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
An Instrument of His PeaceBy: Dale S. Recinella

Wednesday. February 4, 2004.

7:20 pm. We’ve been sitting in the witness room seats for one and a half hours – the longest wait in the history of Florida executions. In absolute silence, without motion or distraction. Staring at our own reflections in the window. Reflecting on the man who will be lying behind the closed curtain, stretched out on a gurney on the other side of the glass window.

Almost six years ago, I met that very angry man on death row. I wrote of our first meeting in “A Glimpse of Harvest” (March 9, 2000). During the ensuing weeks, months and years, we became friends, like brothers. He asked me to be his spiritual advisor if his death warrant were signed. Even the expected can be unexpected when it actually happens.

7:21 pm. Still waiting. I can see the reflections of the victims’ advocates and the survivors of the victim—tense with apprehension that a stay may be in the works. Superimposed over them are the reflections of the defense lawyers in the second row, tense with apprehension that a stay may not be granted. The two sets of images meld into a collage of our community, torn against itself by adversarial interests and homicidal violence, seeking redemption through an adversarial process that promises restoration through more homicidal violence.

Studying the reflections of the witnesses, I realize that every single person seated in that room is white. Remaining unseen in this drama is the black man on the other side of the window. He was used to being unseen. Through a childhood in the black migrant labor camps he learned that white contractors had the guns and the dogs. The blacks did what they were told or met the business end of both. One survived by hiding—hiding one’s desires, feelings, even rage—and appearing compliant. His crimes were crimes of rage. His life experiences didn’t justify them, but they sure explained where the rage came from.

Over the last several years he had become a man of peace, actually a peacemaker who mentored younger men on his wing in controlling their anger, letting go of resentments and hate, and living without rancor.

7:22 pm. Still waiting. When I heard about his death warrant the Friday before Christmas, I mailed him a package of spiritual materials including the Peace Prayer of St. Francis of Assisi. He loved that prayer the first time he read it. All our deathwatch appointments began with that prayer and were peppered with discussions about the life of the little man of Assisi.

“Now that’s a white dude that had his stuff together,” he had sighed. “Why can’t more of you white people be like him?”

During the last few hours before the execution procedure, we had paged through a book filled with stories of St. Francis and pictures of Assisi, Greccio, Gubbio and Rome. He also loved the Canticle of the Creatures and read it aloud to me and the prison chaplain just a few feet from the execution chamber.

“Be praised, my Lord, for our sister, Death, whom no living man can escape. Woe to those who die in mortal sin. Blessed are those whom she will find doing your holy will, for to them the second death will do no harm.”

He knew the second death means the Last Judgment, promised by Jesus as the solace of those afflicted by unjust societies.

“I’ll see you again, man,” he smiled as we clasped hands for the last time. “I knew I wouldn’t never see justice in this world. But there will be justice, and I will get to speak in His Court on His Day, when it really matters.”

7:23 pm. The curtain opens. Whatever the reason for the delay, the execution will now proceed. He is asked if he has any last words.

“Yep,” he replies. “Later.”


First published: The Florida Catholic, February 19, 2004
© 2004 Dale S. Recinella & The Florida Catholic.
Used with permission. All rights reserved.
No further reproduction or republication without prior written permission.