I Was In Prison

Dale S. Recinella, Catholic Lay Chaplain, Florida Death Row and Solitary Confinement
Susan M. Recinella, Clinical Psychologist for mentally ill adults, and Catholic Lay Minister to Families of the Executed
Into the Eye of the Needle
By: Dale S. Recinella

It’s my first visit to Florida State Prison, home to Florida’s infamous electric chair. They claim security here is stricter than at any other prison in the state. It seems true.

After leaving our car, we enter the compound through double outside gates. The two barriers cannot be opened simultaneously. The first grinds open. We step in between thousands of pounds of screeching, moving metal. It shuts behind us. We are surrounded by heaps of razor sharp saw teeth, coiled mounds of glistening concertina wire. The second gate grates open. There are some noises I’ve never heard anywhere except in prison.

The olive green doors of the building open to the first inside guard station. The officers check us for contraband and inventory the religious items in our bag. We process through another barred gate into the next security entrance.

The officer in the control booth verifies our identification, checks our names against the gate passes and stamps our hands with special ink.

We process through another moving wall of steel bars only to find ourselves standing before a narrow mechanical aperture, a metal detector that even registers the crowns on your teeth. I call it “the eye of the needle.”

Some say that the “eye of the needle” to which Jesus refers in Luke 18:25 was a gate into Jerusalem. Those listening to Jesus knew the gate was so small and narrow that a camel could only traverse it after being stripped of everything, including bridle and saddle. Even so, the camel still had to be pulled and pushed through on its knees!

Jesus used that as a parable for the experience of a rich man entering the Kingdom of God. It’s time for this upper-middle class American lawyer, wealthy by any measure on a world standard, to traverse the eye of the needle.

I lift the pyx from my shirt pocket, opening it gently for inspection. The officer scrutinizes the Hosts and motions for me to remove them. I do, revealing the shiny curve of the inside. He nods. I set the pyx on the table and walk through the detector. The alarm sounds.

All keys and change empty from my pockets. The alarm sounds.

My wedding ring, wallet and Rosary join the stack on the table. The alarm sounds.

A roll of breath and my thin necklace and Crucifix top off the pile. The alarm sounds.

I lose my belt. The alarm sounds.

I shed my imitation wire-rim glasses. The alarm sounds.

One of the other volunteers, an older woman, says she had to stop wearing undergarments with an underwire to the prison because she couldn’t get through the metal detector. She suggests I take off my shoes.

The shoes come off. The alarm doesn’t sound. My walking shoes must have metal arch supports.

As I stand barefoot and spread eagle, the gloved post guard pats me down, searching the insides of my shoes, my pockets, even the folds of my skin, joints and toes, to ensure that no contraband is clenched by body parts. My mind is on the mound of possessions stacked on the table. It’s amazing how much stuff I carry around.

But the major shocker is yet to come. I will soon be amazed by how many misconceptions I’ve carried around. My comfortable concepts and preconceived notions about justice and truth are about to be stripped away by the sharp realities of how the death penalty really works in Florida. The most difficult eye of the needle is still waiting for me at the end of the prison hall.

First published: The Florida Catholic, September 9, 1999
© 1999 Dale S. Recinella & The Florida Catholic.
Used with permission. All rights reserved.
No further reproduction or republication without prior written permission.