Yesterday's Blog was about a very sweet couple I married in prison. Today, I want to talk about a little bit more about the not so sweet part of prison weddings.
Everyone loves a good story. Some people love a good love story. Throw a wedding into that love story and will have a hit. People fall for the romance. The wildly popular Netflix series, Orange is the New Black,had a wedding that was entertaining and romantic in it's own way. It was Hollywood mixed with real life so it wasn't entirely accurate. You definitely don't get a conjugal visit at the end of your prison wedding. You might get an extra hour in the regular visiting room. Orange is The New Black made some good points, when you are in prison you have to get permission to get married. It's a privilege you have to earn. You have the right to get married and they technically can't stop you from getting married. They can, however, make it difficult.
In real life, there are certain requirements you have to meet to get married in prison. The prison's I've dealt with in Indiana have required a full day class for the couple getting married. The prisoner may have to read other books and take other classes to get approval. Even after everything is approved, the prisoner has to be on their best behavior and not get into any trouble up to the wedding day. You have to hire your own wedding officiant to perform your wedding in prison. The prison chaplain has to approve your wedding but doesn't perform it. Once you are approved you have to get approval to bring things like flowers and even your rings into the prison. I've had to have my ceremony scripts approved. The bride has had to have her written vows approved. Someone else has to bring the papers in. Even the pen used to sign the paper needs to be delivered by prison personnel. Rings have to be metal, no stones. You need to provide a receipt that the ring cost no more than $35. It turns out Walmart has a plain metal band for just under that amount. I'm thinking that's probably not a coincidence. They actually sell a lot of rings online but they have a ring in the store that is just under the allowed amount.
Getting a marriage license to marry a prisoner has extra steps that need to be taken. You'll have to get the license in the county where the prison is because they will be set up to deal with the paperwork. You have to make phone calls to get the information you need. You'll need to fill out extra paperwork with the prison and the clerk. Getting legally married is paperwork. It doesn't matter if you are a prisoner. Perhaps the extra
paperwork to marry your prisoner is really no big deal. I mean, you are basically alone, filling your time without the one you love. That's just the way it is. Getting the actual approval to get married and getting a concrete wedding date approved is another thing.
The first prison wedding I did was filled with drama. I received a call from the bride looking for someone to perform the wedding. She was completely fed up with the chaplain and just wanted a neutral party she liked to add some positive energy to the wedding. She had been through a lot. She was a real fighter and refused to give up. The chaplain had written her letters trying to get her to change her mind. I had to provide documentation. He tried to get me to not perform the wedding. When we got to the prison the proper paperwork for that day hadn't been done because it wasn't a regular visit, it was a special visit. It was one big fight right to the end. After a long wait, we finally got inside and performed the wedding. We performed the ceremony in the children's playroom in the visiting area. There were beautiful Disney murals on the walls. Later that day, when the bride posted the pictures online people who didn't know she was getting married thought she had actually gone to Florida, not prison. It was a nice little wedding. Most of it was really just the bride and groom sharing their pages long vows they'd written. We signed the license and filled up an entire disposable camera with pictures. It really wasn't all that weird. I went back to the waiting area and she spent some more time with her new hubby.
I had driven to the prison with the bride and we had planned to go out for lunch afterward but when that time came we just weren't into it. We had to pick up our kids from school and the babysitters, so we drove home. In silence. I've performed small, private wedding for couples who were in definite need of a room while sealing their marriage with a kiss. Most newly married couples go out to dinner, have a party or reception and/or go on a honeymoon. The prisoner goes back to his cell and the other goes home alone. She just made one of the biggest promises of her life to stick with someone through thick and thin and until death do you part, and the door shut and locked behind her as she walked away from her wedding, with her husband on the other side. I wan't friends with the bride. We'd had lunch one day and talked love and soul mates. We got along great. I genuinely liked her. But I had no words during that drive. There was no hint of a joyous afterglow to be found.
A few weeks after that prison wedding I performed a small wedding for a couple and I told them the story of my trip to prison. It turned out the groom was a prison guard. He told me the story from the prison's point of view and it made a lot of sense. In a lot of ways, the prison and the chaplain were really looking out for the bride's best interest. It was something she was in no state to truly understand. As an engaged couple, you can
go to pre-marital counseling and discuss the "what ifs." What if one of you falls ill? What if you can't have children? What if you lose a child? What if one of you cheats? It's all hypothetical until it happens and it's easy to say you'd do anything when you are just talking about it and perhaps trying to get the clergy member asking the questions to agree to marry you. The situation changes a lot if one of the people getting married is in prison. There is a reason they are in prison and the fact they are there gives you reason to not give them your blind trust. I'm not saying you can't trust them. I'm saying they should have to earn it.
The prisoner that got married in Orange Is The New Black was corresponding with men in order to get them to give her money. She just happened to fall in love with one of them. This is a very real thing that happens all the time. The groom that was a prison guard explained that it's not uncommon for one prisoner to be corresponding with several women at one time. The women think they are the only one and he loves her and only her. They don't know any better. It's not like they are part of the prison gossip mill. It doesn't work that way. They only know what the prisoner tells them. Often the prisoner will lead the woman on, telling them they will marry them when they get out. Then they get out and it turns out they are already married or they just leave them. While they were in prison, their fiance was putting money in their commissary account so they could eat well and buy things. Wouldn't you want to make sure the person you love eats well and is taken care of? Of course! Even if you get married in prison, you don't know what the prisoner will be like when they get out. Their life is probably not going to be easy. Not every prisoner is like this, not every relationship is like this. But the people who work in prisons see this type of behavior all the time. They see the prisoners as they are in prison. They see prisoners leave and they see them come back. They have a whole different understanding of the situation and it makes a lot of sense.
This particular bride was divorced about three months later. When I asked her why, she said he'd lied. He went back to taking drugs and got into trouble. She also said she knew. She knew from the beginning she shouldn't have done it. She knew him before he went to prison, she married him while he was in prison, and he's still in prison. She knew him. She also believed in him. She loved him unconditionally. She bent over backward to marry him. And he lied. And she divorced him. Looking back, she said the chaplain and the people at the prison were right. She just didn't want to listen. She had been paying his commissary. She was working on his appeal to get him out of prison. She was truly sacrificing for him. And he lied. Yes, you could laugh or be matter of fact and say "what did you expect? He's in prison?" But honestly, it has nothing to do with the prison part. People lie all the time. They may be big lies or they may be little lies. Maybe you get caught in a lie, maybe you don't. It's not only a chance you take in love, it's a chance you take in life.
There is two sides to every story. There is literally good and bad in everything. We all make sacrifices for the ones we love. Sometimes they are easy sacrifices, sometimes they are hard. I'm a wedding officiant that will marry pretty much anyone. I've see a lot. Some things I've understood, some things I probably only thought I understood. If you are reading this because you want to marry someone in prison, I many have made you feel better about your decision, whatever it is. Most of me wants to say I'm on the side of the prison. You should not marry a person in prison. But there is a part of me that says, follow your heart and life is a learning experience. We feel love and experience it more fully when we are actively giving love unconditionally.
Read part one of this blog here.
Adventures of a wedding officiant! Stories about my experiences as a wedding officiant in Indy.