||Susan M. Recinella, Clinical Psychologist for mentally ill adults, and
Catholic Lay Minister to Families of the Executed|
First in a series of six articles
How Hot Is Hell?
By: Dale Recinella
Although the electric chair is housed at Florida State Prison,
most of the 368 men on Florida’s death row are on the other side of the New River at Union Correctional Institution (UCI).
UCI is a prison complex—a campus of buildings containing every level of security and classification: death row, disciplinary solitary confinement, protective custody,
medical hospital, close custody, general population, even psychiatric solitary confinement. The prisoners and staff together total almost the population of my city. When the planned
construction is completed, UCI will be larger than my city.
The escort for my first visit
to UCI is Fr. Joe Maniangat. He’s been coming to UCI twice a week for almost sixteen years.
As we enter the massive beige structure that houses most of Florida’s death row, a young female officer hands each
of us an electronic device to clip on our belts. If we cease standing vertically, the black plastic box will sound an alarm. Another pod station and four heavy steel doors later, we are
on the row. It is as hot as I’ve imagined hell to be.
Florida‘s August sun has been beating down for hours hours on the exterior wall and windows along the left side of
the corridor. There is no shade because there are no trees. Trees are a security risk. Along the right side are the fifteen solitary cells, each with a ventilator fan in its back wall.
The unintended effect is that the superheated air off the outside face of the wall is sucked in through the windows and circulated across the walkway into the cells. I’ve stepped into a
Cell by cell we greet the man inside.
All are dressed only in their undershorts, the attire of choice in a solar oven. Until we approach, most are lying on the concrete floor of their cells in a vain effort to find relief
from the heat. It’s useless.
The scene is the same—corridor after corridor, wing after wing. And these are just the hundreds of men on death row.
There are hundreds more in disciplinary confinement. I never imagined the impact of Florida’s summer heat on thousands of men locked in solitary steel cages in concrete boxes of buildings.
No porch to retreat to for relief.
No shade to walk to.
Only relentless heat, twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.
Within minutes, Father Joe and I are drenched in perspiration.
We still have hours to go. As the sweat pours and the prayers flow, I find myself examining the men on the other side of the bars. Some look grandfatherly. A few are covered with tattoos. One
who takes Communion has obscenities etched in his shoulder. The next, too young to shave, looks like a neighbor kid who would mow your lawn. The pervading experience is unreality.
Fr. Joe has a warm smile and a greeting for every man, Catholic reading material for anyone that wants it, and sacraments
for those who are Catholic.
After 150 cells, barely a drop in the bucket, Fr. Joe and I lean against the cool of the metal door that leads off the row,
waiting for the control station to release the locks.
“These are God’s children, our brothers,” he smiles, placing a gentle hand on my soggy shoulder and wiping his brow with the
other. “That is the teaching of our Church.”
Then, moving his head in a sweeping gesture toward the hellish heat around us, he continues in a voice heavy with sadness and
dismay, “But that also means we’re supposed to treat them with dignity and respect.”
First published:The Florida Catholic,, October 14, 1999
© 1999 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