Estate agent marries inmate lover who called up looking for accommodation

When you ask how someone met their partner, you normally receive a fairly standard response: pub, club, dating app or dog walk.

Occasionally they might share an interest such as tennis and find their eyes locked across the court before falling in love.

But generally, you can expect a conventional answer – unless you’re Erica and Austin Saunders.

The couple first ‘met’ when Austin Saunders, 26, who was in prison, called estate agent Erica, 29, looking for a place to live.

Seven months later, they met for the first time – and now they are married.

Erica Saunders, 29, an estate agent from Katy, Texas, first heard about Austin when a friend put them in touch, as Austin needed to sort accommodation for when he was released.

“When he called me I was multi-tasking in my office so I must have pressed the numbers without hearing the part about to accept call press five,” Erica said.

“I didn’t know he was in prison till the call said ‘you have one minute remaining’ that’s when he said he’d call me back.”

Austin was serving a seven-year prison sentence for assisting an armed robbery, but that never stopped him from staying in contact with Erica.

She said: “When he called back that’s when I heard the prompts and it said to press a certain number to accept the call.”

From then on, the couple would stay in contact and learn more about each other through phone calls, letters and video calls – finding it rewarding that they got to know each other on an intimate level.

She said: “While he was incarcerated, we got to learn each other’s love languages and I believe that really helped us learn each other more.

“Without physically being next to each other, long distance was terrible, but it really tested our relationship and we passed.

“I knew he was a great man with great intentions and the man for me.”

After seven months of speaking, Erica and Austin met in person on 9 June 2021 when she picked him up from the prison

She said: “I was nervous but the minute we hugged and while we were embracing each other.

“I felt this overwhelming rush of calmness. And my worries faded away and I felt safe in his arms.

“It was difficult as we had to get him straight to the halfway house and we were on limited time.”

Erica’s friends and family were a bit taken back by her new relationship.

She said: “It was very negative from some people as they just judged him based on where he was at.

“My family was scared he was using me. But they quickly changed once they saw he was sending me gifts and flowers, plus he wanted to get to know them as well.

“Everyone is on their own path and what didn’t work for someone doesn’t mean it won’t work for others.”

Erica also had someone else to introduce to her new partner, her 10-year-old daughter Lily, who gets on well with Austin.

The couple then got married on 27 December.

Erica said: “It was a beautiful cold day, I wasn’t nervous, just excited. However, I was a little emotional as I didn’t have any of my immediate family next to me because they couldn’t make it so last minute.

“It was just his side there, but his family is now mine too and everyone was so welcoming.

“I also had some of my best friends growing up by my side so that helped as well. I’m so happy I didn’t let any negative opinions influence me, as I have now married my best friend.

“And the love he gives me is unconditional!”

Erica shares her relationship, experiences and advice on TikTok, with her 236,200 followers.

On 19 July 2021, Erica shared a video of her meeting Austin for the first time, including the days before and after.

In the video Erica can be seen waiting at the gate and filming him.

The footage also shows a clip of her picking up shopping for him a few days before, as well as stating that she set up job interviews.

There are then clips of them together, on video calls and presents which he sent her in the post – which have been well received by some.

On one viral clip, a supporter wrote: “What does it matter where she met him? Everyone makes mistake, go girl, ignore the haters.”

Another supporter said: “It definitely doesn’t define him, my son messed up at 18 and spent almost three years in prison, he’s still a great person.”

“People in the comments suddenly acting like they’re god, I pray he keeps you happy, much love,” someone else said.

“That is right!! Mistakes do not define a person,” said another.