Half-incarcerated couple holds unauthorized wedding in Central Florida prison
A former inmate and her convicted fiancé in a federal prison exchanged vows Sunday night at an unauthorized wedding over a phone call, pushing their plans forward one day over concerns that the Justice Department might try to interfere.
On Sunday, Chrissy Shorter and Noel Arnold exchanged vows over a phone call. They had previously planned their unauthorized phone wedding for Monday, but decided to marry the day before out of fear that officials at Coleman Federal Correctional Institution would thwart their ceremony by denying Arnold’s phone privileges.
Chrissy Schurter, 43, and Noel Arnold, 45, rescheduled their party after a news article about their plans was published. Shorter said she had hoped to avoid the US Bureau of Prisons getting involved in case he tried to stop the marriage or take revenge. Arnold is serving a prison sentence for armed robbery in Georgia until September 2027 at Coleman, a low-security prison in Sumterville about 50 miles west of Orlando.
Shorter and Arnold spent more than seven months — including filing a federal lawsuit still pending — trying to force Coleman’s warden, Cathy Lange, and the unit’s manager, R. Jimenez, to allow a personal party. Their marriage proposal was denied, and questions about why were largely unanswered.
Shorter, who served time in federal prison for owning and operating a fraudulent tax services company, said she believes the sheriff turned down the couple’s request because she is a transgender and a former inmate.
Aside from marriage proposals, Shorter is also denied visitation privileges. Therefore, instead of waiting for approval that never risked arriving, the couple sought a loophole in the form of an unapproved ceremony.
On Sunday, Arnold called Shorter at 6 p.m., and they’ve spoken on the phone either every morning or every night — some days both — since Shorter’s release from the Federal Correctional Institution in Miami, where they met on February 14, 2019.
“Hello, my dear!” Aksir replied excitedly when she heard her fiancé. The sharp rise in her voice caused her to smile away. “are you ready?” She asked.
This was followed by a five-minute party. Shorter than rehearsed and time for the ceremony to be less than 10 minutes, which is the maximum amount of time Coleman guests are allowed for each prepaid call.
Shorter’s sister, Teresa Williams, presided over the wedding. Florida is one of three states where an authorized notary such as Williams can perform marriage ceremonies. Williams said she recognized Arnold’s voice. She and two other witnesses physically accompanied Shorter in Midway, 14 miles east of Tallahassee, while listening to Arnold over a megaphone.
Parts of the ceremony were symbolic: the exchange of rings, the kiss. Shorter and Arnold couldn’t do either because Arnold was in prison 225 miles away.
“And now, by the power bestowed upon me by the State of Florida, I have the honor and pleasure to announce that you are married,” Williams said. “Go ahead and live each day to the fullest, you can seal this declaration with a kiss.”
“Mwah, honey!” bloomed shorter.
Shorter said she spoke early Monday to Arnold, who said he has not yet faced disciplinary action over the unauthorized wedding. Shorter received a marriage certificate from the Lake County Circuit Court and said she would send a copy to Arnold with his ring.
Shorter said her next step would be to confirm that the Bureau of Prisons considers her marriage legal. She plans to file an application with the US District Court asking a judge to declare the marriage legal and grant her visitation rights, as it is now Arnold’s immediate family.
“I’m a fighter,” Shorter said. “I’m his wife. And there’s nothing anyone can do about it. It’s been a journey, and people shouldn’t go through what we’ve been through. But love conquers all.”
__This story is produced by Fresh Take Florida, a news service affiliated with the University of Florida’s School of Journalism and Communication. The reporter can be reached at [email protected]