Dear Rev. Coleman,
I’m a TV producer at World Media Rights in London, doing some research for a new series about people planning their wedding when their partner is incarcerated. I have found your name on the “Prison Talk” website as someone who can help set up prison marriages and wondered if you would mind telling me a little bit about it.
I’d be incredibly grateful for any help you can offer.
World Media Rights
3 Angel Walk
Good afternoon, Joanne,
Wow, what a fascinating TV idea! Just FYI, having an actual wedding – with attendants, a white dress, music – in my prison and jail wedding experience, I cannot imagine that would ever be allowed, much less one where a video camera could come in. Prison officials, in my experience, justifiably have only one priority, the safety of staff and prisoners, and making prisoners happy doesn’t even make the list (understandably). Weddings I’ve performed for an incarcerated prisoner have been extremely low-key. Just the couple, two friends or relatives, me, all sitting around a lunch table talking very softly, with a hundred other prisoners and their visitors all around. No standing up, no wearing anything fancy, nothing official…and definitely no cameras.
The couples I’ve worked with have been quite nice, and their stories extremely interesting, but prison officials make their rules according to the worst offenders, not the best ones, and the behavior of the worst offenders means that the people in charge put incredibly tight restrictions on visitors. I’d certainly be available for interviews or advice, but I highly doubt that an actual wedding (in the real, ceremonial sense) would be allowed in a jail or prison, much less with television cameras.
I’ve performed one ceremony in a prison (the prisoner was in on a drug offense), and one in a jail (immigration offense, overstaying his visa). For the prison, the fiancé was terrified that the prisoner was being transferred to another state, and so when he would eventually be paroled, he would be paroled only to that other state (and would not be allowed travel to our state, even to visit his children). They had two children together, but were not married, and the prison system wouldn’t take their status into account unless they were married (which makes sense). To get me in, the fiancé had to verbally tell the prisoner to put me on his visitors list (only two people are allowed on the list, but they make an exception for a minister). One month later, that was done, and I applied for permission to visit him. Then me, the fiancé, and the two witnesses went to the prison, and me, the fiancé, and the witnesses went through the tight security and went in. There were a hundred or so other prisoners visiting their loved ones, and we did a hurried whispered ceremony, over the cafeteria table, the witnesses signed the license, and twenty minutes later, we left, amid hushed tears and promises of good behavior. Whew!
A year later, another prisoner’s fiancé asked for me to do a wedding, we went through the same applying to be on the visitors list, but oops…I had never taken my name off of the list for the first prisoner. So, when the form asked if I was on anyone else’s list, I had accidentally replied no, thinking that I was no longer on the first one’s list. Well, the prison wrote me back, understandably upset that I had answered the question incorrectly, thus wasting a lot of their time, and said that and now I was banned from visiting. Totally understandable on their part, but it means I can’t do prison weddings any more.
The next one was at a jail (the immigration offense, overstaying a visa), which is under a different system. I and the fiancé and two friends this time were allowed to visit, no visitor’s list this time, but again, the ceremony was in hushed tones over a cafeteria table, and extremely private. Again, there were tears, but the fiancé was hopeful that they would soon be together. Since then, I’ve been advised that getting married doesn’t affect future immigration status. I don’t do weddings at a jail any more, and I had mixed feelings about the jail wedding ceremony I performed. I donated the fee to the Corrections Foundation, a charity supporting the correctional and probation officers who protect public safety.
Both times, the prison/jail officials were polite but not particularly cooperative, but that’s not what their job is – their job is an incredibly difficult one (keeping everyone safe), and I highly admire their difficult job and the great work they do.
FWIW, I hope this helps!
Rev. Tomkin Coleman
Voted 2007′s “Best Wedding Planner” by CitySearch
Voted 2010′s and 2011′s “Best Wedding Officiant” by Minnesota Bride Magazine