There are some things you rarely get an opportunity to do. It might be an experience you never even thought of before but when it presents itself, you can't help but be intrigued. For me, the opportunity to go inside a prison was one I couldn't turn down!
When I first started performing weddings it was all new. Going to new venues, meeting new people, listening to their stories. The crazier or more interesting the better! I market myself as a wedding officiant that will marry anyone, any way they wanted to be married. My intentions in that statement was meant to mean I'll do what a priest or pastor might not do but it's really turned into something better than that. It really can be an adventure!
The first time I got a call to perform a wedding in prison I was all over it. What an opportunity for a new experience! I'd certainly never been to a prison before and couldn't see any other opportunity to do so. I've done 3 weddings in actual prisons and another via Skype for a couple where the groom was in jail. Yes, in some Indiana jails, that's a thing. Now that I know what it entails, if you want me to perform a wedding in a prison, you are going to pay for it. My regular prices do not apply. This is my most interesting story...
Please know that I'm telling my stories from general statements. What may be entertainment for one person maybe educational for another. I know that I've learned a lot and all the information is making me more of an expert as a wedding officiant. I've written out many of my stories and I found that each time a different person reads a story they get have a different take. I may see the situation one way, you may see it another. My intention in sharing my stories, in any form, is so those who are pondering marriage in any capacity might know that they aren't alone in their non traditional weddings and marriages and that I respect their choices.
People call to inquire about marrying a prisoner but marriage very rarely actually happen. You have to jump through a lot of hoops and do a lot of paperwork to marry a prisoner. Federal prisoners come from all over the country and often brides have to travel a distance to visit their fiance. The cost of travel and the cost of paperwork plus my fee can make it out of reach for many people. You also have to ask yourself, "do I really want to marry a guy in prison?"
I received an email from a woman in Australia. She asked if I'd travel to Terre Haute to perform her wedding. She said to was important to her that a woman perform the ceremony. I thought to myself, gee, if you are going to actually travel all the way from
Australia, the least I could do is travel from Fishers. What a great story! I gave her a quote and thought there was really no way it was going to actually happen.
I get a lot of emails and inquiries. I can usually tell is a person is sincere or not. This email was. So, I can say one day, "I'm NEVER doing that again!" And another, my mind will be instantly changed by the sincerity of an inquiry. Believe me, gone are the days when "Miss Victoria, we'd be so honored if you would bless us...or God let us to you..." will work. I'm not saying God didn't bring us together, I'm saying I'm not going to let you use that to manipulate me.
A month or so later, I received another email and she was ready to make a deposit. She was getting everything together to come to America and get married! A few weeks later she made the final payment and we were ironing out details. She let me know when she got the Indiana, when they finished their premarital counseling class and how wonderful it was to spend an entire day with him!
Her wedding time was at 8 AM. I had to get up really, really early to get there in time. It's times like this when I really have to consider what my actual price is to do something? I am business and I am a human being. How am I going to combine the two right now, in this situation? Prisons have dress codes and rules and am I doing this right? How can I meet the security rules as easily as possible? Is the chaplain going to be nice to me or judgmental like the others? It's one thing to stand up to a rude person bargaining for a cheap wedding, it's another to interact graciously with prison personnel.
I had so many questions!! Inquiring minds want to know. How did you meet? A woman from Australia and a man in prison. Why are you doing this? It turns out there are websites like prisonpenpals.net and writeaprisoner.com, just to name a few. The groom was in prison for doing something really stupid when he was young and stupid. They met on one of these pen pal sites and their relationship just took off. They email, snail mail and talk on the phone. They had amazing things in common. They were both born to alcoholic mothers, had never known their fathers and were raised by their grandmothers. They both had an almost identical picture of their fourth birthdays holding a cupcake. They were able to open up to each other and developed a very good friendship. After a year, she came to visit. She was the first person to ever visit him in prison. It was love at first sight. Now, they were getting married.
The bride was a very gentle person. You can tell a lot about a couple when they share their wedding vows. They had written pages to share with each other. They both had so much time to think about themselves and to see a reflection of themselves in the other.
He was moved by the fact she liked to save baby birds and injured animals. It clearly softened him. When she had driven out to the prison that morning she was concerned for a dead animal on the road. She asked the chaplain, who would come and take care of the animal? His very practical answer was "the buzzards will take care of it." She just didn't understand that and asked twice, very concerned for the animal. She still didn't seem to quite get his answer when he gave it the second time. If soul mates exist, these two definitely are. It was obvious they had found something special in the other.
Their reason for getting married was because they love each other. He still had several years on his sentence. They literally had nothing to gain from the other but love. I asked her if she was going to go home and apply for a green card and move to the US. Some people I spoke with thought that might be her motivation. You can apply for a green card on the grounds of marriage even if you are married to a prisoner. She said that was not in the plans yet. She was going to go home and save up enough money to come back and visit again. There was no reason to move to America just so she could visit him more easily.
It's such a weird situation. Plenty of people have fallen in love from long distances over snail mail. It's a wonderful way to really get to know a person. But not many people do that these days. Instant messaging, Skype, face time, a telephone. I have a romantic ceremony that I use for just about every couple for whom I perform a small ceremony but it really doesn't work in this situation. They haven't built a relationship leading to marriage like so many couples do. They won't be able to consummate the marriage for years. They might get a kiss and hug. It really gave me an opportunity to think about the romance of the situation and the nature of marriage and human relationships. What is marriage really? It's something different for every couple. What words could I share with them on their wedding day? What ceremony could I write and print out for them so they could keep it to reflect on later?
I really loved this couple. I was moved by their relationship. I felt like I'd know the bride my whole life and still feel connected to her in a way. I was glad to have a long drive home to think about it. I thought about all the time they had to think too.
Now, let's get real. If you think all prison marriages are like this. They aren't. This is one couple, one marriage, one relationship. This is a beautiful couple and a beautiful story. His crime and his circumstances are his. I have an incredibly open mind to whatever your story might be. But generally, if you really want to marry a prisoner, they don't make it easy, and there is a reason for that. I will continue the story in part 2!
Adventures of a wedding officiant! Stories about my experiences as a wedding officiant in Indy.