I read somewhere in one of the two- trillion wedding-related websites that I follow, that when asked what they remembered most about a wedding, guests overwhelmingly responded that they most remembered the food and the music.
Details like this are a part of the specialized service that I promise to deliver to clients on their big day once I am hired as their wedding planner. I aim to provide all of my couples with a seamless succession of design and coordination services that lend to picture perfect aesthetics, while consciously considering both the logistics, and conceptualizing any forseeable mishaps that can be circumvented during their ceremony and reception.
Ultimately, my hope for every client is that all my efforts will invariably culminate in the execution of a series of engaging, entertaining and memorable traditions honoring the covenant of Holy Matrimony. In true Fairy God Mother fashion, I facilitate a space for memories to be made.
However, in saying this, I have recently noticed an annoying trend in weddings where the primary concern is less about the genuine experiences shared on that special day and instead adapting a focus that is more in favor of manipulating virtual perceptions about that day. A new wedding service exsists where people actually hire a Content Creator whose sole job is to snap infomal and real time pictures and videos throughout the entirety of the day for the sole purpose of creating social media posts, reels, Tweets and Snaps.
You can’t make this stuff up.
If you want to know where the priorities of modern couples are just ask Google. For instance, #instawedding has more than 12 million posts while #marriagevows is limping in at a measley 59k.I am ultimately being asked to manipulate a space for impressions to be made.
Clearly, there is a shift occuring and it appears to assign more merit to outside validation from strangers rather than to encourage the construction of a solid foundation with your partner.
Could marriages actually be failing at higher rates than ever before because we are assigning more value to what we click and share with our followers than what we actually submit and share with our own spouse? Are we swapping practicality for Pinterest and trading in “I’ve got your back” for SnapChat? God forbid, we trade fidelity for Facebook.
But alas, in the unlikelist of places I found a glimmer of hope.
Earlier this month, my faith in mankind was ultimately restored and I was momentarily relieved of the sting of superficiality when I was privileged to officiate a wedding ceremony at Butner Medium II-A Medium Security Federal Prison located in Butner, North Carolina. Fun fact: Butner Medium II actually has some relative notoriety considering it has housed Billionaire Scam Artist- Bernie Madoff, well until he died in 2021. Cue the Rainbow and the scroll “The more you know.”
So, you may be wondering,how exactly does one get hired to wed an inmate and his civilian fiancee?
Let’s go back a few months.
I remember exactly where I was when I received
Natalie’s initial call during my lunch break while sitting at my desk at my day job. Where it gets murky is precisely how she told me that the wedding would be taking place in a prison. The only two things I am sure of is that she did not immediately come out and say that (For which I do not blame her) and that I made a concerted effort not to sound suprised because I felt in my soul that she needed someone not to be aghast about this.
Turns out I was right. Natalie said that she had encountered several “No’s” before calling me and one “Yes” that was trying to grease her for nearly a thousand dollars to officiate the fifteen minute ceremony. I knew then I was gong agree to sanction this marriage as I have a bleeding heart for people that others attempt to mistreat, abuse or disgard.
Something that is stil unclear to me is just how in the world my bride: Natalie even found me? Natalie lives in Washington D.C. and I live on the coast of North Carolina near Black Beard’s stomping grounds, Butner is located in central North Carolina. To be sure, my website’s SEO prowess is NOT that superior! I doubt it.
I think I will just chalk that one up to fate.
Natalie and I hit it off on the phone immediately. I told her I was going to make her day happen and while releived I could still hear some apprehension in her voice because we still had hurdles in front of us in the form of obtaining clearance from the Department of Corrections. I basically had to submit a admissions request, allotting clearance to the prison to check out my Criminal Background HIstory and then supplying them with my license making me legal to officiate this wedding.
Meanwhile, I was emailing the chaplain and trying to wrap my mind around what officiating a wedding in a medium security prison was going to look like. The prison was literally playing hard to get as if we were a part of some trashy, binge-worthy Netflix dating show where Butner Medium II assumed the role of coy temptress and I was cast as the poor sucker who remained in an endearingly, blind and fruitless pursuit.
The Chaplain would only tell us that the marriage may or may not take place in April and that it may or may not happen on a weekday. Great. Thanks.
As with all clients, Natalie was emailed a officiant question list that aids me in getting to know my clients and then acts as my proverbial muse to build my script. Their story was very Nicholas Sparks-esque minus the came of the prison.
Natalie and Daquan met as little children. When he was in the 4th grade and she was in the 3rd grade, he declared boldly that she was going to be his wife. Like in any good Rom-Com she first had to friend-zone him for several decades and then only realizing after going their sepatere ways that perhaps she had underestimated my guy. In those years both of them were in different relationships and producing kids of their own, careers of their own and falling under the mercy of choices made on their own.
In an unlikely twist of fate, Natalie would not reconnect with Daquan until after he was subsequently stripped of his identity and often referred to as a series of identifying numbers symbolic of his road to repentance. How humbling. Whats more, when he would later ask Natalie to marry him, Daquan had nothing to give her but his heart and with little contemplation she conceded that NOW was the time for her to prove that she possessed the grit of a real wife.
In her responses, Natalie stated that this broken road that God had taken each of them down wasn’t actually broken at all but rather it was a test of fortitude to prepare them both for whom He intended them to marry. She had but one request for the script. She asked me to read Proverbs 18 v. 22 that states “He who findeth a wife, findeth a good thing and obtaineth the favor of the Lord.”
Natalie and I jointly received an email stating that not only was I approved to sanction the marriage beyond the barbed wired walls of Butner Medium II but that the date was set. I was going to keep my word to her afterall, and I was absolutely floored. I wrote the script in four drafts in the span of one night. I never slept the entire night. I’m maniac like that and this was just too important. The words I wrote was all they had and I wasn’t about to let them down. When she received the draft that I would finally entitle “Final” Natalie said she cried. I was satisfied.
I drove two and half hours to Butner Medium II on an unusually hot day in April. Natalie drove over twice as long. Daquan paced nervously, having for the first time in a long time something to look forward to, someone to be accountable to, and he was going to particpate in something that for a moment made him feel free. Sayng I do, to his Natalie, reminded him for the first time in a long time that he did have a say in the direction of his life. He wouldn’t always be the property of the Department of Justice. In fact, after today the Biblical order of things went as such: He was to answer to God, his wife and then to his newly minted stepsons that awaited his influence and example.
There are no clocks to comisserate over in prison so time ticked by in an oppressive fashion where mere minutes felt like decades. She had assured him that she was doing this but in the confines of seperateness and in a place built to hold you captive, he could not help but wonder, “what if she changed her mind.”
But Natalie did not change her mind. On the difficult salary of a single mother, with one of those children having disabilities, Natalie did not have the luxury of obtaining accomodations or had she ascertained expensive child care the day before. Instead she endured the entirety of the drive from D.C. to central North Carolina and then STILL had to obtain the marriage license before she could even subject herself to the strip search affording her access to the prison where her groom awaited. In true bride fashion, Natalie was running extremely late.
I waited in the lobby staring at the wall since they made me leave my phone in the car. I had panicked about the rules that I read online so I didn’t dare attempt to bring in full sheets of paper containing the wedding script m, instead it was printed on tiny ripped out sheets that fit in the palm of my hand. In hindsight, I have no rationale why I thought that was a better idea than just asking for permission to bring in a normal size script. My vision was definitly tested on this day.
The guest bathroom at Butner smelled like rotting carcass but the building itself was large, white and imposing,yet really impressively clean. I only got butterflies when I pulled in the parking lot. What struck me the most was how extraordinarily kind all of the employees were especially the chaplain who looked like he was some kind of action star on a hit TV series like the Walking Dead. He was just so singularly attractive and overtly positive. I thought to myself, “Some venues I have frequented, could really learn a lesson in hospitality from the staff at Butner Medium II.” That made me chuckle.
Natalie arrived in a flurry. We had a series of miscommunications that resulted in us both going back and forth to our vehicles in the sweltering heat. By the time we bypassed the metal detectors we were two hours behind our scheduled time. My mind immediately went to Daquan. He was probably sweating bullets thinking that he would have to make that walk of shame back to his cell block after announcing for the second time in his life that he was marrying Natalie.
The second chaplain of the day, a man who replaced the action hero chaplain, after a shift change, escorted Natalie and I through a series of doors by opening each of them with this giant key ring that I jested “must be a key to the city.” When we went to the final door a female officer welcomed us and I immeditely noticed a man sitting queitly in prayer. When he whispered just loud enough for us to hear “My GOOOOOOOD”I knew that was our guy and that was his breath being taken away by his blushing bride.
So, Why did this marriage held in a prison restore my faith in mankind?
Natalie and Daquan did not have the luxury of
being surrounded by friends and family. Prodded by the kind reccommendation of the female CO, my couple, myself and another inmate that lauded a camera, and who was unceremoniously appointed our psuedo-camera man, went to the corner of the open room standing in front of some hanging cloth as a means to elicit something beautiful. In its own way our backdrop was beautiful, while it’s was certainly not a fancy champagne wall or some blinking neon sign brandishng their soon-to-be shared last name, it was by far the most attractive thing in the entire room and we jumped when it was suggested that it serve as our ceremonial backdrop.
Natalie did not rock nervously at our make-shift altar in an exspesive gown, and there was no DJ to hype a crowd up after announcing that they were joined as mutual partners in love and respect. It was just a man with empty hands and a women with an open heart avowing to build a life together.
Even the pictures that accompany this post are pictures of pictures. I guess the prison actually developed the pictures that the fellow inmate took of the wedding and of us, and then Daquan mailed them to Natalie who snapped a pic of them for me and here they are making their way to you.
So in circling back to my earlier sentiments, please don’t get me wrong: a couple doesn’t lose clout in my book because they want the bells and whistles on their wedding day. I am afterall a bells and whistle kinda girl. I just would argue that when most couple’s state that infamous phrase “through good times and bad and through sickness and through health” they are doing so during a pretty polished, good time. For the majority of them they stand across from a person that is not only the epitome of health but who is dressed to impress and who has never looked better.
Anyone who has survived hard times can attest that It is easy to make promises when thing are playing out like a Disney movie. It takes character to make and follow declarations when the bottom is but inches away.
Let’s be real! It is even easy to say I do to a man in tailored suit or a woman in an elegant gown but Natalie and Daquan werent dressed by Kleinfeld.
Daquan was dressed by the State of North Carolina and Natalie had to be conscious of a dress code that rivalled the restrictions of most religious private schools!
But there they were and here they are. So, Against the advice of some of their loved ones and now at the complete mercy of your faceless ridicule, these two had no chance of manipulating perceptions and no desire to either. Marriage was not for show but for life.
To my knowledge, there exists no filter to beautify the prison walls featured in our pictures.
This is real. This is truth. This is human falliability, forgiveness and this is marriage.Natalie was allotted ten minutes to spend with her husband after the ceremony. This after all that driving and headache and hustle. She never once complained.
In the end, anyone privy to these pictures can see from his uniform that Daqquan is a man with a past. He is a man who has made mistakes and whose mistakes have cost him his freedom.
But the heart of a marriage ceremony just so happens to be the heart of any good marriage.
And The heart of a marriage is adopting that “no matter what mindset.”
From the time of proposal Natalie was going to marry Daquan no matter what. THAT was HER man, and just like he had promised when he was but a boy in elementary school, Daquan decided that Natalie, his Natalie, was going to be his wife.
And so she is.
Thank you Natalie and Daquan for being brave enough to live your truths. Thank you for teaching us to live in the moment and for showing us all what at the heart of a marriage.
I pray you never lose that “no matter what” mind set.