My body was shaking. I couldn’t tell if it was nerves, or the cool late April air filling the van. I rolled over towards the driver seat to see my sister sleeping well. I didn’t want to disturb her. She was doing so much already.
I wasn’t nervous to marry Jacob. I was nervous that I wouldn’t get to marry him.
At Attica Correctional it always seemed that the guards did all they could to deter visitors from coming. Their shallow mentality was that we were no better than the “animals” they caged. Their disrespect and mistreatment didn’t stop with the prisoners, but rippled out to us who dared love them.
Morning came quickly. The bus from New York City pulled up to the gate, indicating that the facility van was soon to follow. My sister was now awake and I began to prepare her for what was ahead.
As the van pulled up, we jumped out to stand in front of our vehicle.
“Regular visit or wedding?” the driver asked.
“Both, I am wedding and she is regular,” I said as I pointed to my sister.
I received number one, and Cassie would be called as number two for regular visits. She, along with my mother in law, Liz, would be our witnesses. Only three visitors were allowed at a table with each prisoner. The boys and I would be maximum for our table. Cassie and Liz would sit with one of Jacob’s dearest friends. I was excited for Cassie to meet him and hear his incredible story.
We boarded the van as soon as we were given our numbers. We waited as the driver finished handing them out. The van filled quickly with women in curlers and pajamas, wanting to be the first in the bathroom to use the mirrors for their hair and makeup.
Once unloaded at the visitor center, we made our way inside. There was a rush to the counter to get visitor passes. Each pass corresponded with the number we had previously been given in the parking lot. We filled in the name of the prisoner we were visiting, their DIN number (or state name), as well as our name, address, and signature. With Liz still not there, my sister filled in as much as she could.
The civilian working behind the desk was notorious for being rude and showing her power in incredulous ways. I was always sure to be kind and respectful. She joyfully disclosed that her time on staff was coming to an end, making her final days even more difficult than before.
“Wedding people, you have until 8:30 to be back in this visiting center, or you won’t be getting married today” she said.
Looking at the clock and then to my sister, we dashed out the door to catch the van back to the parking lot. I would have about a half hour to prepare for my wedding.
I was highly favored to be able to drive down the road two minutes to a dear friends house. She was also a wife of a prisoner, and previously married inside Attica’s walls. She knew exactly what I was enduring. She kindly opened her home to myself, my boys, my sisters, and my aunt to help me get ready and share in that experience. Her hospitality was enormous, even offering breakfast.
I tried to not get anxious about the small amount of time I had to get dressed. We were as efficient as possible, getting my hair and makeup done at the same time. My sisters helped get the boys dressed and ready, while I finished the last-minute touches, including the special jewelry Jacob had a fellow prisoner make specifically for the occasion.
I made sure to stop and take a few pictures with my amazing family, before racing back to the facility.
We would have to be careful driving back, the Attica police were notorious for setting up speed traps every weekend just outside the prison. It was nearly 8:30. We parked once again in the lot we had spent the night in .We waited eagerly for the van to pick us back up. It was the only way to get back there. The gunners in the watch towers would shoot any “trespasser” who tried to walk or drive in themselves.
I looked around the people mingling in the parking lot as they waited their turn for processing. I was looking for my mother in law. I did not see her. I hoped she was in the visitor center.
The van finally made its way to pick us up. The visitor center was now crowded with several women waiting to get married, their children and witnesses, all the people from the NYC bus, and regular visitors who had driven themselves.
I immediately began to look for Jacobs mom, as well as his best friend, Antonio, who had come from NYC, to take part in our special day. They both were coming from the hotel where we all celebrated the night before. Antonio was once behind the walls with my husband. After twenty-two years of wrongful incarceration he was exonerated with DNA evidence. This was his first time back. He was exceptionally calm and brave to be facing that place, but now as a free man. It meant a lot that he was doing that in solidarity and love for us.
I located them towards the back of the center. Antonio, who arrived after the bus, had a high visit number. He wouldn’t be processed for hours.
I went over towards the front of the center to wait for our call. I kept looking in my hands to be sure I had all I would need; the ring, the receipt to prove it was $150 or less, my driver’s license, the boys birth certificates, the money for the justice of the peace, the money for our vending machine lunch, and money for pictures. Now, it was hurry up and wait. And wait we did, for at least an hour.
My nerves began to creep up as the clock approached 9:30. Our paperwork specified that all those getting married should be in the visiting room by 10:00, and ceremonies would begin promptly.
Finally the first call for processing came, for regular visits. I was slightly frustrated and anxious to make it to my husband, and regular visits were getting precedence.
“1, 2, 3, 4, 5, regular visits only,” called the woman at the desk. She held the visitor passes that we’d previously completed in her hands. I gave my sister instruction, to grab the ticket and make her way to the van, which would then drive them to the facility entrance for further processing.
It wouldn’t be that simple. As my sister reached for the pass, the agitated woman said, “This isn’t all the way filled out. Who didn’t sign it?” Liz explained that she wasn’t there when it was filled out, but she is here now, and can sign it.
“No, you’ll go to the end of the line.”
The end of the line was nearly in to the hundreds at this point. That would mean they would be processed by noon, if they were lucky.
Liz calmly and reasonably negotiated, apologizing for the inconvenience, and asked for mercy, which fell on a hardened heart and deaf ears. She refused. I stepped in, begging, explaining that I was getting married today and these were our witnesses. I began to exclaim that my sister and I had slept in the parking lot since a little after midnight. She wasn’t moved. The other visitors began to get agitated that the van was being held up.
I walked away to grab Antonio for further intervention. His intervention was to calm me down, and pray with and for me. Before I knew it, I heard “Thank you, God bless you,” coming from my mother in law. My two witnesses glimpsed back at me, Liz with a look of reassurance, and my sister with a mix of sadness and anger. She couldn’t believe the incident that just occurred.
I thanked God, and came back to a spirit of peace, understanding that the enemy was only trying to steal my joy and rob me of the tremendous blessing of marriage. I prayed earnestly for years for my husband. In Jacob, God had given me more than I asked or imagined, which is why I call him my Ephesians 3:20. Our union was drawing near, and the enemy was working harder.
Finally, “1, 2, 3, weddings only.”
That was me. Almost there. I grabbed the boys and loaded the van.
I stood waiting to be called for processing with another woman about to get married. She was waiting for a call from the Sergeant to see if they were going to allow her visit. She had three children with her, which would put them over maximum capacity at the table. The only exception was if the youngest child was under one, they could be considered a “lap child.” Her youngest was less than a month over one year old. I prayed with her, and asked the Lord to move in her favor.
“Rouse” the guard at the desk called. It was my turn.
“Stand against the wall and look at the blue dot” the officer commanded, “no smiling.” They were taking my photo to send through their data base, making sure I had no outstanding warrants. Once I was cleared there I would make my way to the metal detector.
“Shoes and anything with metal in the tray,” said the officer who began sifting through my belongings.
“Once inside you’ll stop at the package room and drop off the ring and receipt.”
After getting our hands stamped we made our way through the heavy steel doors. I took one glance back to the woman waiting with her children, encouraging her to keep the faith. I hoped with all hope I would soon see her inside.
The package room was right outside the visiting room. I had stopped there many times picking up packages my husband sent home with me. I rang the bell once. The guard behind the window took the ring, and reviewed the receipt.
“You can’t have this ring, it is more than $100” he said.
“My paperwork says anything up to $150” I rebutted.
“I don’t think so, but I will inquire” he said as he began to close the window. “Take your pass and go to the visiting room.”
Feeling nearly defeated I turned and walked to the visiting room. I handed my pass to the guard at the desk who would assign us a table. My sister and Liz were already seated. My sister, looking at my face looked back at me with the same frustration and pain she could see all over me. The morning had been so trying.
A day that was to be filled with joy had so far been filled with trial and tribulation. I felt so discouraged.
I walked over to where they sat, even though I could be terminated for “cross-visiting” and explained how I may not be able to give my husband the ring I had bought him. Ready to cry, I walked over and sat down at our assigned table waiting for my groom.
Every time I heard the familiar clicking of the prisoner door, I turned to see if it was opening for me. A few clicks later, the most beautiful man God ever created stepped out from behind the short wall. His immediate smile melted every frustration away. HE was why I was there. His love made it worth it all. I didn’t care if there was no ring. I didn’t care that I was in a prison visiting room about to get married.
Dressed in a white, perfectly ironed shirt, he wrapped his strong arms around me. I looked in his big brown eyes, reminding myself that in mere moments I would legally call him Husband.
This was the man God made specifically for me to love for all of eternity. No matter what the morning circumstances were, I remembered my high favor.