Following The Groom From TDCJ Jester III Unit To TDCJ Darrington- Love After Lockup…

When you work several Events that include Prison Weddings, you do a lot of driving. Normally, my wedding season winds down after Christmas but last year, Texas Twins Events expanded (again) to include TDCJ Weddings along with destination events and our other wide range of services.  

A few years ago, I merged Texas Twins Events & Texas Twins Treasures to create The Pawning Planners.  I field questions regarding my decision to offer bartering on a daily basis.  

My reasons for rebranding and expanding were to give anyone an opportunity for a Dream Event regardless of their income and bartering in exchange for event services might sound odd but, it works for families who might not have any money but do have something of value.  

Ironically, it’s not unusual for me to be at an exclusive venue one minute or a Texas Prison a few hours later.  I’m on staff at several venues as well as on call for Pre Marital Counseling.  Occasionally, previous Brides or Grooms contact me when they feel their Marriage is hitting a rough spot for advice on how to move forward.  My phone rings several times a day for not only new clients but also previous clients.

There isn’t really a “seasonal” time for TDCJ Weddings because they occur year round.  Traditional weddings usually occur between March & September with things really winding down near Christmas. I usually have several Winter Weddings on the books every year so juggling them along with Prison Weddings keeps me hopping for the holidays!

There are a few key differences between a Prison and Traditional Marriage Ceremony other than the location itself.  The Unit allows 15-30 minutes for a wedding so ceremonies are kept brief and to the point.  

There are no ring exchanges allowed or flowers either.  You may or may not be allowed to wear a wedding dress.  The decision is completely up to the Warden and the Chaplain will schedule your wedding date and time.  I’ve Officiated TDCJ Weddings with Brides wearing wedding dresses, jeans or dress slacks.

Prison Weddings are becoming more and more popular for many of my Brides this past year and I like the structure because although every Unit is different.  There are no surprises.  No one is “stirring the chili” at an Inmate Wedding.  There are no pesky relatives trying to interfere either.  I don’t have to worry about anyone because we are in a controlled environment.  

After years of crazy guests or relatives “having one too many” at our events, the solitude and peace of a Prison Wedding is as remarkably different from a traditional wedding as you can imagine.

A few readers cannot understand why my Clients choose to marry a Prisoner or how they can find Love After Lockup but they do so I’m including a few photos of happy couples to prove it.  Priscilla and Misty both knew their Marriages might face challenges but “were planning their future-not the present.”  

Most marriages are based on the present rather than the future which is why divorce is a sad statistic whether your spouse is in prison or not.  No one expects their spouse to lose their job or become ill but it happens and although none of my Prison Clients have divorced, three of my “Traditional Couples” have.  These divorces hurt me because I remember how happy these couples were on their wedding day.

The reasons for divorce range from drug or alcohol abuse to financial issues and although the vows of “In sickness and in health, and For richer or for poorer” are spoken during all of my Wedding Ceremonies, not everyone comprehends the depth of the vows spoken.  I’m sure you’ve “heard” there is a very high divorce rate for Prison Marriages but I haven’t witnessed it personally.  

What makes these Prison Couples more devoted to their marriage than traditional couples?  They started their marriage under extreme circumstances in the first place.  

The coming year is already booking up with TDCJ Weddings so I’m trying to “work” in many of our other standard event requests. Many of our traditional bookings are on weekends or evenings so it’s pretty easy for me to perform a TDCJ Wedding during the day and still make it with plenty of time to an evening venue.  TDCJ Weddings work perfectly into my schedule because they occur Monday- Friday from 9AM- 3PM. 
Many of you may remember that I backed my SUV into my daughter in law’s car while helping my son get her Christmas present home last year.  It wasn’t funny at the time but we all laughed about it this year. 

I still miss living just around the corner from my son and his wife but, at least we made it through the holidays without wrecking our cars into each other this year.   They are moving again next month and hopefully it will be closer to WorthamWorld.

We often travel to events in a caravan of suvs, so we have all had a few “close calls” or “near misses” in the fender bender category— Conference Calls, Caravans & Car Crashes.   Yes, some of our adventures are hilarious.  I’m the A SUV in a caravan, Cindy is B and Leigh Ann is C with my son or niece pulling up the rear in D vehicle.  The main reason we use so many vehicles is equipment.  We could easily fit 6 people in my SUV but we often bring everything but the kitchen sink with us to an event.

Aunt Shirley is feeling much better this year and even made a trip to the Gaylord with her family.  It’s her first “big trip” since the Bypass last Thanksgiving.

Over the past year, my sister and I TwinTeamed our way through a weight loss journey with a few ups and downs too.  If losing weight was easy–wouldn’t everyone do it?  

As usual,  Cindy “brought the fun” to our fitness journey that covered a wide and weird variety of excercises. We liked mixing up our workouts and tried hot yoga with disastrous results.  Cindy hated it.

From the Boot Scoot Boogie to Square Dancing, Planet Fitness, 24 Hour Fitness and Camp Transformation—we hung in there because we had each other to lean on and laugh with. As I look back on last years blog photos, it’s hard to believe that we finally lost the weight that had bothered us for so many years.  Menopause and Thyroid Disease are often the cause of midlife weight gain for women.  

Keeping the weight off during the holidays wasn’t easy for either of us this year but now that Christmas is over, we are back on track.  Both Cindy and I were guilty of a bite of this or a sample of that this Christmas but only I gained a few pounds while Cindy lost a few.  

We no longer crop our bodies in photos and have put our “fat years” behind us.  Weighing everyday keeps us on track.  It’s the first thing we do every morning. 

This year my niece Leigh Ann will go through her weight loss transformation after a gastric sleeve surgery.  My niece has fought with her weight nearly all of her life. 

This weight loss surgery wasn’t an easy decision for her but, being a new mother and wanting to be active with her daughter is a priority.  For the past year, I’m the one climbing into the funhouse or crawling through the jungle gym with Maddy and soon, Leigh Ann will be able to take my place in the jungle gym with Maddy.  

Leigh Ann isn’t the first person in our family to undergo this surgery and not eating at Christmas was a struggle for her as she adapted to the Gastric Sleeve Diet.  

Years ago, my Aunt Dorothy spent years bedridden due to morbid obesity.  Her decision to undergo Gastric Bypass Surgery wasn’t easy either but, Aunt Dorothy weighed well over 600 lbs. she was the only person I had ever met that was bedridden because she couldn’t stop eating.   It was later learned that Depression played a role in her giving up on life to live in bed but her choice put a strain on her children who were not only her caregivers but also her enablers.  When her children moved away, Aunt Dorothy signed up for surgery and finally left the bedroom she had lived in for years.

My best friend, Tammi Leggett had this surgery 15 years ago and I know several other people who have successfully “transitioned” their diets following the procedure.  As long as Leigh Ann can stick to the rules, she will never have a weight problem again and I’m convinced that she will.

Today’s wedding was my first Prison Transfer from one Unit to another.  Cheryl had been given a date and time at Jester III by the Chaplain a few weeks ago. I had marked December 19 on my calendar at Jester III Unit.  There would be no Event Stacking due to the distance.  If I have 2, 3 or even 4 Brides at the same Unit, I often “stack them.”  TDCJ Units work with me knowing that I’m often traveling several hours to get to a Unit which helps quite a bit because if I’m driving to Houston every week, it really puts a strain on my other Events.  I spend a lot more time driving than anyone realizes.  

My calendar is probably the most important “work tool” I own because my life is a schedule of events with personal appointments thrown in.  Missing a date or event would be too horrifying for me to consider so I save dates on my phone and 2 “back up” calendars as well as my large daily planner.

Cheryl had sent me a text about the transfer and (like me) we were both surprised as to why after 15 years at Jester, her fiancé had been transferred after a wedding date had been scheduled.

It’s hard for anyone to adjust to a new environment but especially hard for a Prisoner to move to a new Unit.  Cheryl had found out about the transfer when she called to talk to her fiancée at Jester and was told he had been transferred, it took her a few days trying to track him down.  

As we both waited for more information and a new date, I checked the new distance to Darrington Unit to get a better idea of the time it would take me to get there since many of my readers know I’m always early and like to have plenty of time to get where I’m going and add 1-2 hours to my travel time.  Being early prevents me from ever being late.

Cheryl had first contacted me several weeks ago after paying another Officiant to perform her wedding at Jester III.   Cheryl was told by the other Officiant that she was TDCJ Approved to perform her ceremony and, she wasn’t.  For obvious reasons, Cheryl was very upset about putting a deposit up for a service that was never going to be provided by the other Officiant. After Cheryl had paid the other Officiant a deposit, she listed her on the required I60 as her Officiant and quickly found out that she wasn’t Approved.  Jo Ann (the other Officiant) told Cheryl that her sister could perform the ceremony but, her sisters association with Jo Ann wasn’t Approved by the Warden who instructed Cheryl to find another Approved Officiant which was how she found me.  Cheryl called the Courts in Huntsville to “run my name” and verified that I was Approved to Officiate.

For weeks Cheryl emailed Jo Ann to get a refund and for weeks heard nothing but excuses.  Once you’ve paid someone, it’s difficult to get your money back if they are dishonest.  I always suggest calling Huntsville FIRST before paying a deposit to ensure you are hiring a qualified Texas Department Of Criminal Justice Officiant.  It will save you a lot of future problems.

Nearly everyday I hear similar horror stories from others who trusted the person they believed they had hired to officiate their Prison Wedding.  Tying your money up is a real problem when the person you’ve trusted lets you down.  It’s very sad to me that anyone would take advantage of these people who can least afford it.  I often advise them of ways to get their money back.

You cannot be Approved for a wedding ceremony at a Texas Prison if you do not have a TDCJ Officiant listed on your request.  You must secure an Authorized Officiant PRIOR to submitting a request on your I60.

The other Officiant no longer Approved with TDCJ, and was keeping this important  information to herself by misleading numerous folks who have contacted me after they paid her in good faith.

These clients would find out that not only is Jo Ann permanently fired from Officiating at Texas Department Of Criminal Justice Prison Units AKA TDCJ, but that she was also untruthful regarding her circumstances to potential clients and had kept their money even after they confronted her about being unable to conduct a wedding within the Texas Prison System.  Jo Ann was playing a game of cat and mouse by telling her clients that her sister could Officiate in her place.  What she should have done was tell all of these people the truth in the first place.

This “dancing around” nonsense caused Cheryl a lot of grief.  I was determined to help her after everything she had been through.  Prison Brides are fragile because they realize not everyone understands their choices.  Having been taken advantage of by Jo Ann, I was willing to travel outside my normal route to make sure her wedding not only happened but that it was also a good experience for her.

Cheryl called Huntsville to find out what was really going on with Jo Ann after getting the run around and promises of a refund.  I quickly advised Cheryl to file and Escalate a Claim with Paypal to get her money back.  Sadly, Cheryl wasn’t alone.  Jo Ann has taken deposits from several people and continues to do so.  I called Jo Ann about her “situation” and asked why she was continuing to advertise TDCJ Wedding Services on her websites since (obviously) she had lost her credentials.  

Today Cheryl told me that Jo Ann Hall had refunded “a portion” of her deposit but had kept the rest “because she had provided a TwoTogether In Texas Certificate.”  

I am on staff with TwoTogether In Texas myself so I’m more than a little familiar with the discounted Marriage License Affidavit which costs Officiants nothing to provide.  I.E.: It is a free download to Officiants affiliated with the program.  

I’ve been with Two Together In Texas for 6 years and found this unreasonable explanation of why she couldn’t refund Cheryl to be not only fraudulent and deceptive but also a complete misrepresentation of the facts.  

The truth was that Jo Ann knew full well she couldn’t Officiate a TDCJ Wedding but had continued to leave her website up and pretend that by hiring her, people could trust her to do the right thing.  They can’t.  

If you have doubts about the credentials of who you are hiring, call the Courts in Huntsville, Texas and verify who is Authorized to Officiate and more importantly, who isn’t and protect yourself from being taken advantage of.  

I don’t believe in taking advantage of anyone for any reason and have a stellar reputation because I’ve earned it by always being honest and up front with clients from Texas Twins Events, The Pawning Planners and Texas Twins Treasures.  

Not everyone conducts their business in the same manner that I do so beware of something that sounds too good to be true or “hidden fees” that pad their original quote.  This “bait and switch” game takes advantage of the people in the worst position.  Charging people for a hotel after you’ve made an agreement is a horrible way to do business and I’m well aware of who has done this many times and continues to do so who is not affiliated with me or my businesses.  

Because I answer 5-15 emails everyday from Prison Brides seeking an Authorized & Approved TDCJ Officiant, I’m well aware that there are people who couldn’t afford to be fleeced but were.  For many of these people, by the time they find me, trust is something that needs to be rebuilt.  My entire Team is compromised of family members and while I’m currently the only Authorized Officiant, my son, niece and stepdaughter are also going through the background screening to help me address our burgeoning client base of Prison Weddings in Texas & several other states.

There are actually very few Texas Department Of Criminal Justice Approved Officiants in Texas so obviously, we all know of each other and sadly–I hear all about it from people contacting me who were misled by these other unscrupulous people who will do anything to make a buck.  

Cheryl and I were surprised about the move to Darrington but I told her it wouldn’t be a problem and I would be there “with bells on.”  When I make a promise, I keep it!  

I was in a bit of pain from kidney stones but took it in stride and stopped several times to get out and make a pit stop which helped my lower back pain quite a bit since I was drinking a lot of cranberry juice and water to stay hydrated.

Leaving WorthamWorld at 3:30AM in order to get to the Unit, I was thankful that I had filled my gas tank before the cold snap hit Texas and hopeful that it wouldn’t drop to freezing in Houston due to the misty rain.  

Trust me when I tell you that there is nothing worse to drive in than freezing rain or sleet and, I’m terrified of icy roads so a double check of the weather set my mind at ease as I began a five hour plus journey to meet Cheryl.  I packed a few of my bouquets for a wedding day photo and was pleased to see Cheryl wearing a dress that would go perfectly with my Multi pink bouquet.

My hair was a mess from the humidity and I was in a bit of pain from yet another kidney stone so I skipped my makeup and focused on a long drive.  I was so happy to finally meet Cheryl in person after talking to her so many times the past few weeks.  Cheryl met me at Exxon so we could ride together to the Unit while Cindy and the twins waited for us at the gas station.

We were both a little anxious due to the transfer but (as usual) everyone at the Unit was friendly and helpful.  A lot of people are curious about the process when marrying at a Unit.  When I drive alone to a Unit, I meet the Bride or Groom in the parking lot and we walk in together.  There no cell phones or backpacks or purses.  You bring your drivers license, car keys and Marriage License ONLY inside a Unit unless you are purchasing photos.  If you are, bring quarters in a baggie to give to the guard.  Most Units allow photos but you need to know how many you will be buying and the price varies from $2-$3 depending on the Unit.  

I do not bring anything other than my ID, my car keys and my Bible inside.  If you have notes or hand written vows, email them to me prior to the wedding so that I can incorporate them into your ceremony.  You cannot bring a ring inside the Unit.  I can Bless the ring you are wearing and often do if you have no opposition to Religious References in your ceremony.  

The ceremony is held in the Visitation Area during the week.  Each Unit has a different schedule and day so you will need to check with the Unit your loved one is located at.  The Warden and Chaplain will decide the date and time.  Please notify me ASAP to ensure I’m available on the scheduled date. We generally have 15-30 minutes once inside for the ceremony.  

Please do not wear clothing that exposes cleavage or “too much skin.”  Wear clothing that you would normally wear to a visit or dress up if you like but be careful and err on the side of caution when choosing your clothing for the wedding.  I want your wedding to be a beautiful and happy event regardless of our location so if you have other questions that I haven’t covered, email me for more information.

Cheryl and I had a great time and (as usual) I enjoyed visiting with the guards while the newlyweds shared a few minutes together.  I realize that you may be nervous and expect you to be.  If you lose your place during the vow recital, I will prompt you and it’s perfectly fine to take a moment and catch your breath.  I’m not in a hurry and you shouldn’t be either.

Heading back to Fort Worth, I stopped to let the twins grab a bite to eat while Cindy and I reviewed emails and returned calls from the road.  

My niece Stephaney called to check on the twins and  see where we were at and if we had heard from Leigh Ann or my son Robert.  It’s not unusual for me to have my husband, my son, my nieces or grandnieces on the same call at the same time because (as many of you know), we talk to each other several times a day.  A few years ago, Cindy and I took Stephaney to the Gaylord with the twins and had a great time but I was in far too much pain last night to make the trip to Gaylord so I’m glad Cindy and the twins did.

Occasionally, our close knit family can and do get a “wee bit jealous” of one another but all three have been raised together so it’s similar to sibling rivalry.  

My son had been in Missouri with his wife a few weeks ago before flying off to Washington so (as usual) both of my nieces were a little envious which is why Leigh Ann and Alex went to the Gaylord last night.  Robert and Stephanie don’t have any children so it’s far easier for them to “up and leave” for a holiday than it is for Leigh Ann and Alex now that baby Maddy is here.  Little Maddy lights up our lives with her laugh and we love having all three of our grandchildren together while Alex is on duty in California at Lemoore Naval Base.

Leigh Ann is recovering well from her gastric bypass and needed a “mini vacation.”  It’s pretty well known that all three of our kids “compete” with each other.  Leigh Ann and Robert even drive the same model Jetta.

All of our adult children are always so busy flying here, there and everywhere that it’s not unusual for them to be too busy to join me on a road trip.  Cindy decided to spend the night with me since I was driving alone in the dark and to my surprise, Maryssa and Makenna joined us on a road trip of truck stops and adventure.  

Cindy and the twins arrived at WorthamWorld fairly late last night after visiting the Gaylord with Leigh Ann and Alex so Cindy went straight to bed.

Three hours after finally going to sleep last night, my sister “trying to be quiet” woke me up so we left earlier than planned just in case there was road construction or bad weather- I’m always more comfortable giving myself more time than cutting it too close when traveling to a Destination Event.

Since all three of our adult children are busy with activities and travel, Cindy and I scheduled several Appraisal Appointments with Pawning Planners Clients this week which will be hard on me waiting for this kidney stone to pass.  Staying busy seems to help though and I’m getting used to the pain after my last “Kidney Stone Incident” a few months ago when I was afraid the pain would literally kill me. 

I’ve never been late or called in sick in my life so I wasn’t going to cancel anything on my schedule for this latest Incident Kidney Issue either.  I’m too busy for all that and if I wind up back in the hospital, I will work my schedule around it this time like I did the last time.  My schedule and my clients come first.  My health is in good shape other than these pesky Kidney Stones.

My brother suffers from Kidney Stones too and had me laughing with his FB post wearing the Easter Bunny outfit from A Christmas Story a few days ago.  He will do anything for his grandkids and after 20 years as a Naval Officer, has no issues about what people might think of his “outfit.”  I love that about my brother because his grandchildren are his world.

After a few days of feasting, my dog Mr Foxy Wortham has packed on a few pounds and is happy as can be with our home bustling with the twins out of school and family coming and going everyday.  He manages to get lucky by grabbing food from Maddy on a daily basis.  

Hopefully when this kidney pain eases up, Cindy and I can get back to the gym too this week.  If you have family visiting, remember that although they can get on your nerves sometimes, they don’t know how annoying they are and try to let it glide off your back…Holidays can be pretty stressful when out of town guests are staying with you so don’t forget to give them a few chores to keep them busy and more importantly, out of your hair.