. The same day I’m out of town with clients and my team. Ugh.
Driving through Eureka, Texas and thinking to myself “there should be an exclamation point after the name,” I check back in with my client. She’s due to arrive at Beto at 12:47PM. I’m rolling in (according to navigation lady) at 12:32PM.
I changed my cd to Elton John and paid attention to the words as I sang along to “let us strive to make a way to make all hatred cease. There’s a man over there. What’s his color? I don’t care. He’s my brother. Let us, let us live in peace” as I rolled on over a long bridge with a peaceful lake that no one is ever using on my trips to Tennessee Colony. Why doesn’t anyone use that lake? I wonder this on every trip across the bridge.
Twenty minutes out from the Unit, I call Cindy before popping in John Cougar and laughing about his “hey, hit the highway!” Its funny to me because I’m always hitting the highway and “finding a lover that won’t drive you crazy” while stating that you want them to “hit the highway” is somewhat offensive and blunt to say the least. It’s also funny. John Cougar is a real character.
The joys of road construction in Tennessee Colony continue. Now the “follow me” truck has moved from Coffield/Michael to Beto/Gurney. Jeez. I call my bride. She’s about ten minutes behind me. I remind her not to speed and get pulled over.
As I stand in the parking area looking for my client, I decide to go to the entrance and alert the tower of my arrival. She arrives a few minutes later looking beautiful in slacks with blonde hair. I wonder if she had colored it since I had last seen her? I love the cut. As usual, I consider growing my hair out and trying to go with a new style but, who are we kidding here? I constantly try to cut my own hair and lack the patience to grow my hair out.
Walking into the Unit, we screen in and wait. As usual, my bra sets off the metal detector and we take a seat. I’d skip the underwire but, I’m far too busty. One day, maybe when I have time, I will get a reduction.
My friendly guard comes to escort us and asks “how is your twin doing?” Cindy’s basement has flooded yet again from heavy rain and I’m headed to Parker County today after filing licenses in Tarrant County to help her mop up. The Daniel Diva house consistently floods in the basement. We’ve had twenty years of flooding at Cindy’s. It’s an ongoing escapade.
Walking in, I look for the phone or a hole under the glass. There isn’t one. The steel mesh above the glass is how the inmate will hear us. It’s difficult to get a clear photo with the glass and the area we are in is somewhat cramped. My client is doing well under the circumstances. She’s not crying or upset.
Leaving the Unit, I suggest stopping at the General Store for her to use the restroom and offer to buy her a cola. I was surprised to hear that she doesn’t consume caffeine and bought her a cranberry juice instead.
We head to my favorite new abandoned building outside Tennessee Colony on the way back to Corsicana. I love the peeling paint and forgotten “look” of this building right off the remote back roads.My bride is joyous the wedding is over and she can now have some fun. Most of my clients have the most fun with me on location photography shoots. As I go through my rolling photo booth switching out props and changing areas, my Saturday client, Brok sends a text to confirm Saturday at 3PM. I answer “my team and I will be there with bells on.”
Brok responds “we are so excited!” My team and I are too. I’ve been looking forward to this wedding and celebration for a month now. They are incorporating hand fasting into their ceremony and I love creative input. Brok and Ruben are so much fun. My bride loved the props I had packed and I asked “how much gas do you have? Do you have to stop for gas on your way back to DeSoto?” She did so I handed her an extra roll of quarters from my SUV and gave her a hug as I headed on to Hodge Unit to meet my next client.
I want only good things for all of my clients. My TDCJ clients often face a difficult journey because they are effectively “pulling the wagon alone.” For many of them, the inmate faces many years but, for my Beto bride, the inmate is due for release in three. I’m happy to hear this because at the very least, she will have an opportunity to experience married life “on the outside.”
A very large percentage of my clients will never have the opportunity. My heart is heavy for the journey they will face without ever having an opportunity to hold their partners hand. Their passion and resilience is unmatched by most couples. The sheer dedication of my clients is amazing. They don’t give up. For them, live isn’t only a four letter word. It’s their life. Love believes all things and bears all things for my TDCJ Clients.
My husband sends a text from his office that cracks me up near Corsicana. The staff had sprinkled powder and purchased a stuffed skunk to surprise him. It’s hard to laugh about the skunk that’s caused so many problems but, my husband did.Hopefully, in the coming week, the smell is resolved before the homeowner returns. My husband saw an Elk near the new home and was amazed at the wildlife out in Springtown. I remind him of my encounter with a black bear on the patio of the lake house in Arkansas. I’m not a “country person.” If I never encounter another bear, I’m “good with it.”
Rolling back onto the highway outside Corsicana, I pop in Melissa Etheridge and “Everybody Has A Hunger No Matter Who They Are.” Melissa is right. I’m hungry for dinner back home and looking forward to sharing supper with Matthew before running off to Marty Leonard Chapel to meet clients.
I hope my clients and connections enjoy a beautiful weekend of sunshine and enjoy a few good times, great music and Spring weather…