||Susan M. Recinella, Clinical Psychologist for mentally ill adults, and
Catholic Lay Minister to Families of the Executed|
Where Have All The Fathers Gone
By: Dale Recinella
The more things change, the more they stay the same.
That certainly seems to be true as I work my way from one new face to another in the solitary cells of
the wings at Florida State Prison. The recent rounds of transfers have brought in men from all over the state. The flock has rolled over. It’s time to start from scratch.
While the faces may be different, the habits are familiar.
Peering through the small window into a cell with a new occupant, I can’t help but notice the photographs adorning his wall. He’s about my age. Two daughters appear
repeatedly in the photo sheen, moving from infants to toddlers to braces to prom dresses and boyfriends. It’s time to introduce myself to him and the family.
“Man, where’d you get those pictures,”
I chide him abruptly. “Don’t you know it’s against the rules to be putting up pictures of another con’s stock?”
“What you talking about, crazy man?”
his ricochet response fires without even asking who I am. “This may be FSP, but you got no call challenging me my babies.”
Those can’t be your babies. Fess up. Where’d you buy the pictures?”
“What you mean?” every proud fatherly fiber of his being is bristling. “What are you talking about?”
“Those girls—why they’re downright beautiful. Not a whiff of ugly on them. They are beautiful as
babies, and gorgeous as young women. Right?”
“Yeah, that’s right,”
he seems a bit confused at agreeing with a compliment from the man he was just wanting to stretch. “So what’s your point?”
“Well, you ain’t beautiful at all.
There ain’t any beautiful no place on you. Matter of fact, you’re as ugly as sin. Those can’t be your babies. They don’t have a single ugly gene in their bodies!”
Before he can shake his shock, my second volley is headed his way. “I figured it out.
They’re adopted ain’t they. Do you love ‘em just like your own even though they’re adopted.”
“Man, you some kind a whacko or something?
They are mine. And I love ‘em to pieces.” He holds a picture of each child up against the glass and tells me their names. “You blind or something? Can’t
you see the resemblance? I never stop thinking about ‘em. They are always with me.”
They’re really yours. Wow. You’re wife must be a movie star or a model or something,” a hearty laugh punctuates my words. “Good thing for those girls that your
ugly gene isn’t dominant.”
After a precious moment
of awkward disbelief, the man inside the cell busts out laughing. “You mean all that was just putting me on. You were just stringing me?”
“Yeah mostly, but not completely.
They really are beautiful. And, no offense brother, but you ain’t.”
“Well, I’m glad you don’t think I’m beautiful,”
he’s laughing and slapping his side. “I wouldn’t be talking to you if you did.”
“I bet those girls love you a lot,”
the mood eases from the hard laughs of macho to the soft center of a father’s heart in a breath. “Do they write or send you cards?”
By the end of thirty more minutes,
I have listened to poems, letters, diary entries, viewed refrigerator art and Father’s day cards, and enjoyed a dozen more pictures.
We have become friends and will soon be like brothers.
It’s harder with men who have sons.
Everyone involved with prisons knows that the best statistical predictor of whether a young man will end up in prison is whether
his father is in prison. We all know it. No one wants to talk about it. So we talk about the pictures of track, hoops, football
and prom, instead.
There’s almost 80,000 adults
in Florida state prisons. Most are men. Most of them are fathers. That makes for a lot of pictures.
First published:The Florida Catholic, June 12, 2003
© 2003 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
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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