The bride wore a black miniskirt. (She is nicknamed “Legs,” after all.) The groom wore gray stripes.
The minister omitted the part about the groom kissing the bride –– a thick plate of glass separated them. Didn’t matter. Singer-songwriter Scott Copeland’s face beamed with happiness as he and longtime girlfriend Carol Pate exchanged wedding vows on Sunday night in a quick ceremony at Tarrant County Jail’s Green Bay Facility.
“Nothing like a romantic wedding in the pokey,” Pate said.
The couple had planned to get married before Copeland landed behind bars. He was jailed a month ago, serving six months to two years after Fort Worth police arrested him in possession of less than a gram of a controlled substance. He was on probation for a previous conviction. But he opted not to discuss his legal woes on advice from his attorney.
“Don’t do drugs. That’s all I want to say,” Copeland said, his voice muffled by the glass.
Copeland has been performing original music around town for 20 years and has had numerous songs recorded by others. Cross Canadian Ragweed sold a bunch of records of Copeland’s “Lighthouse Keeper.” Royalties tend to slip through his fingers (at bars and casinos, he said), and he is most often living hand to mouth, doing without a car, cable TV, and other niceties.
A couple of years ago, he told me something with a mixture of pride and regret: “I don’t have a pot to piss in, but I’m still a songwriter.”
The couple had tried to get married on Saturday night. NOS Bar owner (and ordained minister) Terressa Nordstrom showed up with me in tow to serve as witness and photographer. But Pate had not received proper clearance in advance, and rules prevent more than two adults from visiting an inmate at one time. Also, cameras aren’t allowed at visitations.
Copeland’s typical gruff exterior and booze-fueled bravado was showing cracks. He looked crushed.
“I’d give anything just to hold her hand for a little while,” he told me.
Pate sensed that he needed a boost.
“He’s ready,” she said. “We’ve been ready for a while. He needs something to hang on to maybe while he is in here.”
A deputy told Pate to call the administrative office the next week and get clearance. Instead, Pate and Nordstrom returned the next night. Nordstrom read the vows quickly and married the couple in two minutes without anyone noticing. I was not allowed in the visitation area but positioned myself against a nearby wall to watch the ceremony and take the photo that accompanies this article. The Copelands spent the remaining 28 minutes of their 30-minute visitation talking through glass, making for a touching (if touchless) honeymoon.
A month in jail eating small portions of bad food has shaved off about 20 pounds from the former college football player’s 6-foot-4-inch frame. He works as a trusty in the kitchen, earning good time so that he might be released from jail sooner rather than later.
I ask him about his cell. Copeland said he sleeps in a large room with numerous other inmates. “I’ve only been raped twice, but other than that it’s really cool in here,” he said, getting the obligatory jailhouse joke out of the way.
Pate laughed and retold a story about how Copeland had awakened needing to pee on one of his first nights in jail. Half asleep, he shuffled to a commode and took a leak while standing up. The other inmates, however, had previously designated that particular toilet for sitting down purposes only. A large, scary inmate was particularly peeved and gave Copeland the stink eye for a week. It helps that Copeland is tall and can look somewhat scary himself when the need arises.
Some of Copeland’s friends expected he would get a wealth of material for new songs and stories during his jail stint. Nordstrom and others put money into his jail account so he can buy paper and pencils at the commissary.
But Copeland has found it difficult to write in a place shaded gray from top to bottom –– floors, walls, bars, ceilings, uniforms.
“Everything is gray,” he said. “I mean, everything is gray. No color. I haven’t been outside in a month. There is not a lot of inspiration. It’s irritating, it’s so gray.”
Copeland received a bit of good news recently. Texas Music outlaw Cody Jinks, who has recorded several of Copeland’s songs, appeared on Conan on TBS last week wearing a Scott Copeland & The Haters t-shirt. Rolling Stone mentioned the appearance and the shirt.
Copeland is known for off-color stage patter, hard-lived songs, and a crusty personality that isn’t a guise or stage persona. Booze, drugs, and late nights have fueled his art, leading to hundreds of songs, recordings, short stories, Bukowski-like poetry binges, and hilarious Facebook rants.
“The lifestyle I’ve lived, [booze and drugs] are available,” he said. “You are always chasing a high after shows. Eventually, it gets the better of you. If you can’t stay off it while you are on felony probation, you’ve got a problem, and that’s what happened to me. Hopefully, I’ll learn from it.”