Friday, March 13, 2009

How to Get Married When You're in County Jail

A while back, I became an ordained minister online, just in case I was coordinating a wedding and the minister didn't show up. It's totally legal, I've only had to use it once before, like years back, and I've worked with a few couples whose friends have done the same thing so they could officiate at their weddings (Here endeth the defensive part of this post). I'm also a notary - diversification is a good thing, these days.

So, last Saturday, I get a phone call from a young woman, "Carine" who was looking for a notary, and had found my ad on craigslist. She and her boyfriend - who was in the L.A. County Jail downtown - wanted to get married before he was sent to prison at the end of the week. I told her what my notary rates were, and also mentioned that I could marry, them, too. Or, rather, instead, because I wasn't allowed to notarize their marriage license application and marry them, too. Conflict of interest, chance of fraud? Dunno.

Over the next few days, Carine and I worked out the details. And there were a LOT of details. I became very familiar with her fiance's case worker. A few days ago, Carine told me that she had a friend who's fiance was ALSO in prison, and they wanted to get married, too. I have never said that I lived a boring life...

What do you have to do to get married when your loved one is in County Jail?

1. First of all, I had to get a background check, which I'm happy to say I passed with flying colors. Couples under normal circumstances have to appear together at the county recorder's office in order to pick up their marriage license, which you can't do while you're in jail. So, you have to fill out an "affidavit of inability to appear" to apply for a confidential marriage license (no witnesses needed), which you, your fiancee AND your wedding officiant have to sign, and get the form notarized. We did that Thursday morning, which took about an hour total.

2. The form also made me the proxy for Carine's fiance, so I could pick up the license with Carine,and then again with her friend "Roxy". The licenses were $70 each. That took about another hour. 10:30am on a Thursday is a busy time for people trying to pick up marriage licenses!

3. Then the form has to be faxed back to the case worker at the County jail, who then calls the Recorder's office to verify that the licenses were authentic (!), at which point they would clear the men to have their wedding ceremonies.

4. THEN we had to go back to the jail and stand in line for visiting hours, along with hundreds of other women and children. It was a lot cleaner than I thought it was going to be. The officers were really nice. It was a little scary at first, but everyone seemed to be doing their best to stay out of trouble. As my husband pointed out, what with all the armed officers, and the cameras, jail was probably one of the safest places for me to be in the middle of Los Angeles. They even had a special play area for the kids.

It was interesting talking to Carine and Roxy, because these were just two men that they had fallen in love with, that made a couple of bad mistakes, but still loved and cared about them. Like any other bride, they loved their men through thick and thin, but as Roxy said, "I don't have any delusions. I know what I'm getting into." More than a lot of people, probably. Carine had caught on pretty quick that this wasn't something that I did every day, and asked me, "I bet you never thought you'd end up here, did you?" I looked around and shrugged, "Did you?" She laughed. "No," she said. But, like every couple out there, even the ones that aren't going through such extreme circumstances, they were going to take the chance. You just never know what life is going to throw at you, you know?

5. So, once "your" inmate's name is called, you go into a green room to see them. They're behind glass, just like in the movies, talking through telephones on either side of the glass. So, I performed two wedding ceremonies, passing the phone back and forth, which took about 5 minutes. Shortest part of the day, but then the ceremony always is! No kissing or touching, just a lot of big grins. Including mine.

Would I do it again? Sure. It was a long day, but at the end of the day, weddings are about uniting two people who want to be together, to help them get a little bit of happiness, without judging.
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