Gretchen Schuldt

Trip Down the Aisle Is Very Lo-o-o-ng

Fox Lake inmate has tried for nearly a year to get prison officials to approve his marriage.

By , Wisconsin Justice Initiative - Jan 22nd, 2019 12:25 pm
Victoriano Heredia and Wendy Sisavath.

Victoriano Heredia and Wendy Sisavath.

All they want to do is get married, but those wedding bells have been tough to come by.

Wendy Sisavath and Victoriano Heredia, an inmate at Wisconsin’s Fox Lake Correctional Institution. have been trying for almost a year to get someone at the prison to get involved so they  can do what they need to get down the aisle and exchange vows.

No luck.

They filed the original paperwork in February or March of last year and are no closer to the altar than they were then.

“We are banging our heads against the wall,” Sisavath said.

DOC spokesman Tristan Cook said in a November email that the agency was actively reviewing the wedding request.

‘”Inmate Heredia’s social worker is working with him,” Cook wrote. Cook has since left his job.

DOC did not respond to a follow-up email sent Friday.

Heredia got a new social worker in November, his third since June. This latest social worker, Sisavath said, insisted “‘I don’t do the marriage thing. It goes through the chaplain.'”

Getting hitched in prison is way more complicated than getting married on the outside; the Department of Corrections‘ inmate marriage policy is five pages long. Among other things, it  requires extensive counseling for every couple. Officials at the prison must approve the counselor.

Sisavath said she and Heredia first were told they would have to undergo six months of marriage counseling. Then, because Heredia is a lifer, prison officials changed the requirement to 12 months.

Heredia is required to have $2,000 on hand to cover counseling costs, including the cost of guards at the counseling sessions, even though the area is guarded anyway. That $2,000 is a problem in itself. Heredia doesn’t have it in his available prison account, and if Sisavath were to give it to him, she would be unable to get it back if something happened and the marriage did not come off. Inmates are not allowed to send money from their accounts out of the institution.

The real challenge, though, has been finding a prison-approved minister to do the counseling. A  Lutheran minister who volunteers at Fox Lake offered to do the counseling at no charge, Sisavath said.

Problem solved.

But wait. Of course it wasn’t.

The prison rejected the minister because he was a volunteer at the prison. The prison said he was a security risk, Sisavath said. (Prison employees are not allowed to provide marriage counseling.) That’s what the minister told the couple – the prison never told them anything, Sisavath said.

They want to know right away if the next counselor they choose is acceptable to prison administrators. But they need someone at the prison to step up, and that hasn’t happened.

Sisavath understands why the prison has a marriage policy.

“There has to be a policy,” she said. “Otherwise people will be getting married for all the wrong reasons.”

Still, she said, recidivism is lower among married inmates.

“It’s our right to get married,” she said.

Gretchen Schuldt writes a blog for Wisconsin Justice Initiative, whose mission is “To improve the quality of justice in Wisconsin by educating the public about legal issues and encouraging civic engagement in and debate about the judicial system and its operation.

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