If you think relationships are tough in the free world, you don’t want to know what it’s like when you are in prison. Incarceration takes a huge toll on your relationships – not just those with spouses, girlfriends, and boyfriends, but also with family and friends.
Your life is essentially on pause when you are behind bars, but the outside world keeps going on without you. All of your communication with your loved ones is monitored, so there is zero privacy or real intimacy when you are locked up. And, having a true connection with someone is extremely difficult.
That’s not to say that you can’t develop friendships or romances with other inmates or maintain your relationships with those on the outside, but there is just a whole new set of issues when you are in prison.
I was single when I went to prison, and I never had a girlfriend while locked up. But, I was one of the few. Most women had spouses or significant others back at home or entered into a romantic relationship with another inmate.
There were also inmates who started a relationship with someone on the outside while they were in prison, so this leads us to the question: Can you marry in prison?
In this blog post I will talk about:
According to FindLaw, in the 1987 case Turner v. Safley, the, “High Court determined that a regulation that prevented inmates from marrying without the permission of the warden violated those inmates’ fundamental rights to marry. Following that case, prisons have allowed inmates to marry — even Charles Manson was able to obtain a marriage license.”
Now that same-sex marriage is legal in every state, inmates incarcerated at the same facility can marry each other, but they have to go through a process and meet certain requirements.
The Federal Bureau of Prisons has the following policy for inmates incarcerated in a federal prison:
“The Warden shall approve an inmate’s request to marry except where a legal restriction to the marriage exists, or where the proposed marriage presents a threat to the security or good order of the institution, or to the protection of the public.
The Warden may approve the use of institution facilities for an inmate’s marriage ceremony. If a marriage ceremony poses a threat to the security or good order of the institution, the Warden may disapprove a marriage ceremony in the institution.”
Inmates who are incarcerated at different facilities can’t marry each other because the two prisons are not going to accommodate a wedding ceremony. Instead, they will have to wait until at least one of them has been released.
In state facilities, the rules do vary from prison to prison. But, in general, they are similar to the rules set forth by the BOP.
You can’t help who you fall in love with, but it does seem odd for someone who lives in the free world to want to marry an inmate. It is highly discouraged because the divorce rate is alarmingly high – near 85 percent – and the situation is incredibly difficult.
A person who is incarcerated can’t contribute to a marriage like someone in the free world. They can’t make money, pick up the kids from school, help pay the bills, or take you out for a date night.
I honestly can’t answer why someone would marry an inmate, but it does happen. However, it only benefits the person who is incarcerated because they have someone to send them money and to correspond with. But, there are literally zero benefits for the person on the outside.
A person in the free world who is married to a prisoner is essentially single, but married at the same time. You are living life on your own because of the forced separation, and the incarcerated spouse can’t contribute anything to the relationship.
Some people believe they have found love with someone who is incarcerated, and they go through the tedious process of making the relationship legal.
To put together a wedding in prison, the person in the free world has to work with the prison’s Family Visiting Coordinator. This person is the main contact for arranging the wedding once permission has been received from the warden to marry the prisoner.
Then, the inmate and their future spouse has to choose an officiant. This is usually the prison chaplain, but it doesn’t have to be. The prison can give a list of approved pastors to choose from.
There also has to be a witness for the wedding, and this will be someone who comes from the outside who is on the inmate’s approved visitor list. There is also the option of using an inmate who works in the visiting room as a witness.
Just like a wedding in the free world, an inmate and their fiance must have a marriage license, which has to be obtained by the person who isn’t incarcerated.
Each prison has its own rules when it comes to marriage. So, it is best to talk with the chaplain or the warden to find out what their specific rules are.
Once the wedding takes place, the inmate and their spouse are usually allowed a short visit and a kiss, and then they must part ways. Contrary to popular belief, conjugal visits are extremely rare, even if an inmate did just tie the knot.
After the ceremony, the marriage is legal, but the spouse doesn’t get any special visiting privileges or correspondence. The inmate goes back to being locked up, and the spouse has to go home alone.
Why do you think some people marry inmates? Let us know in the comments below.
Sources: Marriages of Inmates https://www.bop.gov/policy/progstat/5326_005.pdf Can you get married in jail/prison? https://blogs.findlaw.com/blotter/2014/11/can-you-get-married-in-jail-prison.html
Natalie earned her Bachelors degree in Journalism from the University of Kansas, and has worked in television and radio during her career. When she was a 19-year-old sophomore at KU, she got her first on-air job as a sports reporter for a CBS-TV affiliate. In 2013, she was sentenced to 30 years in prison for the possession and production of marijuana. She was released in 2017. We've kept her last name off of our website so that she does not experience any professional hardship for her contributions.
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