Question Me An Answer
I Was In Prison
Online Prison Ministry Newsletter
December 10, 2008
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
[In 1993 Dale Recinella was President of Big Bend CARES [1], the non-profit service provider for people with AIDS in the multicounty area surrounding Tallahassee, FL, the state capital. He had begun working with the organization in 1989 as a volunteer buddy for people dying of AIDS, became a volunteer team leader, and then was elected the volunteer representative on the Board of Directors. The following text is his speech given at the City of Tallahassee World AIDS Day Commemoration and Candlelight Vigil, Lake Ella, December 1993.]


Question Me An Answer
By: Dale Recinella

We can not overestimate the importance of the questions we ask when we face a problem or a crisis.


The questions we ask will actually determine the possible solutions we can see. In Lifesigns, Henri Nouwen puts it this way, "Fearful questions never lead to love-filled answers."[2]

When I look at my initial reaction to the AIDS crisis back in the mid-80's, it's clear that I was stuck in fearful questions. "How will I protect my children?" "How will I protect myself?" "How do we keep those people separate from us?" Surely such questions could not lead to any loving solutions.

Then a few years ago, I was in Italy with a group--mostly priests, brothers and nuns--and I was having a cappucino at an outdoor cafe with one of the sisters. She was a quiet, gentle lady. The discussion turned to the Vietnam War era. I sat in amazement as she matter of factly described her Vietnam experiences as a missionary tending to orphans in the war zones. The stereotypes I had laid on her diminutive size and self-effacing manner were demolished as she related her experiences evacuating small children to planes and choppers under live mortar and machine gun fire during the last days of the American evacuation. I finally broke the silence that punctuated the end of her story, feebly clearing my throat, "Well... ah...what do you... ah... do now?"

She said she worked with AIDS patients in a Brooklyn Hospital. I responded with a question that was truly fearful, a question rooted in a false sense of moral self-righteousness. This little Sister Mary Rambo looked me straight in the eye and said softly: "Who wants to face the worst possible consequences of their smallest mistake?"

Listen to that question.

"Who wants to face the worst possible consequences of their smallest mistake?"

What a question. No room for arrogance or self-righteousness in the face of that question. The question itself demands a loving response and burns away anything that is not loving. In one fell swoop, she had blown away all my good reasons for being without compassion. By the time I returned from Italy in August, I knew that I needed to find loving ways to serve my brothers and sisters afflicted with this illness. The next month I became a volunteer buddy with Big Bend C.A.R.E.S.

The consciousness changing power of replacing fearful questions with loving questions goes way back in our traditions. According to my religious beliefs, there is an historical account of The Teacher of teachers responding to questions from a lawyer. (Yes, I admit it. I am a lawyer. But since my spiritual awakening it's been a self-resolving problem. No one wants to pay $250 per hour for me to love their enemies.) Anyway, The Teacher and the lawyer agreed that the religious law required them to:

"LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF." LK 10:27

The lawyer, who is looking for some wiggle room (technically referred to as a loophole) asks: "And who is my neighbor?" LK 10:28 That is a fearful question. It asks "Who can I exclude?" "Who don't I have to love?"

Jesus doesn't let the lawyer get away with the fearful question. He tells him a story about a man who is traveling along a dangerous road and is robbed and beaten. I assume that this unfortunate man should have known better than to travel this dangerous road alone. That it's his own fault that he has been robbed and beaten. That he is not an innocent victim. But that doesn't seem to make any difference to The Teacher. He tells the lawyer that three men come upon the beaten man. The first two are very respectable church members of the highest moral standing in the community. But they just pass by the injured man, failing to stop or help.

Finally the third man, a despised, morally and religiously inferior kind of guy, stops. He takes pity on the beaten man, binds his wounds and carries him to a place where he can be cared for. The Teacher turns to the lawyer and asks the loving question:

"WHICH OF THE THREE DO YOU THINK WAS A NEIGHBOR TO THE MAN [IN NEED]?" LK 10:36

That is the right question. "Who can I be a neighbor to?" No fear in that question! Only loving solutions will flow from that question.

As some of you know, besides working with our regional AIDS Service Organization, I am also a citizen volunteer working with men with AIDS in our state prison system. I never set out to do that. A chaplain in the system heard about what I was doing with PWAs (People With AIDS) on the streets through Good News Ministries and asked if I would come to the prison chapel to minister to men with AIDS in the prison.

One of the things I didn't expect about the prison system, is that as the men become sicker, they are moved to prisons with higher levels of skilled medical staff and medical facilities. That makes sense. But you don't think of those things until they come up. So I start seeing a man at Apalachee Correctional Institute 50 miles from Tallahassee; and, as he comes down with various opportunistic infections, he is moved to the County hospital in Marianna, 75 miles from Tallahassee. Then, as his long term prognosis diminishes, he is moved to the medical center at Lake Butler, 125 miles away. And finally, as he faces the end stages of the illness, he is moved to the Department of Corrections wing at Memorial Hospital in Jacksonville, 200 miles from Tallahassee. So keeping up with my guys keeps my car in shape.

Fortunately, family and friend's visiting privileges with an inmate automatically transfer to whatever prison the inmate is assigned. But citizen volunteers, like myself, are not allowed to register as friends of an inmate; and must have each visit approved. This can be difficult if a man's condition is deteriorating faster than the approvals can be obtained. Sometime's I receive visiting approval days after the inmate has already been moved to another facility.

There was one fellow I had been seeing for over a year when his condition took a dramatic turn for the worse. He was young but even when we first started our weekly visits his remaining prison term was much longer than his life expectancy.

Can you imagine being in prison--with all the losses that involves--and adding to it the knowledge that you will die alone, shackled to your bed, of AIDS? Which of us wants to face the worst possible consequences of our smallest mistake--let alone our worst!

He was moved in and out of the County hospital several times but he was never there long enough for me to get in. Then he was moved to the prison hospital at Lake Butler. I sought visitation immediately, but before I could obtain it, he was moved to the Department of Corrections wing of Memorial Hospital In Jacksonville. The admitting chaplain helped obtain clearance for my visit within a couple of days.

It was late on a Saturday when I arrived. Something had fouled up. There was no paperwork on my visit at the guard station. The young officer on duty could only suggest that I wait until someone more senior arrived. I'd been praying in the hospital hall outside the guard station for about 45 minutes when a sergeant came in. The officer heard my sad story, made some calls, and let me in. But I had to wear the "mask" because my friend was in isolation on a ventilator with respiratory herpes. My friend's room was monitored by camera (visual only) from the guard station.

As soon as I opened the heavy door to his room, I knew my friend was near the end and deeply troubled. It wasn't just the hoarse breathing through the ventilator or the fungible green prison gown or even the leg chains shackling him to the bed. It was something in his eyes and flowing from his heart. He looked as though a heavy pressure was crushing him into the bed. Our many meetings had always stayed light and near the surface. Not this time. The water was already fathoms deep.

"You look like you need to cry," I offered after exchanging difficult greetings.

"I can't," he shook his head.

"Why?" I knew I was on thin ice and prayed every word. "Are you afraid it would hurt too much?"

His head turned away in silent assent. I slid down in my chair and felt a rage well up inside me.

"This boy is in horrible pain," I screamed in my thoughts, "Where is his father?"

Under different circumstances,my question and my anger might have been appropriate, even laudable. But the Lord showed me very quickly that under these circumstances, both were rooted in fear. I didn't want to enter into this pain. And if this boy's father were here for him, I wouldn't have to. God gave me the right question, the loving question that would lead to a loving answer:

"How can I be a father to this young man?"

As I prayed for help to enter his hurt, I knew exactly what I would do if my son was in that much pain.

"Come here," I said as I knelt on the floor next to his bed and stretched out my arms. "Let me hold you and we'll cry together."

He turned toward me and melted into my arms. He laid out his deepest pains and shames and we placed them before God for forgiveness and healing. He accepted both, first in remorse and then in joy. It was impossible to know which tears were his and which were mine.

The mask and ventilator both lost the battle. And then, as our tears subtly phased from release through relief and into joy, the door kicked open and a guard, one hand holding a mask over his face and the other hand on his belt, barked from the hall, "What's going on in here?! Is everything all right?!"

My friend and I suddenly pictured what the guards must have been watching from their monitor and we lost it completely--we were laughing so hard that our sides ached.

"Yes!" we cried out together, "Everything's great!"

The door slowly shut and we were alone for just another moment. My time was up.

"I feel like a thousand pounds has been lifted off me," he hugged me goodbye.

"No," I corrected him, "It was a million pounds; and neither you nor I could have budged it."

My friend died less than 72 hours later. I was the last person to visit him.

We must come against the fearful questions holding sway in the world with respect to AIDS and PWAs. We must be creative and courageous in speaking the loving questions that will gut fear from our churches, our offices, our neighborhoods and our city. Questions like:

"How can I be a parent to every child with AIDS in Tallahassee?"

"How can I make every Person With AIDS my brother or my sister?"

"How can I be their neighbor?"



[1] Big Bend Comprehensive AIDS Resources, Education & Support, Inc. is the non-profit AIDS Service Organization for the 8 county area surrounding Tallahassee, Florida.

[2] Lifesigns: Intimacy, Fecundity and Ecstasy In Christian Perspective, Nouwen, Henri J. M., Doubleday, New york, New York, at 17.


(c) 2008 Dale S. Recinella. All rights reserved. No further reproduction or republication without prior written permission.

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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

If you Like this Weekly Ezine - You will love Dale's Book!
Sr. Patricia Proctor
Paperback: 433 pages

Excellent book on the topic!,
June 13, 2005 Nathan Eanes
(Review from Amazon.com)

The Biblical Truth about America's Death Penalty is a must-read. It deals with Biblical standards of Capital Punishment and then compares them to the system used in America today. It is the best-researched, most faithful to scripture, and most evenhanded analysis I have ever read concerning the Death Penalty. Whatever your persuasion on the issue, this book will teach you a great deal. Recinella is a trained lawyer and committed Christian who now volunteers part-time on Florida's death row. He thus understands law, the Bible, and the system of execution in America. I challenge anyone who supports the Death Penalty to read this book.



This ezine edited by Sister Patricia Proctor, OSC - Poor Clare Sister
to support the IWasInPrison Outreach