One of my clients contacted me a few days ago alarmed that her name had been forged on SNAP documents by her new husband. Like Amanda, I was shocked and concerned that her husband would do something like this behind her back. I encouraged her to report fraud. Yesterday she did.

Marriage is a merger. If you don’t have trust and loyalty you cannot have a solid relationship.

Amanda’s new husband and the things that have been occurring since he came home on parole are deeply concerning to her and I both. “He’s a different person.”

Amanda had contacted me last year to marry an inmate at TDCJ Ellis Unit. She had just started a new job at the post office and had three children at home. A struggling single mother who believed she was marrying someone who loved her. It’s not easy for anyone to decide to marry an inmate. It’s actually a difficult decision that anyone committing to has thought long and hard about.

The dynamics of Amanda’s situation and experience during the prison wedding planning process were many. My niece, Leigh Ann happened to be in Texas and Amanda was hoping to get family photo’s of her and her 3 sons before her oldest moved out so I had met her in person long before I would meet her at the Unit on wedding day.

Traditionally, I do not meet clients marrying inmates in person until we are on site wedding day.

Buying a marriage license is often intimidating to my clients marrying an inmate. It’s not unusual for clients to ask me to meet them and walk them through the process in Parker, Tarrant and Dallas Counties or near the Unit they are marrying at if they have a Twogether In Texas waiver on the waiting period.

Amanda had initially gone to Eastland County happy and excited about buying her marriage license and was (quite sadly) met with a “crispy clerk” who first gave her the 3rd degree about why she was marrying an inmate and upset Amanda so much that she walked out without buying the license. Amanda called me upset and confused about encountering conflict at the clerks office while I was on site at a funeral at Greenwood Cemetery to tell me how upsetting her visit to the clerks office was.

Believe it or not, “crispy clerks” aren’t uncommon. For many years prior to the Supreme Court ruling, it was a regular occurrence for me to travel to Arkansas and Oklahoma where LBGT marriage was legal.

In 2015, so many of my clients encountered clerks refusing to issue marriage licenses that I literally ran across Texas to meet clients who were intimidated to walk into the clerk alone as well as organized pickets to pressure clerks offices into doing their jobs. I’m always amazed that people think refusing to do their job for “religious reasons” or anything else is acceptable. Their job is to indiscriminately serve everyone.

I had plenty of experience with opinionated clerks from 2015.

Ironically, the number of opinionated clerks opposed to inmate marriages are equal if not greater than number of clerks opposed to LBGT marriage all of those years ago.

I have several clients contact me who like Amanda were very upset about their experience at the clerks office.

Clients walking out of a clerks office without a marriage license are always “redirected” by me to a friendly clerks office. Yep, I know where to send folks. I know where the friendly clerks are. Experience matters.

I also know that there are a number clerks who “don’t believe inmates should have the right to marry” AND I don’t care.

I just don’t understand these county clerks and their attitudes. THEIR job is to issue marriage licenses NOT their OPINIONS regarding inmate marriages.

Because Amanda had taken a Twogether in Texas premarital course, she could effectively and legally “skip” the 3 day waiting period in Texas.

After her encounter in Eastland, she was so intimidated about walking into another clerks office alone that I suggested meeting me in Walker County to buy the marriage license on the morning of her scheduled wedding.

On route to Ellis Unit, an email from the Chaplain cancelling the wedding lit me up. We were confirmed and scheduled. What to do? I call Amanda.

I then decide to show up anyway and pretend I never received the email.

A cancellation on the day of the wedding after months of paperwork? Amanda just started a new job. She wouldn’t be able to take another day off. Marriage licenses are only valid 90 days. We were both driving hours to Ellis when I read that email. To hell with it. I had nothing to lose by arriving other than a no and neither did she.

I was held up at another Unit in Huntsville that morning which impeded my ability to meet Amanda. I sent her a text and found that she had successfully purchased her marriage license in Walker County with “no problems.” Well, that was a relief!

Rolling into Ellis from Holliday, I spot Amanda who is a little nervous we are going to be turned away.

“You can’t get a yes unless you ask for it. This marriage was Approved and Scheduled.”

For those unaware, the process and protocol to marry an inmate is lengthy. The last step is an I60 Request For Inmate Marriage form. This form requires several signatures. It leaves the law library to go to inmate records to leave the Unit and go to the DRC (Access to Court and Council) in Huntsville before returning to the Unit for the Warden to sign off and hand to the Chaplain for scheduling.

Certain TDCJ Units allow the law library to schedule. Ellis Unit scheduling goes through the chaplain. The VERY SAME chaplain who had sent that email on wedding day had sent a confirmation email over a week prior.

Amanda and I both approach the tower guard and I announce who I am and why we are there.

The tower checks the schedule and our state issued drivers licenses. He is confused because we aren’t on the schedule and calls the assistant Warden. We are instructed to “wait in the booth.”

The booth is a small cement structure outside of the gates.

Within minutes, the assistant Warden walks in confused because “I just spoke with the chaplain last night and he told me we had no weddings scheduled. He isn’t on the property today.”

Aha. The chaplain cancelled the ceremony to take the day off. Now things are making more sense. I decide to “throw the chaplain under the bus” with that email sent a few hours ago.

Amanda is sitting in shocked silence. I jump in. “Sir, if you will allow me to grab my phone from my suv, I have an email from the chaplain cancelling this scheduled wedding I received while on route here today.”

Perplexed, he agrees to allow this after asking both Amanda and I “if you were notified of a cancellation why did you drive here today?”

It’s a valid question. I answer “because we were already en route and had nothing to lose and everything to gain by showing up anyway. My client and I both were already hours into our journey when that email was sent. There’s a time stamp. You can validate this if you allow me to bring you my phone.

For anyone unaware, cell phones are strictly prohibited on prison property. The duty shack is outside of the prison itself.

The assistant warden allows me to journey back to my suv.

I hand him my phone and the string of emails from the chaplain regarding this scheduled event. He reviews all the correspondence then the final email.

“I’m surprised and confused about this. I had asked if there were any ceremonies and was told there weren’t. This is highly irregular. I’m going to have to speak to him. Based on these circumstances, I’m going to make an exception and allow the ceremony to take place. Please return your phone to your vehicle and meet me on the other side of the shakedown. I will escort you to visitation.”

Amanda is pretty surprised that my strategy ACTUALLY worked.

We walk in and I conduct the ceremony. We walk out and I follow Amanda to the clerks office. I always file licenses in person or by certified priority mail. I’m ocd. I track everything. I have never had an issue filing a license BUT Walker County gave me one.

“You have to wait 3 days to marry in Texas. We just issued this license a few hours ago.”

What the? Did this idiot clerk not comprehend the essence of a Twogether in Texas waiver? I argue with her. I continue arguing. I make her pull the certificate. We spend 20 minutes going over what she apparently doesn’t understand. She finally stamps and returns the license to Amanda.

We leave and I unload my inventory at the clerks office for Amanda’s bridal photos before driving to Estelle Unit to meet my next client. I’m agitated about that idiot clerk but I don’t think about it again UNTIL Amanda contacts me regarding a divorce after speaking to an attorney to tell me “vital records has no record of our wedding.”

What in the Sam Hill Hell?! I filed that license in person. The clerk stamped the original license. The clerk didn’t record it. In over 2,500 hundred wedding ceremonies NOTHING like this has ever occurred in my entire career as an officiant.

Amanda asks “should we send that bitch flowers?”

I just cannot believe that any clerk wouldn’t file a license. Jesus. I call Walker County to request a certified copy.

I then request a verification letter from the state of Texas. Amanda is right. The wedding was never recorded and therefore, invalid.

It’s tough to surprise me. Really tough. That Walker County clerk did.

Thankfully, Amanda didn’t want to be legally married. She deserves better.

I have no idea what will happen with the food stamp situation. I’m assuming that charges will be pressed against the man who thinks and believes he’s her husband. He forged her signature on documents claiming to be paying rent to her. He fabricated a rental agreement with her name. He committed fraud. My allegiance isn’t to inmates it’s to my clients. Amanda must protect herself and I’m glad that she is. She deserves better…

“Weakness of character becomes weakness of attitude.” Albert Einstein