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
A Space-time Continuum
By: Dale S. Recinella

It’s 8:15 am on a Monday morning. Today my first stop is a special one-on-one appointment at the Crisis
Stabilization Unit, psychiatric solitary. The appointment
had to be set up with the sergeant and the medical staff a week in advance.

Upon arriving at the outer-most door, I hold my identification to the camera. An officer at an unseen desk checks my name against the schedule for the day. Then, one at a time, I work my way through the maze of bolted, solid steel doors. One. Two. Three. Four. Each time a loud buzzing noise announces that the lock is opened. Then there is a thunderous clap as the electronic bolts slam shut behind me.

Finally, I arrive at the short narrow corridor in front of the control room. No chairs. No props. Just gray tile and gray walls. Double security doors seal each end. The sergeant hand signals me through the window of his control station. Morning count has not yet cleared. He gestures sympathetically, letting me know that there’s nothing he can do. Until the count clears, I will have to make myself at home right where I’m standing. Fortunately, I have what I need in my pocket.

As hidden fingers slide from bead to bead, my feet start moving, pacing off the short distance of the hallway again and again. The succession of meditations that flow with each Our Father and Glory Be dissolve the tight confines of the prison corridor into a special space of connected experiences. “On earth as it is in heaven.”

It’s 1983. The narrow waiting room for cardiovascular surgery is ill suited for comfort. Our mother is in open-heart surgery. Dad is sitting quietly in a chair. Most of us children are standing, pacing the room slowly, as we pray in one voice from bead to bead. Mom has a special devotion to Our Lady of the Snows. In the middle of a muggy August in Detroit, snow would be too much to ask for. Our plea is much simpler. “Pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death.”

It’s 1990. The superheated pre-dusk air is slipping from the grip of a hot August sun as Hail Marys start to flow. The Rosary in the street, Georgia Street, has become a nightly ritual in the crack-prostitution section of downtown Tallahassee. Volunteer pray warriors pace the curb, bravely calling out their responses to the prayer leader. Passing street people pause to absorb the mysteries, the meditations and the prayers. “O My Jesus, forgive us our sins and save us from the fires of hell.”

It’s 1997. The craggy edifice of ancient San Gregorio, hulking a stone’s throw from the Circus Maximus, has been reclaimed by the little nuns in white. Mother Therese’s sisters work their way from room to room, ministering to the sickest of the refugees that pour into the eternal city of Rome. Sores and diseases rarely seen by American eyes are commonplace within these walls. I am dispatched with two four-foot high dynamos in white to walk across the city for badly needed supplies. The August afternoon heat is peaking. My question about the distances to be covered is nine-tenths plea for mercy. They simply laugh and pull out their beads. It turns out to be about eighteen decades each way. “Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done.”

The sharp bang of electronic locks calls me back to the trivial incidents of the prison corridor. An officer steps through the door and welcomes me toward my appointment.

“Sorry about the wait, chap. Been stuck in here long?”

“For decades,” I smile, pulling the beads out for him to see. “I’ve been waiting here for decades.”

First published: The Florida Catholic, June 27, 2002
© 2002 Dale S. Recinella & The Florida Catholic.
Used with permission. All rights reserved.
No further reproduction or republication without prior written permission.