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
With Jesus In My Pocket. . .
By: Dale S. Recinella

Grinding. Reverberating. Numbing. Metal against metal punctuates my twenty-minute sojourn into the bowels of the prison. Ten massive steel-barred doors now separate me from the prison entrance. One more security door stands between me and death row. The officer with the key swings it open. He nods. I step through.

The heavy steel bolts clang shut, locking me in on the beige corridor of death row cells. Like a stray cosmic noise from another world, the spongy soles of my Rockports announce my arrival with muffled squeaks against the hot, damp concrete.

Fifteen solitary cells stretch to my right. The men know the fall of my step and the noise of my shoes. Except for four hours per week of yard exercise, this short narrow hall with its six foot by nine-foot cages is the whole world. There is nothing to see. All the cells face a wall of steel bar backed by concrete and brick. They can’t even see each other. It is a world of sounds. Nothing–not even the smallest squeak of middle class walking shoes—goes unnoticed.

Men wanting to talk will step to their cell door as I approach. Those who aren’t sure will stand mid-cell avoiding commitment until we exchange greetings. Those needing their privacy will simply look the other way. A turned head means, “Not today, thank you.” Common courtesy honors the code and moves on to the next cell. I greet each man who looks my way.

“Hey… how are you doing, today?”

At least three men on this corridor will ask me to stop. They always do. We are brothers in faith. They know that I am bringing something special for them, that I have Jesus in my pocket.

There are over forty Catholics on Florida’s death row. Most of them, like the three on this corridor, are regular Communicants. They are always waiting—not so much for me as for the One whom I bring.

“Good afternoon, brother, would you like to receive Communion today?”

The small waist-level opening in the bars of the cell door serves as a port for physical food and supplies. We convert it to a spiritual portal by taking each other’s hands and stepping beyond time and space into the most sacred moment of our faith outside the Mass itself.

“Let us begin with the prayer Jesus taught us.”

One prayer issues from both of our lips. “Our Father….” As our prayers unfold, I remove the pyx from my shirt pocket. My brother through Baptism stands close to the bars, hands folded against his chest. I hold the consecrated Host between us.

“I bring you the real physical presence of Jesus Christ in the world, both His presence and a sacrament that also symbolizes our unity with you—a unity that is greater than these bars and these walls….”

We complete the Rite. I raise the Host, “The Body of Christ.”

In response to his “Amen,” I lean forward to place the Host on his tongue.

Suddenly, there is a loud roar. The lights flicker out as the shriek accelerates into a shrill pitched scream. I freeze like a deer in the dark caught unawares by the headlights of a car bearing down.

He raises his eyes and steps compassionately into my frozen stare. “The generators for the electric chair,” he shrugs. “They test them every week.”

The scream stops abruptly. The lights return. Struggling to regain my composure, I stammer, “We are…uh, you are…I mean this….this is…the Body of Christ.”

He nods assent, “Amen.”

First published: The Florida Catholic, September 23, 1999
© 1999 Dale S. Recinella & The Florida Catholic.
Used with permission. All rights reserved.
No further reproduction or republication without prior written permission.