Life Is A Highway. TDCJ Powledge To Terrell To Connally Unit. Travels Of A Texas Twin..

My week started off with a bang at Tarrant County Clerks Office when I realized that their office was closed. I’m so accustomed to filing weekend licenses on Monday that the clerk being closed didn’t even occur to me. 

Due to Martin Luther King Day, the bank and my safety deposit box containing titles of vehicles I had planned to drop off and transfer at the dealership were unavailable too. 

The bank was closed. The post office was closed. I’m always forgetting holidays because I work seven days a week. My phone never stops ringing. I don’t have holidays. I worked retail for many years and I’m accustomed to only 3 non work related holidays. What are they? Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years Day. 

My “regular Monday routine” was going to take a serious hit. For an OCD person like me, reworking my planned agenda for Monday and rolling everything I had planned to do to Monday to Tuesday was in order. Tuesday would be jam packed. 

Tuesday morning at 6:30AM, I headed to Tennessee Colony. I’m in Tennessee Colony or Palestine at least once a month. There are two Units in Tennessee Colony, Michael and Coffield. A few miles from them are Beto, Gurney and Powledge Units. 

My beautiful bride had traveled from Ohio to marry at Powledge Unit. After weeks of emailing, texting and calling, I was excited to meet her and thrilled that the grooms sisters had traveled with her to the Unit. The sisters waited while we went into the Unit. 

Leaving, I headed to a church a few miles from the Unit. The grooms sisters were also taking photos with me of my newly married bride. They were so much fun! I love it when clients have “travel buddies.” Running back to Fort Worth, I headed to Frost Bank. For the first time in 20 years, there wasn’t anyone available and a line for safety deposit boxes. No worries. I took a seat and returned emails and messages to clients and prospects. I reminded the bank teller “it’s heavy” since two of our boxes are at the top of the vault. 

My husband believes in gold and silver so anyone expecting a “light box” get a real run for the money handing us safety deposit boxes. Also, years ago, my husband “heard” it was a good idea to keep cash in the vault and liquidated several thousand dollars to keep in three different banks. Yep. Matthew is far too anxious to use only one bank and we have four banks. Can’t remember which vault the suv titles are in? Four trips to four banks. Argh. Matthew had split up the titles too. One was on Camp Bowie West the other was on Hulen. 

I still had to get to the post office and county clerks office. Matthew was going to have to handle taking the titles to the dealership. 

Wednesday, I was up at 4AM to leave by 5AM for TDCJ Terrell Unit. Matthew woke up with me although I wish he had slept in. He’s still grieving Foxy. Our happy home is now a shell of its former chaotic routines with Foxy either waking us up, demanding to go outside or wanting food. 

Monday while wondering what I could get done on a holiday, I had a call from VCA to pick up Foxy’s ashes. Walking back in there again was stressful. I didn’t call Matthew about the ashes being ready for pick up.He couldn’t handle it. Foxy was like his son. It was tough for me to handle it to be honest with you. Twenty six hundred feet of no Foxy at WorthamWorld and no “Foxy’s routines” have left our home an empty shell. We still think we hear him. We still think we see him. Fourteen years of Foxy. The adjustment is odd. Difficult. Different.

Driving into the entrance for Ramsey, Terrell and Stringfellow Units, I see the sign Cindy had pointed out on our last trip in black and yellow “Hitchhikers may be escaping inmates.” 

Years ago, a sign similar to this one was the first sign I had seen like this regarding “escaping inmates” near Huntsville. I immediately looked around driving down the freeway wondering how they would manage to escape? It’s so rare for an inmate to escape that hitchhiking would certainly draw attention I would think. 

Twenty plus wenty years ago, I would have never imagined that while others were driving to the office, I WOULD BE DRIVING TO A PRISON. But over the course of the last few years, my bookings have shifted to prison weddings during the week with traditional events on the weekend.

Twenty plus years ago, a sign regarding possible hitchhikers being escaping inmates was “unsettling and alarming.” It isn’t anymore. Why? Twenty plus years ago, I had never been inside a prison and I had never met an inmate. I have now met hundreds of inmates on wedding day. They are courteous and respectful to me. They are people not numbers. They are someone’s son or daughter. They deserve love although many people might disagree.

I am by far safer at a prison than a venue with drunk guests. I have never been in a brawl at a prison. I have been in several at an exclusive venue. Open Bars are bad ideas. I prefer prisons. I prefer the people. Affluent people are unrealistic. People who love an inmate are realistic. They are down to earth and they are determined to make their love story last long after lockup. 

“Do what you love, and put your whole heart into it, and then just have fun.” – Tim Cook

Mary Martin has never touched Lester. She called me to tell me his status had finally changed and for the first time they will have a contact visit. This is a milestone. My clients always share their victories. 

I drive to Prisons 3-4 days a week and have for several years now and I’ve never seen a hitchhiker. I also Officiate far more weddings in prisons than anywhere else these days. I love my job. I love my clients and I love driving down the highway listening to rock and roll music headed to my next adventure.

Last year, Sandy Malone of Wedding Island apparently “noticed” I officiated Prison Weddings and posted that she was against inmate marriages and that “all inmate marriage ends in divorce” on LinkedIn. This lit me up. Why? Because Sandy is assuming all inmate marriages end in divorce when in actuality they don’t. I perform Vow Renewals for nearly all of my former clients previously married in jail or prison after release. I baptize their children. I Officiate funeral ceremonies. I help plan their birthday parties. I’m not a “once and done Officiant.” My clients become a fabric of my life. 

Does Sandy know anyone married to an inmate? NO. Does Sandy even know an inmate? NO. Does Sandy think her bias and opinions matter to me since her post was obviously directed at me? Probably. Do I care? Absolutely not. 

Was Sandy seeking an audience of uninformed supporters? Most likely. Sit down and shut up Sandy. How many of your couples are STILL MARRIED? I bet you don’t know. I stay in touch with my clients. I celebrate their victories and I mourn their defeats. I care about them and their journey.

The American criminal justice system holds almost 2.3 million people in 1,719 state prisons, 109 federal prisons, 1,772 juvenile correctional facilities, 3,163 local jails, and 80 Indian Country jails as well as in military prisons, immigration detention facilities, civil commitment centers, state psychiatric hospitals, and prisons in the U.S. territories. These people have loved ones on the outside. They have families. They have siblings. For many, they also have someone who loves them enough to marry them under fairly extreme conditions. 

Marrying in a prison has rules. Regulations. Protocol that must be followed. Only an Approved Officiant can walk into a state or federal Unit. I’m one of those people. My twin sister is as well. Not just in Texas either. We service numerous states.

While there will always be opinions regarding marrying an inmate, my clients don’t base their decisions on the opinions of others. Sandy’s or anyone else’s for that matter. 

Ignorance speaks without Forethought. Peoples opinions are their luggage and their trip. I know my clients and their story. I stay in touch with them. They are my friends. An extension of my family. 

They love an inmate. They also work, they raise their children and like me they don’t care about “uninformed opinions.” They are resilient, compassionate, educated and determined to make their love story last. 

My bride pulled up beside me at Terrell Unit. I handed her my umbrella. We walked in together. She was nervous and excited. My clients wait months to marry through an lengthy paperwork process. No one runs off and marries at a prison. State or Federal. The policy and procedure put in place are followed fully. Marrying an Inmate isn’t a “spontaneous decision.”

We wait for the groom to be located for over an hour. I learn my client met her fiancé at Daniel Unit. I learn she’s so nervous that she’s nauseous. The wait furthers her anxiety. The Chaplain keeps us entertained but my bride is wondering aloud “where is he?” When he finally walks in, her anxiety melts like the butter. She’s relieved. Her moment has finally arrived. I find a painted wall. The cage in visitations bothers her. I will move them to ensure the cage isn’t visible intentionally.Leaving the Unit, the rain continues to pour as my client follows me until I find a location for her bridal photos. I unload a few options for her to choose from.

I always let my clients choose their favorite bouquets and other items. I also always bring a wide variety of inventory.

Driving 5.5 hours back to Fort Worth, I’ve got another 5AM departure for TDCJ Connally Unit. 

The rain stopped just outside of Waco today. My drive to Garza East or West, McConnall or Connally almost always involve a broken windshield. Today, I got lucky. I also encountered a missing road. No broken windshields. No road? No problem.All of our vehicles are 4wheel or all wheel drive. My role requires getting anywhere and I do.

Amber parked beside me and we walked in. 

Walking into visitation, I see a painted wall and ask “if we can go outside?”Amber is thrilled to finally be married. I sign the license and we wait on photos before walking out. I follow her to a park and unpack my veil and let her choose a tiara and bouquet. I love the location she chose.I ask if Amber is hungry as I know I’m facing a nearly 6 hour drive home and want to buy her lunch. Amber tells me that we can run by her job at Pizza Hut and have the salad although I know I’m going to have at least one piece of pizza. 

Together Amber and I drove to her restaurant, Pizza Hut for lunch. I learned a lot at my first job at fifteen years old as did Cindy. Cindy and I had taken a job at Pizza Hut together. We were hired as waitresses and were never trained. Instead, we were stuck in the kitchen washing dishes. We learned that managers lie. We also learned to say no. Amber loves her job and her coworkers. They made her a beautiful dessert pizza with cherries and whipped cream in the shape of a heart. Amber also insisted on buying my lunch although I determined to try and buy hers. 

We have a wonderful visit talking about our families and our lives. Ambers coworkers swing by our table and visit. I’m in a loving and supportive restaurant of happy employees and frankly I’m not a hurry to leave either. I’m having a great time and I’m thankful for the opportunity to meet amazing people like Amber and all of my clients.

Amber and I had laugh as I tell her about Cindy and I walking out of Pizza Hut in our bras. Why? Because we were hired as waitresses not dishwashers and after a month at our first job making waitress wages of $2.17 to wash dishes one Friday night with Cocaine playing on the jukebox, these Texas Twins told our manager “pay us minimum wage or put us on the floor.” The manager told me to go wash dishes. We told him we quit. He wanted his shirts. We took them off and threw them at him. 

I’ve had miserable managers. Fifteen years old and our first job was working for an idiot who thought we would work for waitress wages forever so he “could have twin dishwashers for the price of one” was idiotic on his part. Telling the cook who in turn told us since we were unaware that dishwashers were paid double waitress wages in Texas was eye opening. We were unaware of this. Even today all of these years later, waitress wages in Texas are $4 and change. 

That manager expected us to stay because we were wearing company shirts was also an underestimation of our ability to remove them. 

Pizza Hut wouldn’t be the first time in my life a manager took advantage of me but, I don’t work for anyone anymore. I work for myself. I don’t HAVE TO WORK. I work because I enjoy my job and love my clients. 

Arriving at Pizza Hut today, there were cheers for my beautiful bride. There was joy. There was laughter and there was Pizza. There was friendship and there was fun. 

The best decision I’ve ever made was walking out of Pizza Hut. A month later, a scout for Mel Tillis chose me from behind the cash register of Whataburger for five commercials filmed in Texas. I was sixteen years old. The rest is history.. 

Some people stay far away from the door

If there’s a chance of it opening up

They hear a voice in the hall outside

And hope that it just passes by.

Billy Joel