||Susan M. Recinella, Clinical Psychologist for mentally ill adults, and
Catholic Lay Minister to Families of the Executed|
A Christmas Inside
By: Dale Recinella
It’s the Saturday before Christmas.
Our family is well into the four-hour trip from our home in Jacksonville, FL to a large medium security prison near Pensacola. West of Tallahassee, the land turns hilly. We’re near the prison where I met him more than ten years ago. His courage astounded me. His faith humbled me.
The weak December sun is climbing as we line up for the visitor gate, waiting our turn to disgorge identification and the contents of our pockets, remove our shoes, walk through the metal detectors and raise our arms high for a full body pat down search. It was a little unnerving for my wife and children the first time. Now we are all used to it. The female officer who searches the children is polite and always remembers us. “You’re that unusual family. The ones that aren’t really family.”
“We’re family sure enough,” I laugh. “We’re called a Christian mentoring family. But if the truth be told, the man we’re visiting teaches us more than we could ever teach him.”
She smiles a knowing look. The officers know what most of us don’t know. The difference between some of those on the inside and many of us on the outside can be a thin line indeed. As thin as one or two drinks or a weapon too handy in a fit of anger. Thin enough for Christians to find family inside the razor wire fences.
In 1990 a prison chaplain asked me to become a spiritual director and prayer partner with inmates at his prison. One of the first men that came in for an appointment was my new brother. At the end of five years, our weekly prayer partner hours had brought us as close as any two men can be. We are truly brothers.
By the time he came to prison, convicted at nineteen years old of first degree murder, he had suffered more trauma than most people would even hear about in three lifetimes. His childhood was unspeakable. The culture of his upbringing in an isolated South Georgia county was violent and rife with prejudice, hatred and drugs and alcohol.
‘I was raised to hate Catholics,” he confessed matter-of-factly. “But when I heard how you talked about my Jesus, I knew you couldn’t be my enemy.”
Making Jesus his Jesus had cost him dearly, more than most of us will ever have to pay. By his own admission, he came to prison like a caged wild animal. In a six-man cell in the Rock, Florida’s most infamous prison for violence and death, he was introduced to Jesus. In the mid-eighties he embraced Jesus on a Kairos weekend. His family disowned him and denounced him for it. And Satan wasted no time in attacking on other fronts. He was served with divorce papers and lost any parental rights with respect to his two children. When Jesus walked in, everyone else in his life walked out.
After another three years of correspondence with him, my wife and I discerned that this man deserved the Gospel promise of a new family. Here was clearly a case of a new man in Christ who had forsaken all for love of God. For the next several years our family corresponded with him and accepted his phone calls. Finally, we received approval to visit as his family, a Christian mentoring family.
Now, it’s Christmas time, the time of special visits with loved ones. He has saved his canteen money for a Christmas picture. We gather around him, arm in arm, in the photo corner of the visiting park.
“Make it a good shot,” he chides the inmate with the Polaroid camera. “This is my family Christmas picture.”
First published: The Florida Catholic, November 29, 2001
© 2001 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
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