On October 23, 2017 I married the love of my life. Keith Giammanco and I traveled a long road to get to that point, but not because either one of us had hesitations. The instant we met, nearly six years ago, our hearts knew we had found our soulmates. Our love is simple and undeniable, but our love story is complicated by prison.
We met while I taught inside the South Central Correctional Center in a small southern Missouri town. If we had our choice, we would have met somewhere else, but no one can rewrite fate. Where we met has given our relationship obstacles to overcome. A five-year visiting ban since I left the prison system is one of those obstacles. Because I worked for the Department of Corrections, Keith and I are considered a “safety and security threat” to the prison system. We never had physical contact, nor did we exchange notes or contraband. I never did favors for Keith. Our love alone is enough to threaten the ominous prison complex.
October 23 wasn’t a date we chose. Each prison provides two dates a year for marriages, and each prison has different dates. It is a drawn-out process for couples who want to wed. The visiting ban created stumbling blocks. Nevertheless, while we couldn’t choose our wedding date, October 23 already held strong emotional ties for both of us. The last time Keith and I saw each other was on October 23…of 2013. A date tinged by sadness now holds a joyous place in our hearts.
Since we were a safety and security threat, my marriage to Keith nearly took an act of Congress to happen. Our first request was denied. I knew we, by policy, were able to get married, but I had to turn to state legislators for help. We spent over a year working on approval. Finally, I received word from the DOC headquarters in Jefferson City that we could have a thirty-minute ceremony. Thirty minutes wasn’t long, but we were determined to make it the best thirty minutes of our lives.
Three days before our wedding date, our pastor was told the ceremony could only be fifteen minutes long. We were crushed for a few moments, and then Keith told me, “We were going to have the best thirty minutes of our life. Now we are going to have the best fifteen minutes.” I love his optimism.
On the day of our wedding, because we were a “threat,” two extra officers were sent to the visiting room where we were married. Once they saw our loving family, officers were overheard saying, “Why were we sent up here for this? There isn’t any threat.” Love, even inside a prison, is undeniable to recognize.
Once Keith and I saw each other, everything else melted away. We were unaware of everyone else in the room. It didn’t even matter anymore that we were in a prison. We were together and pledging our wedding vows. We only saw our pastor (who drove three hours to perform the ceremony for me), Keith’s two beautiful daughters, and each other.
So powerful was our devotion that the lieutenant on duty, without our asking, interceded. He asked the prison chaplain if we could please take a few photographs. Bystanders were so moved by our ceremony that they wanted to do something nice for us. The chaplain refused. The lieutenant shook his head and looked at the floor, visibly affected by the cruelty of denying us a wedding photo.
Keith and I had fifteen minutes…900 seconds… together, but we are married and grateful for our union that was sealed before God. They may have passed quickly, but we soaked in every one of those 900 seconds. Love wins.