Love knows no boundaries – even when prison walls separate two hearts.
People hoping to cement a forever connection with marriage vows face more hurdles when one of them is incarcerated. There are many rules and regulations surrounding marrying a prisoner but it can be done. In New York prisons alone, more than 1,500 people accomplished marrying an inmate in 2020.
How to Marry a Prisoner?
Regardless of your intended’s criminal status, it’s a good idea to know everything about them before tying the knot. Even if you’ve known each other for years, some hidden secret could blow up a relationship. It’s better to proceed with both eyes wide open:
- Ask yourself if you can wait. If your fiancée will be released in a year or two, why not wait for a wedding with all the bells and thrown rice? Your partner will need a period to readjust to civilian life; a buffer of time will prove that you’re the right match.
- Do some background checks to make sure your fiancée is who they say they are. Tools like this inmate search are quick and discreet. Use it to get all of the details on a person’s incarceration.
- Knowing about any court judgments that your fiancée may have to pay is essential. Once married, any significant costs or penalties assessed to your partner will impact your finances, potentially dashing your dreams of owning a home or qualifying for loans.
- When navigating the penal system, each facility makes its own rules about marrying someone in prison. Ask for a copy of the handbook to get the details, and seek help from a prisoner’s advocate or hire an attorney to help you untangle roadblocks. Each state government has an office of prison ombudsman or inmate affairs that is a good resource, too. In California, check the Prisoner Advocacy Network at the University of California Berkeley; in Texas, check the Texas Prisons Community Advocates; in New Jersey, look up the Corrections Ombudsperson.
Plan ahead if you want to marry a prisoner. Many prisons require significant paperwork and legal documents that may not be easy to access if your fiancée is behind bars. They may only have specific dates available for wedding ceremonies because such an event may require additional staff.
In Federal Prison, How Much Paperwork is Involved?
Federal prisons are under the jurisdiction of federal marshals, who make the rules about marrying inmates. The rules stated on the U.S. Marshals website state that a marriage cannot interfere with a prisoner’s judicial proceedings or is problematic for the prison facility where the inmate is housed.
In general, marrying a federal inmate requires the approval of the facility warden or acting warden. Getting all of the paperwork done is likely to take months, and we must follow these rules:
- The prisoner must be eligible to wed. If previously married, documents proving a legal divorce must be produced.
- The inmate must be mentally competent to marry. A psychological evaluation may be required, or a past assessment may be a reason to deny the marriage application.
- The inmate’s fiancée must provide a written statement testifying to their intention to marry the inmate.
- The marriage will be evaluated to ensure it does not disrupt the operation of the prison or pose a danger to the public.
- An application for marriage must be completed and sent to the prisoner’s unit team for an appraisal. The team’s findings and recommendations are forwarded to the warden for approval.
Pros of Marrying an Inmate
A relationship based on communication and heartfelt expressions of love seems ideal. A relationship with an inmate is likely to be intense because of the physical separation that prison poses. For these reasons, marrying an inmate could be the ultimate act of devotion, a selfless outpouring of pure love that helps the inmate get through dark days and plan for a better future. Likewise, developing a vision of a shared future when the partner is released can be euphoric. Few people experience that all-encompassing feeling in life.
Cons of Marrying an Inmate
Having a relationship that’s separated not only physically (unlike in the movies, prisoners rarely get conjugal visits) but by the rules of an institution is challenging. Adult couples don’t like being told what they can do – prison visitors are allowed only under the watchful eye of guards and can reject anyone who does not adhere to the dress code or other regulations, making visits stressful.
The reality of a prison marriage can be a letdown. Your new spouse may not be released when promised due to poor behavior or circumstances beyond their control. Once married, helping to care for or taking custody of a prisoner’s children can create havoc for even the most seasoned parent. And when released, your spouse may not adjust well to the unstructured life outside of prison walls: recidivism is not uncommon, and the new spouse could get drawn into the criminal life. Psychologists have identified Post-Incarceration Syndrome, psychological issues surrounding prison release that include trust issues, fears, and post-traumatic stress that can take a toll on relationships. Ex-convicts can also have difficulty finding and keeping jobs, further complicating their post-prison lives.
You Must Do What is Best for You
There are many pros and cons of marrying an inmate. There’s the intense connection you feel, but will it last? Perhaps you’ve known your fiancée for many years and feel a special connection through prison letters and phone calls. But can you be sure you’re not just being played for sympathy and perhaps funds? Are you getting married so you cannot be compelled to testify against your spouse in a future trial?
You may be the prisoner’s future, their hope to reform and live a good life, but even the strongest people are tested by the circumstances of incarceration.
Experts suggest getting professional counseling for both parties in a prison marriage relationship to ensure that you’re on the same page and being realistic about expectations for a future during and after incarceration.