Marriage officials, to the public and to inmates, say their schedules are overcrowded and couples should plan a date of six months or more. “We’re going to do twice as much business, or more, in 2021 and 2022,” said Wendy Wortham, the founder of Texas Twins Events of Fort Worth, Texas, which has planned prison weddings.
On March 13, 2020, Texas imposed a statewide closed prison to help stop the growing number of Covid cases in the state. Ms. Wortham spent her weekend informing and comforting 32 brides-to-be in prison. “It was heartbreaking,” she said. “They were days away from their wedding. They had packed all their things, booked their trip, they had gone through months of planning.” With the rules relaxing, Ms Wortham has tentatively scheduled 71 prison pairs for 2021, with 161 more on her waiting list. It’s rare for prison brides to face the same problems as other brides, but in the case of canceled ceremonies, both worlds are in sync for once.
“You have all these plans, but you can’t move forward”, said Catherine Burris, an insurance salesman in Arlington, Texas. Ms. Burris, 41, has been trying to marry her longtime partner Jeffrey Gonzales, 43, since September 2020. Mr. Gonzales was incarcerated in 1998 for murder and will be released on parole in 2027. The couple met in high school and reconnected in 2019. Initially, Ms. Burris was resistant to romance. “No one plans to hang out with anyone in prison,” she said. But she couldn’t deny their connection, and when he proposed on August 23, 2020, she accepted. She wrote her vows in anticipation. “You complete me and make me a better person. I will love you until I die.”
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Faced with millions of disappointed couples, several states have issued executive orders allowing virtual weddings – a ruling that will be handed over to the detainees. In Virginia, Byron Sichert, a nondenominational minister, has conducted 40 prison dial-in ceremonies since September. “People just thought we weren’t going to wait this out, let’s get it done,” he said. It is fully booked until the end of August. On March 20, 2021, Debbie Kalinowski, the owner of Wedding on Wheels, a cellular service in Oaklyn, NJ, used Hudson County Correctional Facility’s video-visiting app to marry a couple. Rev. Kalinowski, the bride and two witnesses huddled around a cell phone at the bride’s home, in Red Bank, NJ, for the allotted 20-minute ceremony. It was Rev. Kalinowski’s first video wedding; despite New Jersey authorizing them in May 2020, only Hudson County corrections allow them. “They have the technology, but they discriminate against prisoners,” said Rev. Kalinowski. “They are treated like second-class citizens.”