The God I Know
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I Was In Prison
Online Prison Ministry Newsletter
Oct 1, 2013
Dale S. Recinella, Catholic Correctional Chaplain Florida's Death Row & Solitary Confinement
Susan M. Recinella,Catholic Lay Minister to Families of the Executed and for seventeen years a Clinical Psychologist for mentally ill adults.

The God I Know
By: Dale S. Recinella
Catholic Correctional Chaplain for Florida’s Death Row

A part of my responsibility as a Catholic Correctional Chaplain on Florida’s death row is making myself available to the inmates for one-on-one pastoral counseling.

Such counseling is never initiated by me. Usually, it is at the request of the inmate. In rare instances, it can also be at the request of officers and staff who are looking out for the welfare of a particular inmate.

For example, on one occasion, officers were very concerned that a particular inmate, who had suffered the loss through death of important friends and family members, might be despondent enough to attempt suicide. They asked me to see him pastorally. I agreed so long as the inmate was willing to come voluntarily. He came.

The officers escort him in chains and black-box handcuffs from his cell down to the main floor counseling room and lock us in together. The inmate and I are sitting quietly across the table from one another as he sizes me up.

“I’m not one of your flock, you know,” he finally speaks in a rather dismissive tone.

“Yes, I know.” I smile and nod.

“So what the heck do you want with me?”

“I want to convince you that your life is a gift from God, and that even in here your life is a gift of great value.”

“What!” he glares at me with a rapid succession of rolling-eye rim shots. “Exc-u-u-u-use me! I assumed you were a Christian, but I must have been mistaken!”

“No. No mistake. I am a Catholic Christian.”

“You Christians are the ones who want to kill me!” The black-box cuffs make a dull thudding noise as his hands beat the table, punctuating his words. “You Christians are the ones who insist on having the death penalty! And you have the nerve to come in here and tell me my life is a gift? What kind of a Christian hypocrite are you?”

“My turn?” I ask gently after allowing the energy from his tirade to dissipate.

“Have at it!” He snorts in disdain. “This should be good!”

“Not all Christians support the death penalty. In fact the overwhelming majority do not. But we are in a country, and in a particular part of the country, where many Christians mistakenly believe that this practice is mandated by God’s will.”

“That would be the same God that you want to tell me about?” he speaks while pretending to crane his sight to the hallway, as though he wants the officers to end this pointless meeting. “This God that you want to tell me thinks my life is a gift.”

“I cannot speak for others.” I shrug with all the innocence that can be mustered under the circumstances. “I can only tell you about the God I know. And the God I know is mercy, within mercy, within mercy. He treasures your life and does not desire the death of a sinner.”

“So now I’m a sinner am I!” He again feigns the search for release and rescue by the hall officers; but this time he is smirking, obviously intending to pull my chain a bit.

“No worries,” I laugh. “I am a sinner, too.”

“So, Chaplain Sinner, cut the crap and give it to me straight. What do you want from me?”

“I want to convince you that your life is a gift from God, and that even in here your life is a gift of great value.”

“That’s your story and you’re sticking to it, huh?” He shakes his head as though we are wasting our time.

“Actually, that is God’s story, and He doesn’t change it.”

“This God that you know.” His emphasis is effectively sarcastic.

“Yes, the God I know.”

“Well don’t get your hopes up. I’m not going to pray, and I’m not going to read from your stupid book that all you Christians quote from to kill me.”

“You mean that ‘some Christians’ quote from to kill you, right?”

“Sure, if you say so.”

“So, does that mean you would like to meet with me regularly?”

“I wouldn’t say ‘like.’ But it will be okay.”

In the course of the next three years, that man became a godson to me and my wife. But not all my pastoral endeavors on death row have started out so well.

An infamous criminal on the row requested to begin seeing me pastorally. I was almost paralyzed at the thought. Surely, this required someone with much more training, much more experience, much more something.

Surely, God would not ask me to see a man pastorally when just the thought of his crimes, just the thought of holding his hands in prayer, the hands that did those unspeakable things to peoples’ loved ones, moved me to a nauseating horror and revulsion. All the crimes represented by death row are horrible. All the crimes are revolting. But these particular crimes were the stuff of my worst nightmares. Surely, I was not the guy to do this.

“I don’t think you get to pick, Dale.” The kindly priest, almost as grey in the hair as I have become seemingly overnight since starting death row ministry, is my pastoral advisor. “I don’t think you get to decide who God can ask you to serve.”

“But there has to be a limit, a boundary, a something that even God can’t ask me to go beyond.”

“Well, there isn’t in this regard, not when it comes to bringing His good news to the people who need it most. Can you think of anybody who needs the good news of Jesus Christ more than this fellow?”

“No. Of course not. But why me?”

“We don’t get to ask that question. Jesus eradicated that question for all time when He went to the Cross willingly and said, ‘Not my will, but Thy will.’ If anyone had the right to scream, ‘Why me?’ it was Him. But He didn’t. And so, we don’t get to ask that either. The reason He is sending you is because this man asked for you. If you refuse, you are not just saying ‘no’ to the inmate; you are saying ‘no’ to Christ.”

“Well, it’s a little late for that, don’t you think?” I feel sheepish at how sarcastic my tone is, but in fact, it does feel like God is taking me a lot deeper than I ever intended to go.

“In fact it is far too late for that.” The priest places his hand so gently on my shoulder that he feels like a father speaking to his teenage son. “I think you said ‘yes’ to this a long time ago, but you didn’t know it yet. You said ‘yes’ when you were baptized and confirmed. You say ‘yes’ every time you receive the Eucharist. Now, you are finding out what that ‘yes’ means.”

By the conclusion of my first pastoral with the infamous inmate, word has gone through the entire building. Not just the inmates, but also the staff are somewhat shocked that I would entertain the possibility that such a man is capable of forgiveness and redemption. As I clear the security checkpoint to exit the death row building, I notice that two officers are standing between me and the entrance to the quarter-mile long fence tunnel that leads to the front of the prison. I greet the two officers because I know them well and they have always treated me well. They do not return my greeting. As I step within arm’s reach of them, they do not budge an inch. I realize they are not here to make sure I am able to leave. In fact, they are here to block my path.

“You are way off track on this one, chap.” The younger officer who towers over me speaks with arms rigidly folded while expertly aiming his tobacco stained spit just a centimeter from my shoe. I know instinctively that his marksmanship with the spent tobacco juice is not a threat, but is meant for emphasis.

“We usually support your work in this building.” The older, shorter officer takes up his portion of the presentation. “You know we are supportive of your efforts. But this one is a mistake. God wants this one in hell.”

In the moment’s pause before responding, I pray to the Holy Spirit for the words. I know that both these men are strong biblical Christians. That is what we have in common, that and our horror at the crimes done to other peoples’ loved ones.

“I hear you.” My hands are raised in a gesture of surrender. “But I do not have a choice.”

“Sure you do,” snaps the younger officer. “Nobody is making you see him.”

“Jesus doesn’t give me a choice. Jesus says he leaves the ninety-nine righteous in the desert and goes out seeking to save the one who went astray.”

“I never read that in the Bible!” The younger officer stiffens with resolve, but I look squarely at the older officer who I know is a deacon in his church.

“Yeah …” he shakes his head disgustedly and drops his arms to his side. “Yeah … it’s in there. I’ve read it.”

“I do not have a choice, sir.” I am speaking softer now to two officers who themselves are feeling dejected and burdened by the weight of the Gospel’s demands. “If I come here as a minister of the Gospel, I have to be willing to go after the sheep Jesus would go after. And Jesus would go after him.”

No more words are exchanged. The two officers, crestfallen with heads shaking, simply step away, leaving me unobstructed from the gate to the outside.

For over a year that inmate and I meet for pastoral counseling. It never gets easy or casual. But God, in His infinite mercy to my brokenness, allows me to know with absolute clarity that this man can be forgiven and can someday see heaven.

This God, who is mercy, within mercy, within mercy, refuses to let me limit His saving work to the people that I can imagine in heaven. He imagines everyone in heaven.

God’s greatest desire is that no one choose hell.

© 2013 Dale S. Recinella, Tallahassee, Florida U.S.A. All rights reserved.
No copy, reproduction or republication without prior written permission.

Upcoming Events:

Now I Walk on Death Row
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Florida Bishops’ Statewide Respect Life Conference

October 18-19, 2013
Marriott Hotel
Palm Beach Gardens, Florida

For information call:
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    St. Francis Center, 100 West 20th Street
    Riviera Beach, FL 33404
For Telephone Registration: call (561) 360-3330 or (561) 360-3324


Now I Walk on Death Row
          Catholic Correctional Chaplain for Florida Death Row

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Say “No!” to the Death Penalty

November 30, 2013
Rome, Italy

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

If you Like this Monthly Ezine - You will love Dale's Book!
The Poor Clare Sisters
Paperback: 433 pages

Excellent book on the topic!,
June 13, 2005 Nathan Eanes
(Review from

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 The Poor Clare Sisters of Spokane
to support the IWasInPrison Outreach