My First Prison Wedding-Why I Agreed To Officiate & Become A TDCJ Approved Officiant For Love After Lockup Families…
When Misty contacted me to officiate her wedding next Friday, she added a small comment regarding the location-Estes Unit in Venus, Texas.
The name of what I assumed was a venue turned out to be a prison! I called her to “discuss” what I knew would NOT be as simple as it might sound. I was stunned and somewhat intrigued about this type of a wedding and determined to find out more about why and how anyone would make this type of a decision. The divorce rate for Prison Weddings is incredibly high.
In fact, I had no idea that it was possible to have a wedding at a prison. But, last year a law was passed in Texas that gave the person on the outside an opportunity to attain a marriage license application without both parties being present. A Marriage By Proxy Affidavit would open a window that had previously been closed for Inmate Weddings in Texas-http://www.co.comal.tx.us/CCK/Forms/Application_for_Absent_Applicant.pdf Misty had spent a lot of time finding a way to marry.
I had to sit back and consider the backlash from other clients that would occur- not everyone supports prison marriages or anything considered “unconventional.”
Officiants also go through a stringent screening process and background check. I knew “going in” wouldn’t be easy for me and I knew the process would be far more complicated but I also knew that Misty had reviewed high quotes from other officiants of $350-750 and after learning her incarcerated fiancé would make the marriage interracial because he was black and she wasn’t, other officiants backed out completely! Carl is due for release in 2019 and is currently being held at Estes Unit in Venus, Texas.
The warden told Misty “no photos on prison grounds or within the facility.” To go over, under or around these restrictions and give Misty the wedding photos she wanted, I’m meeting her with my photography team next week at an area park.
Every bride deserves wedding photos and although her circumstances make photos of the couple impossible- we are committed to doing whatever we can to make things special for Misty. One day after Carl’s release, I’ve offered to perform a Vow Renewal Ceremony with photos as a courtesy so this couple will have “traditional wedding photos.”
I live in a Bible Belt and have had a few comments & criticisms regarding LBGTQ marriages or anything “viewed as different” that apparently raised eyebrows of a few of my prospective clients.
Alternative weddings bring criticism and I knew that a prison wedding would bring conflict but regardless of my feelings, I needed to better understand why Misty chose to marry “someone on the inside.” I decided to schedule a consultation with her and find out.
Misty is a beautiful young lady and not what I had expected (although I’m not sure what I expected). She told me her reasons for marrying were that she was planning for their future together-not the present.
Misty knew her friends and family would have questions about the union and was prepared to answer mine.
After I explained to her my apprehension and that I had reviewed the stringent background check that would be required-I agreed to help her because she knew what she wanted and was planning a life after his release.
Misty was immediately relieved that her search to find someone was finally over and that I respected her union with Carl when other vendors had been unkind and opinionated.
I also found that very few wedding officiants will conduct a ceremony in a prison and discussed the issue with my team. My sister and I decided that my goal when I started this business was to help people have a ceremony that other vendors would not. Although many disagree with inmate weddings, I care about their story. Everyone has a story that I have met and Misty is no exception.
Low cost services and ceremonies of Texas Twins Events were directly targeted to low income families. When LBGTQ families came to me for unification ceremonies prior to marriage being legal, I helped them too.
Yesterday while traveling to two Appraisal Appointments with my twin sister Cindy, I discussed my apprehension about what to expect.
Like everyone else going to a new job at a place that I have never been, I’m a little nervous! When I heard that my application to officiate within the Texas Prison System had been approved, my anxiety mounted and I called Misty to go over what would happen when we arrived.
What would I wear? What could I bring in? I began to plan my first visit into a place I had only seen on tv or heard about from others. I have driven by Huntsville on my way to a wedding and never considered what type of people those walls held.
Being approved by TDJC officials meant that I would be going through with this and helping Misty and I’m thankful that I won’t be alone since Misty will meet me and go through the check in process alongside me. She’s accustomed to the routine while I have no idea what to expect.
Her experience from visitations with Carl have given her the luxury of being comfortable and familiar with the guards. Misty told me to not bring an thing other than my state issued ID and car keys. No cell phone, no purse, no anything else. I wonder if my Bible is permitted but don’t have a firm answer yet.
My husband (as usual) has far more anxiety than I do and is concerned about my safety. After all of these years of helping anyone, my husband is well aware that his friends and associates often “raise their eyebrows” regarding a few of our clients and my willingness to help anyone. My husband also supports me in everything I choose to do but (like many others) when I mentioned a Prison Wedding, Matthew was apprehensive.
I plan to write a blog after this experience and share it with others who have no idea what goes on or how a ceremony is conducted within the walls of a prison.
My twin sister and I spend most of our days together in my workroom refurbishing trades, out meeting clients or viewing venues, and we stay fairly busy during the week. Weekends are often booked months in advance so “family time” is very important to both of us although most of my family work with me at events.
I will miss having my twin by my side at the Prison Wedding but access is very limited and the “list” has only my name and Misty’s on it. This is the first time that I will arrive alone on location for an event in 7 years and over 400 weddings, 59 funerals, 28 Pawning Parties, 17 Estate Liquidations, 14 baby showers, 42 fundraisers & other miscellaneous events over the years-I’ve never been without my sister by my side and it feels odd that I will be flying solo at the Prison. We are not only twins but also-best friends.
Our sister Tammy called while we were out on Appraisal Appointments to check in and update us on her daughter’s wedding I will be officiating in Lompoc, California on September 9 this year.
Cindy and I visited my sister with Cindy’s daughter and granddaughter last year and met her beautiful daughter during our stay. My sister is upset that her daughter’s wedding will be interracial and we are working to help her accept her daughter’s choices.
I’m going to “step out on a limb” and admit that we were raised Southern Baptist. The beliefs of many of my family members are never easy to overcome due to a faith that I believe discriminates against everyone! As you can clearly see from the photo below, my sister and niece are blonde and fair skinned.
The “kicker” is that Cindy and I are of mixed heritage and one half Indian, Irish & Scottish-we aren’t “white” and we don’t look like anyone else in our family. We have darker skin, red hair and green eyes. We are often mistaken to be of Hispanic, Greek or Italian descent.
Our sister is hilarious without realizing it and perhaps one of the most unorganized event planners I’ve ever met. Like my twin sister, she has a sarcastic whit and we both laughed until we cried listening to her.
Family conference calls for up to 6 family members are an everyday occurence in my SUV. My family are incredibly close and we talk to each other, our children, grandchildren and husbands numerous times a day.
Often all of our adult children are on a call with us at the same time which brings humor to our days driving here, there and everywhere.
Cindy and I brought back two trades that need refurbishing yesterday to give you a better idea of how we choose a bartered item and more importantly what we do to refurbish it and make a profit-Wendy & Cindy Explain The Refurbishing Process Of Trades. Texas Twins Treasures, Texas Twins Events & The Pawning Planners all work together to make what I do “work.”
Over the past nearly 7 years, I have never judged anyone’s situation or who they choose to marry. I have decided that I’m too old to start now and while I may not understand the choice of marrying someone in prison- my role is to honor a clients wishes.
Whether it’s it’s an LGBTQ couple or a “traditional” marriage-every client is treated equally by me.
Like any other event, I’m OCD about getting everything as close to perfect as I can. Thankfully, they’ve written their own vows which always helps a minister when conducting a ceremony because the input of the couple makes the vows far more emotional.
Since I’m often asked what percentage of my clients are LBGTQ- the answer is 40-50% and I love my clients regardless of their background or lifestyle choices- my clients are families.
We live in Texas and (believe it or not) many “Christians” are the most judgemental people that I have ever met in my life! I’m non denominational and a non judgemental Christian myself with the difference being that I have an open mind but a few critics “don’t believe in gay marriage or inmates marrying” so they take time out of their busy day to notify me about “their beliefs.”
I’m always surprised when someone who has never been a client or has any affiliation with myself or my businesses writes me a 10 page letter from another state to advise me that they don’t agree with my clientele.
My sister doesn’t understand why I read these letters and always tells me to “throw that book in the trash” but I read them anyway because someone went to the trouble to write them and locate a business address for me after learning I’m not only LBGTQ friendly but that I also support and sponsor numerous LBGTQ charitable events.
The writers of these letters “think” they are helping me by advising me that what I do is wrong but what they don’t understand is that it’s their own opinion that’s distorted. I’m committed to helping anyone-if that bothers people it’s “not my luggage-not my trip.”
Last year, I officiated my first biracial wedding at the Chateau Forest Park. A few of my readers were shocked to find that photos of the beautiful couple weren’t what they may (or may not) have expected. I perform Interfaith Weddings and interracial weddings-I don’t look at colors and my clients are an effective rainbow but I believe Love Is Love and Love Wins.
I recognize and realize that many will have a problem “accepting” this wedding next week but, it isn’t my first rodeo with judgmental opinions. Some people don’t believe Prison Marriages are “right.”
But maybe by sharing the story of Misty and Carl and putting a face on Inmate Weddings, they might soften their view? I’m not sure and only time will tell.
Prisoners are someone’s son or daughter, uncle or aunt, father or mother-they have families and they’ve made mistakes but does that make them unloveable and unworthy of finding love?
My websites were overloaded after same sex marriage was legalized and my interview with Jeff Mosier let everyone know that we offered an LBGTQ friendly wedding business. I have always been a supporter of the LBGTQ community but after hitting the news, the hate mail began rolling in.
Ironically, CW33 interviewed me at an NOH8 event with my twin sister and our twin granddaughters but since they didn’t list our names, I never recieved one hateful letter regarding our support of the community.
In fact, the interview was cut to me stating “I believe love is love.” After airing the interview, the new LBGTQ catch phrase was love is love.” Anyone that didn’t know me or us or our story had no idea what our names were or what we did.
The Jeff Mosier piece in the Dallas Morning News put a name without a face on this LBGTQ friendly wedding officiant that haters could easily google and find more information about.
People that didn’t know me or who I was or what I did-sent me letters and their opinions that (obviously) were offensive to me and my friends. My husband (fearing for my safety as usual) “stepped up” security and installed cameras as he wearily handed me more mail from other states and even other countries from people who disagreed with LBGTQ marriages. For months checking the mail became a miserable experience for my husband and I.
We help families-we don’t care what color they are-we don’t care what faith they follow or anything else that might make them different.
My businesses are effectively a melting pot because I choose to help anyone regardless of their background or differences.
Prison Weddings may seem “controversial” to a few folks but everyone has their own opinions. I’m hoping that those who don’t agree won’t write me letters but I’ve already survived a trial by fire over LBGTQ weddings so it won’t shock me.
Choosing to help anyone regardless of their situation can often put a business or person in a position to be judged by others but I’m willing to take that risk because I’ve learned that you can’t please all of the people all of the time and honor my clients wishes because that’s who I am and that is exactly what I set out to do by helping families that no one else was willing to help…If I didn’t know how to do something, I learned in order to make three unique businesses come together but throughout my life nothing has ever come easy.
From refurbishing trades to generate revenue to creating floral designs to loan to clients and creating Pawning Planners Apparel to fund clients with no money or trade, I found a way to make things work!
I’m determined and driven because I’ve had to be and maybe that makes me “different” too but I am blatantly honest, compassionate and committed to “changing the wedding and events industry one family at a time from Fort Worth, Texas!”
Wendy M Wortham