||Susan M. Recinella, Clinical Psychologist for mentally ill adults, and
Catholic Lay Minister to Families of the Executed|
Same Time Next Year
By: Dale S. Recinella
For over a dozen years my annual rituals include February, April and May pilgrimages to the discount stores across rural north central
Florida from Jacksonville to Lake City to Gainesville to Starke.
Each year I need about 1,400 Valentines’ Day Cards. Mothers’ Day Cards – about 900. Fathers’ Day Cards – about 700.
Prison regulations are strict. No sparkly stuff. No ribbons or fancy whatnots. No cards with 3D popups or glued inserts. No plastic.
No metal. No foil. No wood. And no envelopes that are not white, light-yellow or light-blue.
No cards that are lewd. No cards with alcohol or drinking themes. No cards with pictures of young children. No cards that are overly
romantic or suggestive.
It gets harder every year to find cards that meet the prison limitations – even for Mothers’ Day. So every year, I greedily hunt down
hundreds of 50 cent cards in the special bins across Florida’s less travelled county roads.
Timing is everything. If one shows up just a day or two after the cards have been put out on shelves at a particular store, there can
be eight or twelve or even twenty-four of a kind. I still remember vividly an awkward moment with my then high-school senior son. He
was keeping me company on such a pilgrimage from store-to-store when I unexpectedly hit the jackpot in the discount card section of a
remote shop. As I gleefully filled my hand-basket with dozens of sets of twelve each of prison qualified Valentines’ Day Cards, I must
have looked a bit like Blackbeard the pirate scooping up gold coins.
My son lovingly looked at me with concern, and asked: “Dad, are you sure this is spiritually healthy?”
Be that as it may, there is nothing quite like the experience of stepping to the checkout line in a discount store with hundreds of
cards for one of those three holidays.
“How many mothers have you got?” is among the politest comments I have received from disgruntled clerks who must hand scan the bar
code on the back of every card individually.
The comments about Valentines’ Day Cards usually amount to statements of disbelief that a short, round, middle-aged man would have
so many women to send cards to.
For Fathers’ Day, the stock reaction from behind the register is: “So what’s up? You don’t know who your daddy is so you’re
sending cards to the whole neighborhood?!”
Invariably, I use the opportunity to mention that the cards are for the men on Florida’s death row to send to their loved ones.
That is guaranteed to kill the conversation for a moment or two. Then, it gets really interesting, and many of the store patrons
move closer to listen in.
“So, you are against the victims and in favor of the criminals!”
“No.” I always make eye contact and speak gently. “Actually I have become aware that the victims of these horrible crimes frequently
include the innocent family members of the perpetrator. So, the cards are for them – the children, the mothers, the fathers, the brothers
and sisters, the wives – most of whom have done nothing wrong.”
“How do they get to be victims?”
“Nobody goes to prison alone. They always take their family to prison with them. And when a man goes to death row, he takes his family to
death row with him.”
“But his crime victim is not getting to send any cards to her mom or her young’uns or her husband. What about that!”
“You’re right. And I cannot fix that. So, I do the little bit that I can by trying to relieve the suffering of the other innocent victims
in his own family.”
A few clerks register indifference. Some simply say that they are against what I am doing but have to check me out because they need their
job. Some clerks have thrown the cards back at me and refused to check me out. One left the premises after telling her manager that either
she or I would have to leave the store. There is no doubt in my mind that such strong emotional reactions are rooted in the horror of the
loss of a loved one to a violent crime. Our society has not even tried to learn how to bring healing to those who have suffered such a loss.
There are some clerks who express surprise at the thought that people on death row have families and loved ones. They seem a bit shaken at
that, and then are fine scanning the cards.
Several times each year, as I leave a store and tote my bags to the parking lot, someone will approach me from behind. A man, an older
woman, a couple who appear married. They always speak softly and deliberatively, as though pushing out the words with great effort.
Our son is in prison… My dad is in prison… My brother is in prison… My grandfather is in prison… My mother is in prison… Our daughter
is in prison… followed by a heartfelt sigh: “Thank you.”
© 2012 Dale S. Recinella, Tallahassee, Florida U.S.A.
All rights reserved. No reuse or republication without 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.
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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