||Susan M. Recinella, Clinical Psychologist for mentally ill adults, and
Catholic Lay Minister to Families of the Executed|
Can A Tree Grow In Concrete?
By: Dale Recinella
Long-term solitary confinement doesn’t strike one as a place for things to grow.
Each of the wings is composed of three-story atriums that house almost one hundred men in individual six foot by nine foot cells behind a solid steel door. The noise is constant and unpleasant, the ambiance oppressive and despairing. It would be less of a miracle for a tree to take root in concrete than for a spirit to sprout in solitary. Do miracles really happen?
From a cell in the middle of the corridor on the lowest level of a solitary wing, the man inside greets me with a mile of a smile.
“Man, I’ve been waiting for you. Why didn’t you tell me?”
We have been talking and praying together for four years. He is a big guy, and he is black. Unless you are a football player, that can get you a lot of negative attention at an early age in the Deep South. Some men handle that negativity better than others. This man responded in kind. Four years ago I told him he was the angriest person I had ever met. Not anymore. Our original discussions focused on the immorality of revolutionary violence to achieve social change. Now, his relationship with God has blossomed; his toe is in the water of the deep personal issues.
“Why didn’t I tell you what?” I peer through the small Plexiglas window into his cell. He blocks my vision by fanning a holy card I’ve not seen before.
“Why didn’t you tell me about him?” he laughs, waiving the picture of a black man who is a canonized saint. “Why didn’t you tell me that there is a black saint in the Catholic Church?”
“I didn’t think of it as anything special. There are a lot of black saints in the Catholic Church.”
“You’re kidding! How many?”
“A whole bunch, especially from the early years of Christianity and from the mission years.”
“Man! And you don’t think that’s anything special?” his words are punctuated with hand slaps against both knees. He’s laughing so hard the words can barely come out.
“That’s because you’re white, Brother Dale. If you wasn’t white you’d know it’s really something.”
Two wings later I am standing on the mezzanine level at the cell of a young white man who is studying the Catholic faith. RCIA is a do-it-yourself course in solitary. The materials are provided by the Knights of Columbus. I’m here to answer the questions that arise as a man from a fundamentalist background comes to grips with the teaching of the Catholic Church. After we have finished the questions, he shares why he wants to become Catholic.
“When I was living in central Florida, they built this beautiful Catholic Church near Disney World. It’s named after Our Lady. I think it is the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen. Catholics aren’t afraid of beauty. Catholics make beauty a part of their faith. I need a beautiful faith.
“Also, I like the intimacy. Catholics talk about the Father and the Holy Spirit like they are real, just like Jesus. And the angels and saints are real. And everybody is helping each other with prayers and love. It’s like a big family. I want that intimacy in my faith.
“And I love the Rosary. The Rosary is one of the best things that ever happened to me. I never let mine away from me.”
“Most of all,” his voice softens, “I love that I’ll be able to give this faith to my kids. After all the mistakes I’ve made, this is something precious that I can do for them, something that will make their lives better. I want to give them a faith that matters.”
A tree can grow in concrete.
First published: The Florida Catholic, October 3, 2002
© 2002 Dale S. Recinella & The Florida Catholic.
Used with permission. All rights reserved.
No further reproduction or republication without prior written permission.
I Was In Prison
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This ezine is targeted for people involved in prison ministry or in stopping the death penalty, we think you will find helpful information for people who are undecided about capital punishment, for those who have never experienced the inside of a jail or prison, and for those who feel called to participate through prayer and adoration.
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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