||Susan M. Recinella, Clinical Psychologist for mentally ill adults, and
Catholic Lay Minister to Families of the Executed|
A Two Front War
By: Dale Recinella
Based on the State’s own statistics, at least one out of every nine Florida state prisoners suffers from medically diagnosed severe mental illness.
That means there are about 11,000 severely mentally ill state prisoners in Florida. This problem spans the country.
[According to] the United States Department of Justice … 16 percent of all inmates in state and federal jails and prisons
have schizophrenia, manic-depressive illness (bipolar disorder), major depression, or another severe mental illness…. on
any given day, [as of the year 2000] there are roughly 283,000 persons with severe mental illnesses incarcerated in federal
and state jails and prisons.
This didn’t happen overnight. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, our country was swept by an enlightened view that the mentally
ill should be dispatched from mental hospitals and sent home to their communities. There they would be supported by community
mental health centers funded by the money saved from downsizing mental hospitals. The easiest part of the plan was completed.
The numbers of mental hospital beds were drastically reduced. The mentally ill were dumped back into their home communities.
That is about as far as we progressed.
By the time we should have been funding the community mental health centers, the Arab Oil Embargo and its legacy had pushed the
prime rate into the stratosphere. The economy was on life support. Iran had seized our embassy. The USSR was invading Afghanistan.
And the cold war was cranking incredibly close to becoming hot. Money was tight.
The deinstitutionalized mentally ill poured into our city centers, surviving day-to-day on the streets and in the alleys of the
most violent neighborhoods in the country. Instead of appropriating more money for community mental health, we let the communities
and the mental hospitals fight over an impossibly small pot of available funds. That is still our situation to this day.
Florida State Prison has become a beachhead in Florida’s struggle to treat the sickest of our incarcerated mentally ill. Over
1,000 solitary confinement cells there now house people that probably would have been in mental hospitals thirty years ago.
Counseling rooms have been installed in the wings. Psychiatrists, psychologists and psychiatric techs comb through the halls
in street clothes, a shocking invasion of color where just a few years ago one saw only a sea of brown uniforms against a
backdrop of beige floors and walls.
And yet, as Christians who believe in the healing power of the resurrected Christ and the transforming power of the Holy Spirit,
we know that there is another side to this battle—a spiritual side—which must be fought on two fronts.
The first front exists at the door of each cell, the point of entry into the war for God’s dominion over each man’s heart
and mind. Inner healing, healing of memories, generational healing, even deliverance are all prayed at the door. Joy Lamb’s
book, Sword of the Spirit: Word of God, is a powerful leave-behind for those special men who choose to join the battle for
themselves. Cell after cell, I slide the book through the space under the door and into the eager hand inside.
"Pray those prayers," I speak loudly through the side crack of the door, shouting over the roar of the huge ventilator fans. "Things will change."
We are all integral to this battle. The support of our intercessory prayers without ceasing is pivotal to pushing back
the darkness that attempts to devour these men in the isolation and despair of their 9’ by 6’ world.
The other front in this battle is the door to each of our own hearts. Is it true that God’s money is better spent on us
than on the care of his children who are sick? Why is there always more money for punishment but so little for treatment?
Did not our Lord and Savior say, "What you refused to do for the least of your brothers, you refused to do for Me. Go off
to eternal punishment."? Our lack of treatment for the mentally ill reveals the dark depths in our hearts of stone, hearts
that have refused surrender to God’s dominion.
We must pray for ourselves: for conversion, for deeper faith, and for hearts of flesh.
First published: The Healing Line (March/April 2003)
© 2003 Dale S. Recinella & The Talahassee Democrat.
Used with permission. All rights reserved.
No further reproduction or republication without prior written permission.
I Was In Prison
News & Updates
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.
Your name and information will never be used or shared with anyone. We promise!
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