||Susan M. Recinella, Clinical Psychologist for mentally ill adults, and
Catholic Lay Minister to Families of the Executed|
Third in a series of six articles
Lord, Send Us Your Spirit
By: Dale Recinella
In my twenty-some years of practicing law,
I was never in court as a lawyer. Never filed a complaint. Never argued a motion. My arenas were conference rooms and closing tables. Now, here I am
in court again.
I’ve been subpoenaed to testify in the lawsuit about the summer heat on Florida’s death row. Not too many people walk around back there. Who else
can they call to provide on site experience of the grueling effects of incessant Florida summer heat and moisture on the human constitution?
While waiting my turn in the last row of the courtroom’s wooden pews, I imagine the questions that might be asked. “Probably they’ll start with:
How hot is it?”
”Sounds like the lead in for a bad joke on the old Tonight Show,” I chuckle to myself. “The answer might sound like a bad punch line.”
Is it okay to say “as hot as I thought hell would be but with higher humidity” on the witness stand in a federal court? Probably not. But I can’t
give temperatures. I am not allowed to carry a thermometer around the prison. Maybe I should describe how, in all the towns surrounding that prison, cows are dropping dead on the farms in droves. Outside temperatures
have been hitting a hundred or higher with humidity in the high 90s.
It’s a lot hotter than the ‘tourist temperature.” That is what everyone calls the official temperature from Jacksonville, which seems geared to
convincing tourists it’s safe to come on down. The readings don’t appear related at all to the physical environment in a concrete and steel box with no air conditioning, shade or air movement in the middle of a
former cow pasture in rural north Florida.
My mental gymnastics are curtailed by the jolting testimony of a death row inmate who has taken the stand. He is 50-ish and has been asked to
describe the physical effects of the heat. He testifies that he has been filing grievances about the summer heat for almost ten years. He is required to take psychotropic medications that have instructions to avoid
excessive heat. He describes dizziness. Disorientation. Confusion. Palpitations. Nausea. Vomiting. Blood pressure irregularities. Breathing difficulties. Heat and stress induced sleep disorders. He has passed out
and split his head open against the metal sink in his cell.
Can we believe our ears? Is anybody listening? I look around the room. How are people responding to this?
To my right is a group of escort officers, , listening attentively and solemnly. They’ve probably been in those wings in July and August.
They know what it’s like to be in that heat for just thirty or forty minutes, let alone to live in it.
Suddenly a pert young woman seated about three rows in front of them stands up and turns her back to the witness stand. Her crisp blue suit
and badge give her away as a government agent of some kind. She’s obviously heard enough. Her meticulously coifed blonde hair swirls to catch up with the rotation of her perfectly exercised body, as she gestures
towards the officers. Sneering sharply, with eyes rolling and nostrils flaring in a snort, she sarcastically signifies her dehumanization of the man on the witness stand.
The officers try to act as though they didn’t see her. I saw her. I am aghast.
This is our response to human agony?
This is our spirit in the face of relievable human suffering created by us, our manmade torment for those controlled and dominated under us?
Lord, save us from our hearts of stone. Cast out from us this dark spirit and give us hearts of flesh.
Lord, please, send us your spirit.
First published:The Florida Catholic,, August 8, 2002
© 2002 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.
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