Friday as I headed to Estes Correctional Institute for my very first prison wedding, I tried to control my breathing and keep from having an anxiety attack. Knowing I would be in “closed quarters” was difficult for me because as a child, my sisters, my brother and I were locked in a closet for over a week because my mother was a heroin addict and forgot about us.
My twin sister cried so much that she needed a hernia surgery when CPS finally found us. It’s not easy to keep 3 siblings in a dark closet for a week from crying out of fear and hunger but, I tried. We have never enjoyed a traditional upbringing but perhaps if we had, we wouldn’t care about our clients as much as we do. We are the mothers we never had, the people we’ve never met.
I’m dyslexic and accustomed to viewing things backwards so Cindy and I agreed to do everything we had experienced as children, teens & young adults and break the circle at an early age (16) with beautiful acts of kindness.
It’s the way we live because we are survivors and we don’t bank on tomorrow. We live for today and believe kindness inspires hope in others. The happiest moments I’ve enjoyed are with my family and our completely different client base from Texas Twins Events & The Pawning Planners.
Yesterday my niece Leigh Ann Blais took this photo of me at a park in Granbury and told me it reminded her of where I’ve been, what I’ve learned and how I was determined when others had expected me to fail. I never gave up my “vision” of helping others who couldn’t afford to hire a traditional vendor or find someone willing to see beyond their differences or circumstances with my family joining me on a journey that would bring us closer as a family while helping others.
Arriving at Estes Unit, I took a deep breath and tried to remind myself that I would be walking back out and while worrying about an anxiety attack suddenly realized that the childhood stutter I developed in that closet might come back if I didn’t put my fear aside and focus on the job at hand.
I spent 8 years of my childhood in speech therapy to overcome stuttering but it would be music and singing that actually “cured me.” For two weeks prior to this wedding I worried about being “locked in.” Nightmares about barred doors slamming shut behind me kept me awake at night.
It’s difficult for me to be in a car without the window cracked and planes are not one of my favorites either. I’ve spent most of my life facing my fears and “talking myself through” something I feared would take me back to my childhood. Ironically, stressful situations can sometimes “summon” the stutter my husband often forgets lurks in my brain waiting to grab my tongue when I’m nervous. I hate it but like a shadow it will follow me for the rest of my life waiting to “sneak out” at the worst possible times!
Arriving at the prison, I looked for Misty’s car and not seeing her, decided to wait rather than go in alone and wait. I was 45 minutes early and decided to listen to my Sirius 70’s channel while taking in my surroundings prior to checking in. Inmates were mowing the lawn and the parking lot was nearly full.
I read the sign “visitors vehicles subject to searches” and looked at the lush yard surrounding a concrete building that didn’t look nearly as frightening as my wild imagination had painted it. Where were the barbed wires? The barred fence keeping everyone out? Or in? I drove into that lot easily as any other building would be to drive in front of and park at. Looking at the front doors, employees strolled in and out as if we were anywhere other than a prison.
I’m glad I took a few minutes to reflect on the photo shoot we gifted Misty and how I was here to help her with a Dream Event as I had for hundreds of other families.
Looking through the photos that I had printed for Misty as I waited, I remembered my first meeting with her at my home. She had told me how beautiful and impressive it was and I laughed saying “you should have seen it when I found it, sitting vacant for years, this majestic and funky old place needed a lot of love like anything in this life!”
Our first meeting was stressful for her and I could feel it. She had been turned away by other officiants and her shoulders slumped in my home office while she explained how hard it was to get others to accept her choices but I wasn’t one of them. I tried to understand her choices and she was open and honest in her explanation-she loved Carl. Misty also knew that her circumstances were less than ideal. Misty also realized within 3 minutes that I would treat her with the respect others vendors had refused to.
After that first meeting, I was committed to giving her an opportunity to bask in the joy of planning her wedding along with help from my photography team in order to give her permanent memories. Her bridal photo shoot day spent with us at numerous locations gave her the opportunity to act like any other bride feeling beautiful, happy & joyous. She wasn’t the bride marrying a prisoner-she was a bride! A woman planning to marry the man she loved.
Misty was so happy in those bridal shots that no one would ever know that she was marrying an inmate a few days after posing for those photos.
If you had told me years ago that I would be walking into a prison, I’m certain that I would have laughed knowing my claustrophobia would never allow me to go through with it. I challenge myself on a regular basis when even an elevator can be a dark & scary hole for me, I make myself do things all of the time in order to get past my own fear.
I’ve only seen a prison while driving to a wedding or on television and the portrait painted on television was far from warm or inviting!
The prison location was “different” but so was the Rainbow Lounge Dream Event Stripper Shower. Amanda wanted a baby shower because she couldn’t work due to her condition.
A few of you may be shocked but I’m going to ask you to put yourself in her position as a single mother doing the best she could before you judge her. I don’t judge anyone or their situation.
For the readers wondering if I have read your “opinions” regarding LBGTQ marriage, prison weddings, interracial weddings & other things “you don’t believe in,” I have and although you may disagree with my client base, please remember not to throw rocks if you live in a glass house.
Every family (that’s right I said family) we help are people just like you or I and although their circumstances might sound remarkable or incredible or “different” to you they are people who deserve to be happy regardless of your opinion.
The truth is that only Tom McAvoy the owner of the Rainbow Lounge was willing to let us use his building for a Stripper. I explained why we needed a building and why she needed a baby shower to Tom who immediately understood the importance of helping someone he had never met by donating his building for Amanda’s Stripper friends from strip the club that wouldn’t let them have the shower there. LBGTQ people don’t judge anyone because they’ve spent their lives being judged themselves.
Being “different” can and does make people targets which is tragic. My businesses & clients are often viewed as “different” to a few folks who can’t wait to read my latest blog to write me about their (Christian) beliefs or the clients themselves whom these critics can find such terrible things to say about. I’ve had so many awful emails and letters that I have come to expect them which is terrible but I no longer cry over the meanness of strangers or mourn their lack of compassion for others either. It took me years to stop worrying about what others thought but I have.
I get fairly creative requests all the time so a wedding at a prison was hardly the most surprising thing I’ve come across yet.
From a karate studio to a gay bar to a C130 and everywhere in between- I’ve been to so many places throughout this 7 year journey of weddings, birthday parties, baby showers, anniversaries, house blessings & a few other hilarious events that I told myself that panicking now wasn’t the time or the place. After all, it’s a wedding and not a funeral.
Officiating a funeral (especially a child’s funeral) is harder on me than you will ever imagine. Funerals are Final-there are no tomorrow’s or second chances. Officiating a funeral is the hardest thing that I have ever done and I’m certain the hardest thing I will ever do but saying goodbye to someone who never had a chance to live their life, to marry, have children, etc. will always be an event that rips my heart out. I often remind myself when walking into a funeral home that my role is to comfort the family and not grieve myself. A celebrant or funeral clergy must never cry at a funeral and some situations tear at me more than others.
No one was willing to officiate Misty’s wedding at a prison except me. She had tried to find an officiant for weeks. When I say I help people no one else will and don’t have anyone competing for their business, I’m being serious. I hear it everyday, it’s sad but true.
Misty parked beside me and looked beautiful in the tiara I had given her at the photo shoot. She ran up and hugged me nearly crying that I was there and early to boot but I’m always early because I’m OCD and also because being late is stealing someone’s time. My sister and I have incredible
ethics neither of us have ever called in sick unless we were in the hospital- the luxury of missing work was something that neither of us could afford years ago and it stuck with us!
As we entered and submitted drivers licenses to the sergeant, Misty was told that she must cover her shoulders. I quickly ran to my SUV and grabbed a jacket that I had from the cleaners along with her photos (I hadn’t brought them in for fear I wasn’t allowed to since I was told drivers license only) I had printed and told her everything would be okay. We were both nervous because it was a first for each of us. Misty had never married in a prison and I had never officiated in one.
As she thumbed through her photos and I heard locked doors opening and closing and quickly reminded myself that those doors opened and closed. I decided to read my Ring Blessing Ceremony and occupy my mind in the event I was not authorized to bring my Bible with me. Carl had requested a Ring Blessing Ceremony and scripture readings. It is rare for a client from either of my businesses to request a Religious Ceremony but I love it when they do!
The worry of forgetting something without my notes and Bible were unfounded and allowed after the Sergeant quickly thumbed through and “cleared” the notes and my Bible.
Misty loved the photos and was as surprised as I was when the officer told her she could leave a few photos for Carl. I was expecting less than 5 or 6 people in the visitors area but was surprised to find 15-18 officers with the clergy of the unit and Carl waiting for us.
Apparently many of the guards had googled me and knew far more about me than I knew of them. I also offer year round discounts to fire, police, military & volunteer firefighters & EMT’s. Why? Many of my family me are military and others volunteer firefighters.
The larger audience at the prison had my knees shaking after walking through two locked doors but they were so friendly and polite that when I did stutter (once) and lose my place, I laughed and admitted that I was nervous since this was my first wedding in a prison as everyone laughed with me appreciating my honesty. Luckily, it was a friendly crowd and within minutes I was back to my (showgirl persona). My husband came up with the term after watching me do runway style shows and modeling shoots for Cadillac. I’m a chameleon from a history of selling and can get along with most anyone.
I enjoyed the prison wedding and had worked myself up for nothing. The guards were courteous and kind and offered to put me on their list for future weddings. My experience at Estes Unit exceeded anything that I could have imagined and I’m thankful that I decided to go through the process with Misty.
As we left the parking area, I called and told her that I had bought several photo props and wanted an opportunity to take a few photos by a field while she was still in her dress. Misty was stung by a few fire ants (Texas is full of these nasty creatures) but we had a few fun photos just the same.
I had noticed while driving to the prison that it was in a rural area surrounded by farm houses and barns and remarkably similar to any other small town in Texas. For some reason, I expected it to be right off the highway and not located in a rural area but I wasn’t sure what it would look like or where it would be as I enjoyed the drive back listening to my Elton John Yellow Brick Road CD.
Misty was so thankful for everything we did to make her wedding special with our impromptu photo shoot and bridal photos-she loved them. Leigh Ann and Cindy did a great job. My family and I treat every client like friends and family.
This morning as I packed the car and was preparing to drive to Granbury for an LBGTQ wedding that wasn’t on my books, I reviewed an email from an LBGTQ couple who had seen the wedding at Carswell AFB a few months ago and wanted to know how I had pulled off something that had never been done and if I would help them go through the paperwork process and have their wedding on the Tarmac.
This will be a “first” too similar to my other wedding at Carswell AFB except for an LBGTQ couple rather than a traditional couple but I warned Kathy of the lengthy paperwork and authorization process required and advised her to hold off telling friends and family a date until being approved. I loved every aspect of a wedding on the C130 with tail numbers corresponding with their parents birth dates. Every element of this military wedding had to be approved including the photos we took on location.
IE: the process isn’t easy a Government Military Base is not a venue or open to the public. I’m popular at military bases because I’ve officiated numerous military couples and went above and beyond with my team to make their wedding special and memorable! I’ve “earned” a stellar reputation with Army, Air Force, Marines, Navy and my reputation preceded me in “pulling the Tarmac Wedding” off because every client is as important as my first client.
We love military members and often work for free because we know the financial restrictions, my niece Leigh Ann Blais is married to a sailor and was shocked when she & her husband saw the photos of Cindy and I with our escort on the base. I had to wait to post photos until they were cleared of course.
It’s very sad to me that other officiants don’t even bother to return a call to couples simply because they are LBGTQ. Luckily this couple were told to call me and I offered photography and loaned floral designs to make their wedding as special as they were. I was also thrilled they dressed up and brought their parents and grandparents to the park.
I’ve officiated casually dressed couples but dressing up makes a wedding special and elegant regardless of the location. It also shows me that they planned and prepared for a very special “life event.” I’m not knocking casually dressed couples but unless you are marrying on the beach, tank tops & flip flops are not what I expect to arrive and find you wearing. Beautiful clothing always makes a beautiful photo for weddings.
On my way to Granbury, next weeks bride called to check in. Jennifer moved her wedding date because I explained with two weddings two hours apart, it would be impossible for me to officiate hers on the same day. We have four officiants on staff but as my thousands of blog subscribers already know—it’s always me for a first choice but I can’t be everywhere all of the time which is why I often suggest using another officiant on staff in order to keep from losing a client.
Since many wonder how scheduling works after re branding and expanding, Pawning Planners Clients are “worked in” my schedule as are Prison Weddings and deliveries for Texas Twins Treasures or appraisal appointments for The Pawning Planners clients who barter their event services.
Texas Twins Events Clients must pay a deposit to book a date with no exceptions due to scheduling of numerous other appointments- Texas Twins Events Clients come first with all other events which is why I require a deposit & contract. I’m far too busy as are my staff to “hold” a spot on my calendar without a committment up front at Texas Twins Events.
In between the juggling act of my life, family, client meetings, events, refurbishing trades & a weight loss journey along with blogging & social media-my twin sister and I are working on our very first book “Paying It Forward-The Pawning Planners Philosophy.”
Time is something that I and my team cannot afford to waste on flaky folks who ask for help and at the last minute call and say “a friend is officiating or so and so is handling our photography so we’ve got it covered now.” People contacting me for free photographers or loaned inventory that are using other vendors are told no too. Why? Because when I started this business I was a wedding officiant not a “Jack of al Trades.” The reason loaned items and complimentary photography or my team exist is because I realized clients couldn’t afford the “extras” and spent my own money to overcome their issues myself which is why every Wendy Wortham Website states “Loaned Inventory Is For Booked Clients & At My Discretion.”
My Team took a new direction 3 years ago by rebranding & expanding to create The Pawning Planners for clients with no money to barter their event services because we are committed to helping our clients not someone else’s clients. Realizing that many Texas Twins Events Clients often couldn’t afford $75-150 (lower than any other photographer), I was forced to find a way to get clients to cover expenses after working for free over and over for 4 years. Merging Texas Twins Events & Texas Twins Treasures to create The Pawning Planners still left me with a handful of clients with no trade or money so I created Pawning Planners Apparel to fund sponsored families. Yes, I am “that” committed so please don’t tell me you’ve hired another vendor and ask to borrow my inventory or staff-we are busy.
I’ve spent a lot of money on expanding, rebranding, equipment, websites and more to address any obstacle for prospects because I learned these issues and worked hard to overcome them. It didn’t happen overnight and it wasn’t free for me to do either so—if you’ve booked with another vendor, ask them for free photography & floral designs not me.
Driving to the Granbury park, I knew the importance of the LBGT wedding because the bride told me her mother had disowned her for 4 years after learning her daughter was gay. She told me how excited she was that her mother had accepted her choice and would be joining us at the park.
Leigh Ann drove Cindy to the same park that we had planned Lisa & Terry Williams wedding at 2 years ago but had been rained out and wound up at the karate studio. I packed bubbles for the children in their wedding party, flowers for the wedding and a spare camera along with batteries and cookies for my grandniece that would be joining us on an 8 hour day of 2 weddings miles apart.
Arriving early (as usual), I scoped out the area for the prettiest wedding photos as I waited for Leigh Ann, Cindy & Madyson. The park was so beautiful that Leigh Ann and I decided to take photos here, there and everywhere.
The photos on this blog are from my cell phone as Leigh Ann needs 3-5 days to edit her Nikon shots from both weddings but I will update this blog when she does. The family and couple were amazed that we “squeezed them” into our schedule because they knew my second wedding was in Garland and at least 2 hours from Granbury. My twin sister often reminds me that I’m like a weed growing through concrete getting everything done in order to “save the day” I’m nothing if not resilient and passionate and although we saw a wedding party already at the park and we were just showing up there and had not reserved the park, I told Cindy I’m doing this wedding their license is going to expire and we have to be in Garland so if there is a wedding going on, now theyhave 2 park weddings!
Without risk there are no rewards and you can bet your ass that over the past 7 years nothing has been easy or simple for either me or my clients. I wasn’t going to let that other wedding ruin my schedule. After all, that park was big enough for two weddings. Sometimes I’m a renegade because I have to be and today was one of those days!
We had a great time with this wonderful family and you’re going to love Leigh Ann’s photos far more than these iPhone pics.
Cindy left Granbury to go pick the twins up from my house because Steve had replaced their broken trampoline and wanted to surprise them for Easter. My brother in law is a redneck genius and is using the broken trampoline frame to build himself a hammock! I recently wrote about some of his “inventions” on my Texas Twins Treasures site-Steve Daniel The Redneck Inventor.
Leigh Ann and I took Maddy and headed to Garland. My niece asked if I ever get tired of so much driving from one place to another as I laughed and told her that it’s part of the business. We stopped to fill up and I ran to the Shell restroom that was a disaster but it’s always hit and miss with public restrooms. Leigh Ann caught me reading a sign that was far from accurate while she changed Maddies diaper and snapped this pic.
We hit the Starbucks off the highway and were about 36 minutes from our second wedding when the bride called and told us she had been rear ended after having her make up done and was crying hysterically thinking we wouldn’t stay for her wedding if she was running late or not ready when we arrived.
I assured her that we aren’t in a big hurry and to take time to calm down before we start the ceremony. Arriving, we decided to take photos of the children and parents as the bride reapplied her wedding makeup.
As this stunningly beautiful young lady walked out to meet us, I realized that she was quite pregnant and asked if she was sure she was okay after the accident and volunteered to go to the hospital with her to be checked.
Frankly- after all of these years of reading critics comments, I’ve learned that there will always be someone who wants to rain on my parade about how our couples look, where the event is, who they are marrying, what their family looks like etc. that I “bring a mental umbrella” to keep these cynics at bay. Not every couple is what you might expect but before you shoot me that email-do us both a favor and don’t. If you don’t have anything good to say about our clients- then don’t waste my time or yours.
The beautiful bride took the time she needed to calm back down and had a great time with us and although she had reapplied her makeup herself, it looked professionally done on this natural beauty! Leigh Ann spent a good two hours taking photos and posing the family because she loves what she does.
Back in my SUV, navigation lady gave us the wrong directions to get back to Fort Worth so I pulled over and tried to figure out which way to go when a Garland police officer pulled in behind me to ask if we needed help.
The officer looked in the back window on his way to my drivers door and saw vestments and bouquets along with numerous other items I bring to a wedding and asked if we had just left a wedding?
I laughed and said 2 we’ve been at it since 9am when I left home! The wonderful officer led us back to the freeway and headed home at the end of a very long day.
Tomorrow it’s back to the gym for Cindy and I and our mini me twins as we get back on track again now that Makenna is out of her boot. What could be more fun than 2 sets of twins at the gym?!
Hopefully Cindy and I will find the time to work on the office chair we took in trade a few weeks ago but our schedules are so tight that I’m not counting on it this month. We simply have far too much going on.
From a prison to a park to a backyard- I never know where my journey will take me or who I will meet but that’s how we roll with my team of family members to give the gift of a Dream Event “one family at a time from Fort Worth, Texas” and I wouldn’t have it any other way!
Wendy M Wortham