A couple of weeks ago, I attended a wedding in one of the Missouri prisons. The bride confided in me that she was a little sad, which I understood completely. We couldn't bring in flowers or a cake. We were one of nine bridal parties, and we had just 15 minutes for the entire ceremony and visit. Then she had to go home without him.
The system allows weddings two days a year. Where we were in southern Missouri, those days are in March and October. We all arrived by 12:30, and the groups were taken into the visiting area one at a time, where they met the groom and anyone he invited from inside.
Waiting was difficult. Some brides were nervous. Some families were loud. A small child came close to locking herself in one of the visitor lockers. The time spent was tedious and difficult, and many of us had long drives home afterward.
I was a friend of the groom and only just meeting the bride and her three children, though we had spoken on the phone a number of times over the past year. It was a lovely meeting, and I feel taken into their family. The ceremony was lovely, too. The couple had prepared promises that they read. Then the prison chaplain brought in the minister, who read, I think from the Book of Common Prayer, instructions on marriage, the formal vows, a blessing of the rings and a declaration of marriage. Meanwhile, one of the inmates took 27 photos at a dollar a picture for the couple. Afterward, I was one of the witnesses to sign the form, an honor I was deeply touched to receive.
The couples did not receive anything like pre-Cana preparation. As I looked around the waiting room, I thought all the brides would have benefited from some joint formal preparation with their spouses-to-be. Missouri prisons do not offer conjugal visits, so the start of these marriages is difficult. And I suspect the first days after the man's release from prison will also be difficult, no matter how eager the partners.
Nonetheless, I'm glad the prison system allows marriages, and I'm glad my friends got married. They are sure of each other's love and clear that the time is now. So I rejoice with them and with all those marriages inside the prison walls, full of hope in the future and love of one another.