Officiating in a prison or Immigration Customs Enforcement (ICE) facility takes preparation.
The Marriage License
Like weddings that take place outside of a detention center, a marriage license is required before an officiant may proceed with a ceremony. After the not-incarcerated member of the couple applies for the marriage license, the town clerk goes to the facility to obtain the incarcerated person’s signature.
The couple must also apply for permission to wed, secured from the warden.
Behind the Scenes Help
Having a buddy on the inside can make your experience smoother. Connect with the prison chaplain or social worker. This will help facilitate the behind the scenes activity.
Every facility is different. Check ahead to see if you’ll need to complete a background check beforehand. If you need to bring a book or other ceremony item, let the prison know this in advance, too. It is always best to avoid surprises.
What to Expect
When arriving at the correctional or ICE facility you’ll need to go through security. To make this as painless as possible, leave any jewelry or metal items at home – as you’ll likely need to remove them before proceeding. Bring your driver’s license or other identification and authorization to officiate (JP certificate). Depending on the facility, there may be extra paperwork to complete. In addition, sometimes there are lockdowns or other unexpected delays; be prepared.
Arlene Mittenthal performed two prison weddings. She said they were both emotional and she was happy to perform them.
One was “behind glass” and was very sad. The guard brought the ring to the prisoner and after the ceremony, took it back. The fellow was about to be released in three months, so instead of going to a half-way house, he was to be released under the cognizance of his wife.
The second wedding took place sitting at a table with the groom on one side and the bride and myself on the other. They exchanged rings, but again, he wasn’t allowed to keep his. They were able to finalize the ceremony with a kiss. His prison term was ten years. I did try to talk the young woman into remaining single friends, but they wanted a marriage ceremony.
Another JP who has done two prison marriages, Lisa Irish, says it was very sobering to walk in and out of a facility with many locked doors.
The fiance asked me to text an image of my JP identification to her ahead of time. That was the only vetting done. Upon arrival, I saw lockers for my possessions and read the rules for entrance. So, I returned to my car and left everything except my keys and papers. In both weddings, I went to a small room with the fiance and a family member. The incarcerated groom came in, a guard stood present and I conducted a brief ceremony. I was aware of the gift I was giving them, to accommodate their desire in such an unusual situation – they were very grateful.
ICE Detention Centers
Marriages in ICE detention centers are similar to correctional institutions. Kirsten Blom-Westbrook does them regularly.
You go through security screeners and check in when you arrive in the ICE office/Homeland Security. As soon as all parties are there, they let us into the visiting room where there are booths with holes in the glass and a receiver. The detained party is let into the opposite side of the glass and I begin the ceremony after I go over the details. They cannot touch. There are no others allowed in. Once done, I sign license and give bride her copy and leave. Pretty sterile experience.
- See JPus’ other professional development articles.