A former inmate wants to marry a current inmate in Florida. Arnold is incarcerated at Coleman Federal Correctional Facility, a low-security prison in Sumterville about 50 miles west of Orlando.
Chrissy Shorter wants to get married. Monday, she thinks she will finally do it. But she won’t be able to kiss her fiance as he becomes her husband, and she won’t see him in a suit and tie. Shorter will only be able to hear his voice, along with the occasional automated message: “THIS CALL IS FROM A FEDERAL JAIL.”
Shorter, 43, has been trying to marry Noel Arnold, 45, for seven months now. Arnold is incarcerated at Coleman Federal Correctional Facility, a low-security prison in Sumterville about 50 miles west of Orlando. Shorter is a former federal inmate herself. She said her criminal record, reputation in the prison system and identity as a transgender woman led the prison director, Kathy Lang, to deny her marriage proposal and revoke her visitation rights. As a last ditch effort to get married, Shorter and Arnold will hold their wedding ceremony over the phone.
In April, Shorter sent her formal request to marry Arnold from her hometown of Quincy. Almost a month after submitting her request, on May 18, she said she had received a phone call from the institution’s head of unit, R. Jimenez. He told her that Lang had refused her marriage proposal.
Arnold confirmed that he was also verbally informed of the denied request during an interview from prison. What he doesn’t know yet is why this was turned down, or what he and Shorter should have done differently.
“The head of unit, Jimenez, told me he wasn’t trying to stop us from getting married, he was the director,” said Arnold. “He also said that the director is about to retire, and maybe the next director who comes will be more lenient to us in getting married.”
The Bureau of Prisons declined to discuss the situation through its press office in Washington. Neither Lang nor Jimenez responded to phone calls and emails from a journalist at the prison.
Last month, acting as his own lawyer, Shorter filed a lawsuit in federal court and asked a judge to compel the director to approve his marriage. The case is moving slowly. Shorter wrote in court documents that she would suffer “irreparable harm” if she was not allowed to marry before November 28 – the date her state marriage application expired – and said the the director’s refusal violated his constitutional rights.
Under federal prison rules, a warden can refuse an inmate’s marriage proposal, but is required to tell the inmate why and explain that the decision can be administratively appealed. To get married, an inmate must be legally eligible and mentally competent. The future spouse must submit in writing his intention to marry the inmate. The standard of approval requires that marriage “does not pose a threat to the safety or good order of the institution, or to the protection of the public.”
The rules also prohibit any federal money from being used to pay for the wedding and state that the ceremony must be paid for by the inmate, their spouse, the inmate’s family, or other approved source.
“If the groom has pending criminal charges, inmates or pending warrants, that would be a reason to deny,” said Cameron Lindsay, a three-time former federal director. “But the director can’t just arbitrarily refuse a marriage proposal. There must be some valid reason to deny it.
Arnold said he had not received any written explanation for the rejection of the marriage proposal he and Shorter submitted. Federal rules state that requests are supposed to be submitted by the inmate to his prison team.
“I just kept emailing the case managers, the counselors, the director, trying to resubmit things and refresh their memory,” Arnold said.
Shorter has his own speculations as to the rationale for the director’s lack of approval.
Shorter and Arnold entered the prison system in 2011. She had owned and operated a fraudulent tax services firm in Quincy, Florida. He had helped rob a bank at gunpoint in Chauncey, Georgia.
Shorter time at Fort Dix, New Jersey Federal Prison as of June 2015. At the time, Chrissy Shorter was legally known as Christopher Shorter. She had started hormone replacement therapy to switch from male to female, but was sent to a male prison based on the sex listed on her birth certificate.
The Bureau of Justice Statistics reported in December 2014 that about one in three adult transgender inmates had experienced non-consensual sexual acts. Shorter said he warned prison staff that she was at risk of becoming the target of sexual assault. She requested to be transferred to an institution but was not sent to Miami Federal Prison until weeks after another inmate raped and cut her seven times in her cell.
After her attack, Shorter regularly lodged complaints against prison staff who she said should be held accountable. She represented herself in a case heard by the 3rd United States Court of Appeals. The case was initially dismissed, but a three-judge panel of the appeals court sent it back to the trial judge in September for reconsideration.
Shorter said being both transgender and outspoken while incarcerated earned her a reputation – a reputation that followed her from New Jersey to Miami, where she met Arnold in January 2016. Shorter said she knew Arnold and that she had a crush on him when he was a popular high school student. athlete two towns away. They lost sight of each other after high school and got together when they were in prison.
“There was a whole bunch of things the institution would do to try to separate us,” she said.
She served her eight-year sentence and was released on February 14, 2019, a week after Arnold was transferred from Miami Federal Prison to Coleman. Shorter is now the face of her mother’s credit repair business, Credit Master of Quincy Florida LLC, where she works as a financial consultant.
Although Shorter was granted his freedom and Arnold moved to a new prison, Shorter said they had a hard time seeing each other as well.
An inmate’s wedding ceremony usually involves a brief in-person visit. Bureau of Prisons policies on visitation regulations state that “the existence of a criminal conviction alone does not preclude visitation.” Lindsay, the former manager, said he believes it is possible that Shorter’s case may be an additional hurdle for her to be allowed to visit Arnold and, therefore, marry him face to face. .
“If the person on the outside is a former federal inmate, in my 32 years of experience working in corrections, it is more likely than not that the government will refuse the visit and link the denial to security.” installation, ”he said.
Shorter believes that her file may be one of the reasons she is banned from visitation. She said that although she attached 12 pages detailing her arrests and convictions to her visit request in May, Jimenez, Coleman’s unit manager, told her she had not disclosed that she was a federal inmate.
Shorter decided to marry Arnold over the phone out of necessity. Its release date is set for September 2027, and neither Shorter nor Arnold want to wait that long to get married. Luckily for the couple, Shorter’s godmother Teresa Williams is registered as a notary.
Williams said she intends to listen to the ceremony phone call and authenticate the state marriage license Shorter must submit by November 28. Since Williams can recognize the voices of Shorter and Arnold, she said she can confirm each party’s identity over the phone and therefore legalize the documents.
“There is no way anyone would know until later, such as by listening to a recorded phone call, that an inmate was getting married over the phone,” Lindsay said. “I don’t think there would be a way to stop it. And I don’t think there would be any legitimate reason to stop it.
Although Shorter is disappointed that Arnold couldn’t see her in person for their wedding, she looks forward to the moment when he can finally see her again. They were only able to exchange photos, and a lot about Shorter’s appearance continues to change. She feminizes her figure as she continues her transition, moving closer to her to fully affirm the woman she has always been. Now she just hopes to become a bride.
This story was produced by Fresh Take Florida, a news service from the College of Journalism and Communications at the University of Florida. The rapporteur can be contacted at [email protected].