||Susan M. Recinella, Clinical Psychologist for mentally ill adults, and
Catholic Lay Minister to Families of the Executed|
What about Bob?
By: Dale Recinella
The scenario is as predictable as night follows days.
A lunch invitation.
Someone mentions my taking Communion to death row inmates.
“What’s it like to minister to men who have committed the most horrible crimes?”
I take a deep breath. It’s not the fault of these poor folks sitting at lunch with me. They are just repeating what the media and politicians have fed them.
“Answer slowly,” I remind myself. “Slowly and respectfully.”
“Ten years ago I would have asked that question, too,” I sigh, “But I’ve learned a carefully guarded secret.”
The body language of my hosts shifts into defensive mode, creating a sweep of movement around the table like the wave cycling through a football stadium.
“A secret?” the fellow to my left asks sharply.
“Well, it’s not a secret-secret,” I put down my ice tea in order to talk with both hands. “It is one of those secrets that are hidden in plain sight. All the credible studies and statistics confirm it. But normal, voting people have never heard about it.”
“Go for it,” snaps the gentleman to my right from behind tightly folded arms.
“For the most part, the people on death row aren’t those who committed the worst crimes. They are the guys who had the worst lawyers.”
All the sandwiches are flat on the table. Nobody is chewing.
What everyone has consistently been told by their elected officials and most media has just been put into question. No one is even thinking about chewing. The guy on the corner breaks the tension by lobbing a mortar my way.
“What about that death row convict in Texas who attacked a volunteer chaplain a few weeks ago?”
“That is extremely rare,” I explain. “In fact in Florida, death row inmates have the best-behavior record of any classification level in the state prison system. Statistically, I’m safer praying with men on death row than I would be on a commuter flight or crossing the street in some Florida cities.”
“What?” all five men almost come out of their chairs at once.
This lunch is close to over.
“Are you saying that these guys are—are—like spiritual people?”
“A few of them aren’t. Most of them are. And some of them have a faith that puts you and me to shame.”
“Well take a man who died of cancer recently. He was on the row a long time. New guys to the row would find out quickly that they could talk to him, get advice from him, pray with him. Men who had been there awhile knew he would comfort them when someone in their family died. He would encourage the discouraged with prayer and Scripture.
When he lay dying, one of the officers said to me, ‘He couldn’t be my friend. That’s not allowed. But we all knew he was a Godly man. And we respected him for that.’”
“You make it sound like that fantasy movie, The Green Mile,” laughs the graying man kiddy corner from me. “How’d he die?”
“No magic. Just real spirituality and faith,” I recount. “Someone read the Scriptures aloud for him as he passed into God’s hands.”
The man at the end of the table has been silent until now. “How come we never hear these stories in the paper?”
“I’m not sure,” I shrug. “I guess for the same reason that nobody writes stories about planes that didn’t crash.”
“Yeah, right,” the man to my right throws up his hands. “And if the papers printed stories like these, who’d want them killed?”
His question hangs unanswered.
Finally, he turns to me. “You get invited to many lunches?”
“Oh, yes, quite a few,” I smile. “But only really brave people invite me back a second time.”
First published: The Florida Catholic, June 29, 2000
© 2000 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