Learning Curves- When Love Isn’t Enough & Other Factors In The Prison Wedding Planning Process…

For several weeks now, I’ve been talking to one of my brides about not only her concerns but my own as well regarding marrying an inmate that she’s only “known since December.” The inmate is somewhat manipulative and controlling which highly concerns me. 

Yesterday’s phone call came while I was going down the list of calls to Chaplains and law libraries for several clients waiting on I60’s to be processed. I took a break to listen to Samantha’s concerns and scheduling at Jordan Unit. The inmate had requested a transfer to another Unit which effectively puts a “hold” on wedding scheduling. This “hold” would help give Samantha time to re evaluate marrying. 

Samantha had called me to advise me that the transfer had been denied. After twenty minutes of discussing whether or not Samantha wanted to move forward, it was decided that we would “stall this wedding” until July or August due to a number of things that the inmate was doing to control her life from behind bars. 

Let’s go over a few of these “issues” to better grasp the red flags flying high in what should be a joyous journey for the bride on the outside but, in Samantha’s situation, isn’t. 

A few weeks ago, on another phone call, Samantha told me that the inmate had her sending $200 a month “for their future.” I found this not only odd but also manipulative and voiced my concerns. I also listened carefully about other problems in the relationship. What were they? First, the inmate didn’t want Samantha to wear makeup or “look too attractive.” Samantha is a waitress and her appearance is important. Also, the inmate didn’t want Samantha to take her children swimming because “you will be wearing a bathing suit and I don’t want other men hitting on you.” The monetary demands along with Samanthas “life on the outside” were greatly being affected by the inmate who was also in a hurry to get married. The “hurry” was for the inmate to have more control. 

Slowing this wedding down was in Samantha’s best interest. In fact, canceling it would be in her best interest but, I can only give my clients advice. It’s not my role to tell them who not to marry. I carefully advise clients without overstepping bounds. I also point out things they may not realize while I’m at it. With Samantha, I’ve been worrying about her future for a month now. 

Meanwhile, my Diboll Unit bride has decided not to marry. She sent me a text last night wanting to gift her new with tags size 12 petite dress to another bride in an effort “to be part of the reason they smile on wedding day.” I found this selfless act while struggling with her own heartbreak just another reason of why my prison clients are such giving and compassionate individuals. 

For those unaware of this, the person “on the outside” is doing time too. They are pulling the wagon alone. They are paying all of the bills, raising children and making every sacrifice to make their relationship work. It’s astounding how determined and resilient they are. For Gabriella, her desire to give a dress she loved and planned to marry in herself is a wholly generous and selfless proposition. 

My clients are both passionate and perseverant. I pray that one day Gabriella finds someone worthy of her. When she does, I will marry her. 

After months of overcoming a CLM issue at TDCJ Telford Unit, I’m really looking forward to finally meeting my bride in August. CLM or CLW issues DRAMATICALLY slow the usual timelines of 4-6 weeks turnaround down. In fact, we can wait months to resolve an unexpected issue. Patience is a virtue in the prison wedding planning process. Knowing how to overcome an unexpected issue is key to moving forward. I find solutions. 

I’m headed back to Torres Unit in Hondo, Texas and looking forward to meeting two special brides who also plan to marry on the same day. My McConnell brides are too. 

Cindy and I are really looking forward to seeing Amanda again at Ellis Unit. We had met her a few months ago for family photos in Eastland, Texas and had a great time on location with my grandnieces and her children playing together. 

Many of my brides are sending me photos of what they plan to wear. This is always a great idea and I’m happy to go over your outfit with you. My Crain and Woodman Grooms don’t need to do this as they will be wearing dress shirts and slacks well within TDCJ guidelines. Please do not bring paper money on wedding day to purchase photos. Bring quarters. Unit photos are $3 each. I will buy three and make copies for you. If you wish to buy more, bring your quarters in a ziplock bag and do not bring more than $21 into the Unit. No cell phones. No paper money. No cameras. You MUST BRING your state issued ID or Passport AND your marriage license. If you have handwritten vows, hand them to me PRIOR to entry.  

I’d like to wish all of my July clients from years gone by a Happy Anniversary. I remember all too well how nervous and excited you were on wedding day. We’ve shared precious moments together on location. Meeting your families and sharing your joy is a gift to not only myself but also my staff. 

I am often asked “what I remember the most on location at events?” I remember my clients smiles, their joy and their immense gratitude at finding the love of their life. Soul mates are difficult to find but, my clients did. I remember being hugged walking up to you and how happy you were that the day had finally come. 

Weddings are and will always be my favorite events. Vow Renewals are equally joyous as are baptisms but seeing our families again for a celebration whether it’s the birth of a child or a Vow Renewal or even a birthday party is a family reunion for my Team and I. Clients are the fabric of our lives. Many people are surprised at how often previous clients rebook but they shouldn’t be. Our clients have established a bond with us. In many cases even a death in their family is a rebooking for a celebrant and planner at their loved ones memorial. 

I will always remember how joyous Burt and Deanna were on their wedding day. It had been raining in the park they chose to marry in. The tulips hadn’t bloomed so Burt planted imitation tulips. Burt paid attention to the details. Burt and his friends from Carswell AFB had also draped fabric from the trees. 

Two years after marrying Burt & Deanna, an email from Deanna trying to locate me through Gig Salad came in. “You married us and you may not remember us. We are a military couple from Carswell AFB. We need your help. We want you to baptize our baby.” Because Gig Salad limits correspondence unless the client books you, I was unable to share my phone number or contact information with Deanna. But, I easily located her phone number after walking into my home office and pulling files for the three years of weddings to locate my client records for Deanna. 

I keep detailed records of client correspondence and bookings. I quickly sent a text to tell her I would call her. She excitedly told me “we are pregnant and I wouldn’t want anyone but you to baptize our baby. Please tell me you will be available to Bless our child. We are overjoyed at this miracle.” 

Thinking to myself ” I WILL MAKE time,” I checked my schedule. Cindy and I were traveling back and forth to California as we were filming This Time Next Year but I went ahead and told Deanna that “if I needed to catch a flight from LAX to DFW on short notice I could fly to DFW and back to LAX in order to accommodate Burt and Deanna’s request.” 

I’m constantly checking distances and scheduling. The flights from DFW to LAX are easy and quick. I always leave a car at DFW and have a rental waiting at LAX. Fluidity and planning ahead are key to addressing our numerous clients. There isn’t a day that goes by I’m not checking distance from one prison unit to the next to see if I can move from Unit A to B and even C on the same day. I map out my timelines over and over again. If a Unit is within 2 hours of a booked Unit, it’s usually doable. But if the secondary Unit is 3 or more hours from the booked Unit, we must look at the next available date instead. 

Booked Prison Unit Dates are non moveable. Once I’ve confirmed a date, it’s literally “set in stone” at a prison. 

A few months later while in my home office preparing a ceremony for a house blessing, Deanna called me again. This phone call was far from the joyous earlier call. This call was drought with sad news. Deanna was crying. Baby Delilah phone had Trisomy and Deanna needed me to be able to get to Harris Hospital on short notice as Delilah was only expected to live a few short hours. I was crushed. 

In fact, I was speechless. I’d never heard of Trisomy. I grabbed a Merck Manual to educate myself. I can’t imagine how Deanna must have felt at her OB/GYN appointment during that check up. I couldn’t imagine how carrying a child with the odds of survival being so slim would affect anyone as joyous at conceiving as Deanna was could accept this devastating blow. I mourned for her. I grieved for the child that had blessed their marriage. I prayed. I also prepared. 

For a number of years, I was a volunteer hospice clergy at area hospitals. Sadly, the stress and reality of many patients facing death was simply too much for me mentally. I stopped volunteering after at Baylor and Harris. How doctors handle death daily it I have no idea.

Deanna had added “we will also need you to perform the memorial. Burt and I wouldn’t want anyone other than the person who married us to handle such an emotional and important role.” My heart sank. I knew how difficult it must have been for Deanna to place that call to me. I also knew that as she carried the baby she so desperately wanted that she was hoping for a miracle. I did too. I prayed Delilah would defy the odds. I would continue to pray for months. 

A few months later, the call came. Cindy and I were scheduled at Iheart radio in Dallas. We went to see Burt and Deanna first to check timelines of Delilahs possible birth. There was time to run to Dallas and return to Fort Worth. Cindy and I dashed through our interviews to run back to Burt and Deanna. Delilah was tiny. The smallest baby I’ve ever seen. Cindy and I were surprised by the number of Carswell military members in the room. 

Beyond Deanna’s bed were at least 15-20 AFB coworkers of Burt and Deanna. They were all crying. A room packed with crying soldiers is something you won’t forget. The sadness in the room literally sucked the air from my lungs. I tried to breathe deeply and focus on staying professional and remembering my role walking into that room and past the mourners. Hats in hand, their silent tears said it all. You could hear a pin drop and sniffles over the machines and medical equipment. 

Holding my composure and emotions inside in order to perform the bedside baptism was incredibly difficult. At that moment, I still harbored hope that Delilah would make it. Cindy looked at me from the back of the room with the military personnel to give me the “don’t cry. Your role is to comfort” pep talk as she too wiped away her tears. Cindy knew I was terrified of losing my composure. We had discussed it over and over again. 

Minutes after the above photo was taken, Burt and Deanna told me “we only have a few hours.” I was again literally crushed. I was also enlightened as to why Delilah wasn’t in an incubator. 

By the time I lifted baby Delilah to perform her baptism, my sorrow was so profound that my tears dropped silently on the child this couple had so desperately wanted. I couldn’t hide my sadness. 

A few days later, I performed baby Delilahs memorial wearing the same vestment that I had married Burt and Deanna in. Deanna had asked that I wear the same thing I had met them wearing two years prior at Sampson Park. Delilah wore a gown handcrafted from Deanna’s wedding dress. 

I remember staying up all night working on my ceremony. The details of how I had met the Villareals. The moment of Burt happily walking up to me. The look on his face as Deanna approached us. The man gently playing guitar behind us. The sun breaking through the grey summer day bringing light and promise. I remember every aspect of any ceremony that I’ve ever performed. 

Life Events are Life Moments. Saying goodbye to Delilah was the hardest ceremony that I’ve ever performed in my life as an Officiant, Planner and Celebrant. 

My role is to comfort families as a celebrant but, it was difficult to mask my own emotions. Loss always is. Death is a dark stranger but the death of a child is and always will be the most difficult role that I have ever played. 

Deanna never recovered from the loss of Delilah. I doubt she ever will. She has lost the ability to try to conceive again. Burt and Deanna are praying that they can adopt. I’m praying for them. They are wonderful people who would joyously love to parent a child together. 

The relationship I share with my clients is remarkably intimate. They trust myself and my Team to understand their journey. For some, the journey is far more difficult. Surprises. Setbacks. No one expects them but, whether you are planning an elaborate event or planning a prison wedding, there can be extraordinary circumstances that you didn’t expect. Rain at an outdoor venue. A transfer of the inmate less than 24 hours before their scheduled wedding. These things are beyond our control but, we will work through them together. 

For others like Samantha or Gabriella, they might need a kind word or even advice. I’m there for them. I listen to their concerns. I guide them. They need someone to listen. For my prison wedding clients, it’s not uncommon for them to tell me “you are the only person I can talk to.” In many cases, I am. 

Making arrangements and smoothing the path is my specialty. It’s very important to me that clients aren’t worried about things I can address on their behalf. Experience matters. I’m in the Life Events business. There are no do overs. My events are as humanly close to perfect as possible. Cindy and I give others the weddings we never had ourselves. We care far more than anyone realizes because we know how important the details are to our clients. 

I cried at Delilahs memorial and I cried at her baptism. I cried for the child my clients so desperately wanted but couldn’t keep. I will never forget the moments I’ve shared with any of my couples. 

Perhaps I’m different because I care so much but my clients are all like my own children. I want what’s best for all of them. I want them happy. I celebrate their successes and I mourn their losses. I pray Burt and Deanna find a baby to adopt and shower with love.

A special anniversary wish for my ladies who shared a friendship ceremony a few years ago goes out to three amazing ladies. 

Two of these ladies I married to each other and one of these three friends is still waiting to find the right partner. They are out there Lorraine and I know that one day you too will find a life partner.Bouncing from exclusive venues to Prisons, backyards, parks and other interesting and varied locations throughout wedding season keeps me from ever being bored. Cindy and I love to load up and hit the road on our way to meet amazing clients. 

Our Huntsville client who contacted us through The Pawning Planners several weeks ago loves her photos and is still trying to find Mr Right. We never did find a way to effectively “flip the two headed fox stole” she had bartered in exchange for her photo shoot. If you are interested in a two headed fox stole missing an eyeball, PLEASE give us a shout. We ship AND deliver. This stole needs a new home. 

If you missed the blog on the Huntsville client and the unique circumstances of her request for services, here’s the link– The Pawning Planners- Turning Trash Into Treasure. More Flips, Flops & Fun Adventures.

We have several Vow Renewals coming up over the next two years from previous prison clients who have contacted us to schedule. A special shout out of congratulations to my Darrington, Estes, Coffield, Michael, Bridgeport, Estelle, Hobby and Stiles Unit clients who have excitedly shared their good news with me. We look forward to seeing ya all again soon. 

One of my clients from Michael Unit wanted to plan her Vow Renewal for ten years away. This IS UNUSUAL. Another client I married a few months ago who asked me to wear camouflage attire to her wedding also has scheduled for ten years away. Good Lord, I hope I’m still alive. 

Ten years out is a lifetime away but, God willing, my Team and I will honored to see you all again.

From prisons to venues and everywhere in between, I’ve decided to cut back from large over the top events. 2019 will be our last year of chaotic and unpredictable events with too many Indians and not enough Chiefs on location. 

My reasons for declining future “large budget events” is based entirely on years of one surprise after another and clients opting not to hire enough security with open bars on site. From arrests to injuries on location, I have far more fun as does my Team with smaller parties of 200 or less guests.I’ve been asked about groom tossing. This tradition is fun but can also be dangerous. How so? The groom in California became entangled in the lights. He could also have fallen. Because of the liability associated with groom tossing, we ask about traditional aspects when planning your wedding or Vow Renewal to ensure that there aren’t accidents or injuries on location. We want your event seamless and worry free. 

I’m going to once again “go over” guests jumping in front of my photographers to get their own photos on location. For years now, my photographers have complained about trying to angle around guests who jump up to take their own photos. PLEASE REFRAIN from doing this. You are killing the shot for a photographer who has been hired to capture the shot. It’s often impossible to crop guests out of photos they’ve literally jumped into. 

A few weeks ago, this “guest with a phone or camera” scenario jumping into the shot ruined several photos. We have one shot at a photo on location. It’s a moment that cannot be duplicated. 

Please do not jump in front of photographers. If you’d like to take your own photo, give our photographers time to get the shot and THEN take your own photo. This isn’t a competition. It’s a Life Event. 

If you are in a photo taking a photo, it’s not only difficult and occasionally impossible to crop you but also time consuming adding more stress to my photographers during the editing process. Give the couple the opportunity to have beautiful photos of THEIR EVENT. The continued issues of people jumping into a shot roll on but, courtesy would mandate that if you see a photographer trying to capture a photo that you step out of the shot or… put your phone down and strike a pose instead. 

I’m at Ferguson, Ellis, Michael, Coffield & Green Bay Units in the coming weeks and as excited as you are that your wedding day has finally come to fruition. Please remember to err on the side of caution regarding your attire at your prison wedding.

For my California prison clients, the dress code is far more stringent. Be aware of this. If you need me to send you the dress code, I’m happy to do so. No one wants to wear a cafeteria smock. 

For my Arkansas prison clients, the wait is nearly over and we look forward to meeting you very soon at your wedding.

The continued questions regarding guests at weddings because you’ve seen guests in Louisiana at Prisons question keeps coming up. Louisiana allows guests. Texas in nearly ALL cases does not. The ONLY Unit in Texas that has allowed guests present is Sanders Estes Venus, Texas. Requests for guests must be submitted to the Warden by the inmate. BUT, I’ve never had ANY Unit other than Estes Approve a guest of guests at a prison wedding. We cannot bring rings to your prison wedding. Section K of the Administrative Directive pertaining to Offender Property in Texas specifically forbids ring exchanges. I’m sorry but, we follow ALL rules at prison weddings. 

If you’d like to bring friends or family with you to your prison wedding, you can but THEY MUST WAIT in the parking lot. They are WELCOME to join you at your photo shoot with us and I encourage you to bring friends or family with you to incorporate your friends and family into your photos. The more the merrier.Cindy and I will pack my SUV with enough bouquets, tiaras, furs, fascinators, signs and props to accommodate up to 6 other people at your photo shoot. 

I created an inventory that “rolls with me” to your prison wedding. From pink multi to teal multi to red multi bouquets and bouteniers or even mink coats and clothing in your size, my inventory is always a hit with our clients. We think of everything so you don’t have to. If you can’t wear your wedding dress to your Unit wedding, bring it with you and change clothes for your bridal photos. 

If you’d like to change clothes a few times to have a wider variety of photo options, bring additional clothing changes with you as well. Your photo location can be at a courthouse, city street, field, farm, abandoned building or anywhere near the Unit. It CANNOT be on Unit property though. We MUST leave the Unit to find a location nearby. Try to wear something without patterns on the fabric to your photo shoot in order for us to capture a “clean shot.” 

Solid colors are perfect for your photo shoot. Large, bold or busy patterns can be distracting. We have a wide array of tiaras and furs as well as scarves and shawls to add to your attire on photo shoot location events. 

It’s not unusual for our clients to bring their mother, grandmother, children and grandchildren to their photo shoot and we encourage making your photo shoot a family affair and opportunity to capture family photos together sharing your wedding day. 

From best friends to grandmothers and even pets, your photo shoot should incorporate what’s important to you. If there is someone special in your life sharing your journey from the outside, invite them along. We won’t be in the Unit for more than an hour in most cases. 

 Jozette brought her amazing grandmother to Torres Unit in Hondo, Texas. I packed an assortment of evening jackets as well as furs, bouquets and tiaras to bring fun. 

These two ladies were amazing good sports at an abandoned hotel near the Unit that I saw driving to Torres. My Coffield Unit bride loved the building near Tennessee Colony I saw driving past on my way to meet her. If you have noticed a unique old building, storefront or interesting building, just let me know. We will follow you there. 

I’ve been asked about our fascinators. Cindy and I stopped selling them a few years ago. Why? Because our clients love them. We incorporated them into our photo booth props instead. Cindy makes the fascinators by hand. I create the floral designs.  

We add to our inventory year round to keep it fresh and fun. From tiaras to furs to even wedding dresses, having everything our clients need is essential to exceeding their expectations. 

Buildings with murals also make great backdrops for location photography. My Bridgeport bride loved the unique wall art I found on my last trip to Bridgeport Unit and we found a wide array of great photo ops using the landscape of Bridgeport. Just keep your eyes open driving to visit and look for “out of the ordinary” locations. 

The best location for photos in Abilene is Jacobs Dream at Abilene Christian University. It’s perfect. If you are marrying at Robertson Unit, be sure to go by the university and check it out. Cindy and I along with the Texas Twins Events Team look forward to meeting you, your friends, your family and your inmate at your prison wedding soon. 

In unique situations, I become the mother I have never had to clients that need a friend. Samantha is reconsidering her decision to marry. It’s an important decision. Choose carefully. Life partners are worth waiting for. You can’t find the right one if you are “saddled up” with the wrong one…