man behind bars putting ring on bride's fingerWho would want to marry a prisoner? Apparently a lot of people one minister in the Universal Life Church has found a surprisingly stable market in prison weddings. Cindy Richardson, a notary public who decided to get ordained online, has since made it her career to bring together loved ones despite the bars that may, quite literally, keep them apart.

For nearly two years, Richardson has been performing inmate weddings she even drives a van that says "Jailhouse Weddings" on it. When her son, Josh, was sent to jail, Richardson decided it would be easier to match him up, and create a more intimate and meaningful experience, if she became ordained in the ULC. Eventually she married Josh to Amanda Eddlemon, who became ordained as a minister herself and now performs most of the inmate weddings. Meanwhile, Richardson has focussed her efforts on obtaining notarized proof of ID required to issue a legal marriage license to individuals, such as inmates, who cannot be present at the county clerk's office.

Richardson describes the motive behind prisoners wanting to get married as a desire for a heartfelt affirmation of love and commitment, despite the prisoner's status. Usually it happens once an individual has been sentenced to jail time, she notes, and this is largely based on a sense of insecurity. Prisoners, she explains, are often uncertain of the loyalty of their romantic partners, and "tying the knot" in prison serves as surety against a partner's abandonment. "Guys [all of the inmates have been male thus far] get the whole insecurity thing going on", says Richardson. "Girlfriends or fiancées want to reassure them, 'I'll be here for you'". If a person is willing to marry a lover even if that lover is sequestered away in a cell, it suggests a level of commitment which the inmate can rely on.

Inmates also get additional visitation rights if they are proven to be legally married according to the laws of their state or other jurisdiction. Richardson describes how they are allowed a surprisingly substantial amount of visitation time with individuals to whom they have been. "When you're married, you can have family visits. You go in on a Friday and come out on Sunday." Whether or not these scheduled visitation times give couples the opportunity to consummate their love remains unclear, however.

Of course, Richardson and Eddlemon's wedding business doesn't hinge entirely on what the man wants. As Eddlemon explains, she designs her ceremonies to reflect the expectation that the inmate will take his new duties as husband seriously, regardless of his status as a prisoner. During the exchange of wedding vows, which are often written by the bride and groom themselves, she asks the groom, "Do you take her to be your wife through freedom and incarceration [sic]?" For Eddlemon, this is meant to encourage an expression of sincere devotion and solemn respect for the sacrament of holy matrimony. ""I get straight to the point", she says, adding, "I tell the guy you owe them big time when you get home. They're giving up everything to stand by your side." In this sense, at least, jail weddings reflect a particularly strong sense of commitment.

Richardson and Eddlemon's jail weddings are just one of myriad offbeat, quirky, or otherwise unconventional types of modern wedding ceremony officiated by ministers ordained in online churches. Often, it is these clergy-members who are the first to extend their services to couples who want their special day to be presided over by somebody who understands them, or who expresses sympathy for the shunned and under-privileged of society. Share your stories with us. As a minister ordained online, have you ever officiated at a prison wedding, or some other wedding, funeral, or baptism which others were unwilling to handle because it fell outside acceptable or conventional social norms in some sense?


The Riverside Press-Enterprise


  1. Hannah G Potter's Avatar Hannah G Potter

    Hello, I am a wedding officiant as well. So far, I have done 3 wedding within a jail- and approx 20 weddings in other types of locations. I was wondering what you would suggest to be the best way of advertising wedding officiant services to inmates, aside from word of mouth?

    Thanks, Hannah

    1. Cassandra L Dixon's Avatar Cassandra L Dixon

      Hi my son wants get married do you married them in meridian Ms

      1. Hannah G Potter's Avatar Hannah G Potter

        Hi Cassandra,

        You can reach me via email as well as Text/Calling my phone- The number is (973) 970-8438. I look forward to meeting you and potentially working together to put the ceremony together for your son- Talk to you soon!
  1. Ryan's Avatar Ryan

    No bars can stop a true love. Why questioned someone to why marry a prisoner? Prisoners are still human. This one definition of a true love. You don't marry for their background, you marry them because you love them no matter he's/shes's a prisoner or not.

  1. Samantha lesieur's Avatar Samantha lesieur

    Hi how could i go about starting up a business to marry prisoners ive always been interested in this but never know where to begin

  1. Wendy Wortham's Avatar Wendy Wortham

    I became an Officiant years ago and for two years now my business has shifted to almost entirely inmate weddings. I've never advertised. The most important aspect of an inmate wedding is to strictly adhere to policy and procedure. Unlike a traditional ceremony, the process is remarkably different. In response to the question of how to advertise other than word of mouth, the best advertising for inmate weddings is word of mouth. This is a very tight knit community that direct marketing (most likely) won't reach.

    1. Jennifer Ybarra's Avatar Jennifer Ybarra

      Hi I just became ordained, and would like to officiate weddings for inmates how do I get started? If you can please help to guide me in what needs to be done I’d truly appreciate it.

  1. Courtney McClain's Avatar Courtney McClain

    I am doing this specifically for prison weddings in Ohio. Any extra insight on how to get started/rules etc would be appreciated.

  1. Erica Davenport's Avatar Erica Davenport

    I live in Nashviile Tennessee and my fiancée is incarcerated in Davidson County jail. I need someone to marry us. Could someone help.

  1. Crystal Ratliff's Avatar Crystal Ratliff

    My name is Crystal and I'm trying to find a Pastor (someone) to perform my little jail wedding ceremony. It will only be my husband and I (he's behind glass we're only allowed to hold hands), my Aunt whose our witness and the Lt whom I've been in contact with through this whole process. Her name is Lt Jarvis once I have someone to officially perform the ceremony I will give them her information. That way everything can officially be setup. We've already been approved for a date (7/25/23). This datw has so much meaning for us. Location is Henrico County Jail East. Someone please help me. I'm waiting on emails and call backs. Only one person has returned the call. IDK what to do. Or really even where to look. The Lt gave me 2 numbers to Pastor's she knows who do jail wedding ceremonies. The one number didn't go thru. The other person doesn't do much traveling, he's the one who returned my call. Even if you don't know a Pastor or what have you maybe you can point me in the right direction.

    Please & Thank You, Crystal Ratliff

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