Marrying an Inmate – A Love Story
In one of my earlier posting, I discussed the process and what must me done in order to marry a person that is incarcerated. In this article, I want to tell you the true story that looks at two couples whose fiancés were in the same institution, the men were friends, and over time the two ladies became friends and were married on the same day. There is no doubt, that there are barriers and hurdles that must be overcome for the marriage to be approved, license issued, and the marriage to occur.
Let’s start this story from the beginning…
For the sake of privacy let’s call our couples Daisey and Ronald and the second couple Alice and Ernest. Although the ceremonies took place only a few weeks ago (the first week of June), the road to get both couples to that point began 9 months early. Ronald and Earnest initiated the formal process in September. During this period, Alice and Daisy were trying very unsuccessfully to find a legitimate company that could secure the marriage license. What is critical to note, is that this was a federal correctional facility and only allowed marriages to take place once a year, in the Spring. In addition, there were other forces acting against the marriages from taking place. First, Covid was still an issue and secondly, this particular facility had not had a wedding take place in over 7 years. This was problematic because no one within the facility knew the true process except for the fact that ultimately, the marriages would have to be approved by the warden. Furthermore, as stated, prisons are often not “Inmate Friendly” and the process dragged on as the two couples were getting closer, and closer to the June date.
By the hand of a higher power…
Simply by accident, and after months searching for a Marriage License by Mail provider, Daisey stumbled upon my article entitled “Getting Married in Prison.” It brought Daisey to our official site and late one night (I’m an educator and do not have a life so I was on my site’s chat service), Daisey and I connected. Like so many others, and sadly too many times before, she was hesitant to believe that after a seven month discovery journey she had found a company (FloridaCountyClerk.com) that could secure the license. We connected immediately, I have a special place in my heart for those who are incarcerated and the fiancés who stand by their sides. We both realized that there was still some rivers and challenges to overcome but we were both committed to making this happen and we also realized that a higher power was intervening for these two couples, and I was not going to rest until I got it done.
…And then fun began
At the point I was contacted by the two brides, 6 months had passed since they started the process. By this point, they were frustrated because nothing was happening, it appeared the facility was short-staffed, and it was obvious, that the case workers were over-worked and understaffed. In most instances, the communications are between the inmates, future spouses, and the case workers, however; there was no movement and even far less communication. From a place of desperation, they asked me to reach out to the case worker…easier said than done. To make matters worse, there was no chaplain services at the facility and apparently, it has been this way for some time. It took near 3 weeks to finally connect with the case worker and to be honest, she was wonderful and help get the things up and running and it began with being able to be placed on both men’s visitation lists with the hope of the two weddings taking place on the predetermined date. I started getting a positive vibe, and this was amplified with the notification that the warden approved both weddings. Although we were not out of the woods yet, I felt confident enough to start the marriage license process.
A new issue…
In my last article I discussed the actual process on how the license gets done. For the sake of understanding what happened next on our journey, I will quickly discuss the process. First, the person on the outside pays for the service, completes the state application, and the info is sent electronically to my assigned clerk. Second, my office sends the fiancé’ the paperwork, instructions, and a critical sample that each party has to show the notary witnessing the signatures. The party on the outside is first and gets their signature notarized (this is when you will show your notary the “Show to Notary) sample to ensure that the correct section is completed, completes the state “Premarital statement” with the only blank left uncompleted, which is where the inmate will sign, this form does not get notarized. When the person on the outside completes their sections of the paperwork, the person then sends the forms along with the notary sample, and a pre-stamped and addressed envelope to our clerk. Once the inmate receives the paperwork, the person will go to the facility’s notary, complete the application, sign the premarital statement, and send the paperwork off to the clerk.
Why is understanding the process so important? Because the greatest anxiety I experience offering these services is that I have no control over the paperwork once it reaches the prison and, in this instance, the prison notary turned out to be the most nerve-racking part of securing the marriage license for these two couples. The paperwork reached the two inmates only to learn that although required by law, the facility did not have either an in-house notary or a contracted notary and we had gone to far to lose this game by one point. Thank goodness for the tenacity of Daisey, who by this point had enough and contacted the Department of prisons and the facility’s warden and within one day, the documents were notarized and on there way to the clerk who then issued the license.
But wait! Our story is not over yet…
It would not be right if I brought you this far without providing a happy ending. With the licenses secures, warden’s approval in hand, and the date confirmed, now our happy couples had to find someone to perform the marriages. This is a critical aspect you must consider when seeking to marry an inmate. Things have changed within the world of correctional facilities. Although most if not all state and federal facilities have chaplain services, the role of the chaplain no longer includes that of marriage officiant, therefore; it is up to the couple to find an officiant (whether Florida notary or religious person) that is already authorized to perform ceremonies at the particular facility or have an officiant approved by the prison to come in and perform the ceremony. Please be advised that the cost to bring in an officiant can be as much as $500.00. With this said, after weeks of working with the two couples, old softie (me) agreed to drive the 250 miles out to the facility to perform the two ceremonies. The morning of the ceremonies, I got on the road for the 4-hour drive to ensure that I would be there for the 9:00 AM start time. I met the two glowing brides at their hotel, it was a somber moment given everything the three of us went through to get to this day. We chatted for a while, laughed a bit, and the two women reflected on both this journey and their relationships, respectively. For Daisey, this was the second time she was marrying her husband, both born in Cuba, and they had three adult children. Her husband came to our country during the Mariel boatlift when he was 7 years old. Alice and Ernest were from Puerto Rice. Times are quickly becoming good for these two couples in that their cases go before the judge in 2023. We talked about our children, the work the ladies did, our pets and the atmosphere were electric.
Although the two women were frequent visitors to the facility, I had not performed a ceremony at this location before. It took almost an hour to get through vetting, but all went well. It is interesting to note, that whatever it took to reach this point no longer mattered. The two brides were glowing, and I must say, the people at the facility were great. They even arranged to have one of the office staff take pictures, which they later sent to the brides. We were not rushed, they set up a wonderful backdrop behind us so the pictures would look welcoming. As I looked into each of their eyes during the two ceremonies, I know that being with them for the special moment was worth every bit of heartache and aggravation. For both the couples and me, this was one of the most important journeys of our lives.
-Dr. Spencer L. Gaines
Northeast Florida’s Premier Wedding Officiant and,
Clerk Authorized Marriage License by Mail Providers
Marrying an inmate? Please feel to post your statements and questions on this blog, call me at (954) 822-0359, or email us: [email protected] FloridaCountyClerk.com