Gemma Vasquez: British woman marries man serving 20 years in US prison for rape

The couple tied the knot in a Virginia prison on 29 December - under the Christmas tree with just prison guards watching on.

A British woman has got hitched - to a man serving 20 years in a US prison for rape.

Gemma Vasquez, née Morgan, met new husband Leonel Vasquez through her Spanish teacher - who also happens to be his mum. The pair, both 31, started a relationship despite living more than 3,500 miles apart and were engaged after just nine months.

The loved-up couple then tied the knot in a Virginia prison on 29 December - under the Christmas tree in the visiting room with just prison guards watching on. And Gemma says she doesn't care about her husband's 2011 rape conviction, because she's not “marrying the past”. The admin worker said: "Love can blossom no matter who you are. He just completes me."

Gemma posted on Facebook looking for a Spanish teacher in July 2020. She eventually found Vasquez's mum and they started sessions. The prisoner was first mentioned in February 2021, and Gemma decided to contact him. Sparks flew and the emails became more regular, with the first phone call in July 2021.

Gemma Vasquez marries Leonel Vasquez, a convicted rapist, at prison in Virginia where he is serving a 20-year sentence. Credit: Gemma Vasquez / SWNS

Vasquez, from Washington, was handed a 20-year sentence in December 2011 after being convicted of rape. He expects to be released from prison in Virginia in the next four years owing to his alleged good behaviour.

Gemma, of Glasgow, said she is aware of his past - but it doesn’t bother her. She said: “Initially I thought: ‘Oh yes that’s a very serious thing to be convicted of.’

“But I’m not marrying his past and he was very very young when it happened. Plus he’s done so much in prison to better himself.

“I asked him to tell me the whole story on the phone - that was very important to me. I felt very reassured by talking to him about it, and also by his whole family.”

Gemma Vasquez, from Glasgow. Credit: Gemma Vasquez / SWNS

Vasquez said from behind bars: “I longed for someone to truly love me for who I am. But I thought, ‘Why would anyone want me?’

“I will never forget the day Gemma messaged me. I had to reread her message about 10 times. It was just so perfect. We had all these things in common - just the vibe and energy behind her words made me feel happy. I love her personality and she is beautiful - a woman I never imagined even in my greatest dreams.

“It is not easy to be in a relationship with someone that is incarcerated. You are doing time with them it takes a special type of individual to truly make that commitment.”

The couple now speak every day using all of Leonel's five 20-minute calls. Gemma said: "I still get the butterflies every time he calls or his name pops up on a message. I'm always so super excited.

"We just connected straight away we have the same sense of humour. We both love 90s music, and have the same favourite films.

"It doesn't matter what we talk about. You never expect your life to take a turn like this. I just thought I'd meet a guy here in Scotland."

Leonel Vasquez. Credit: Gemma Vasquez / SWNS

Gemma first crossed the Atlantic to visit Vasquez in April 2022. She stayed for five weeks and managed to see him for three hours a week, she says. Vasquez then proposed over the phone and Gemma said yes in July 2022. He had a ring sent to her and they planned to marry in 2023.

But Vasquez surprised Gemma by arranging their wedding to coincide with her visit in December. They were married by a celebrant - with no witnesses - and with two guards in the room.

Gemma claims they were permitted contact to hug, kiss and hold hands, and even shared a first dance with the music in their heads. Gemma and Leonel are delighted that both families support their union, she says.

Gemma with Leonel’s Mum. Credit: Gemma Vasquez / SWNS

They plan to settle in a Spanish-speaking country once Vasquez is free, and has completed a year of probation.

Gemma said: "Love doesn't wait. If you're called to marry somebody you don't have to hang on for a big day, big dress, or big cake. We're looking to the future.

"I've always just taken him on how he treats me right now. It's about who he is as a person. He's a grafter - he's always studying, working and revising.

"Despite his circumstances he’s always laughing and I love that he looks at life that way, it would be easy for him to be bitter. But he’s a positive thinker.

"I really didn't know how it would work out being so far away and him not free, but we just fell in love."

Vasquez added: "Our first kiss made my heart skip a beat. I knew I had found my future wife. Ever since she said 'yes' it has been a fairytale. I am hopelessly devoted to the love of my life and not a day goes by that I don't feel blessed to have her."