Where Prayer Is The Currency Of Choice

by Dale S. Recinella
Sep/Oct 2002

Union Correctional Institution is like a miniature city-except it's a prison. There are almost 1,000 prisoners who are allowed to walk around and work during the day. They are called general population and are able to come to the chapel for prayer ministry and worship services. The rest are in solitary confinement. That includes over 330 on death row, another 400 or so in disciplinary solitary, and about a hundred in psychiatric solitary. Then there are the men housed in the prison medical hospital. Every malady one finds in an out- side hospital is presented inside, too. Not infrequently, men die here. This prison is growing. Another thousand solitary cells are under construction.

I am the Catholic lay chaplain. My job is to make the rounds, cell to cell, offering prayer, fellowship and emotional support to each man. A very few want none of it. Most hunger for all they can get. It takes about four weeks to make the circuit here and at Florida State Prison next door. That hulking monolith houses over 1, 100 men in long-term solitary confinement. It's also the home of the death house, the execution chamber in the basement of Q-Wing. The upper floors of Q-Wing contain Florida's most severe disciplinary cells: maximum sensory deprivation, cells built within cells.

These two prisons are my primary work. It's hot-no air-conditioning except for the few cells in psychiatric solitary. When the heat and humidity gets unbearable, as it usually does from the beginning of July until the end of August, an entire wing will reverberate with the cries and the pounding of men being driven virtually to the edge of insanity by the incessant and unrelieved heat.

The staff who must also function in this environment need spiritual support as well. I'm there for them, too.

There are also the families that come to visit. I' ll step out of my car in the parking lot only to see a woman my mother's age bent over her trunk lid, shaking with gut wrenching sobs. She has just finished a non'-contact visit on death row with her husband, or her son or her grandson. She is facing a lonely 5 or 10 or 20- hour drive home.

Then there are the executions. The week of daily visits called deathwatch. The final five hours at cell front. My wife is with the family of the condemned while I am with him as he is killed. Then the post-execution time with his family until they leave for home.

And, most difficult of all, the time spent with the loved ones of the murder victim. A living room, a dining room, even a home patio can all become a place of solitary confinement for the loved ones who will spend the rest of their days listening for that cherished voice that they will never hear again-not in this world.

A currency is a standard that reduces everything to a common denominator. What could possibly be a point of connectedness among all these tears? There is only one currency, only one legal tender that can bridge these oceans of suffering and sorrow. It is the currency of prayer. Nothing else can purchase anything of value to minister to the depth of these needs.

Such are the prayers that fill the little book God Is With You: Prayers For Men In Prison ( ordering information on page 15). This well-written, quick read brings together the people, the Scriptures and the prayers that spin the web of connectedness among all those touched by the modem penal system. Those who are involved will be nourished. Those who aren't will learn in a simple and gentle manner about a reality that is beyond their reckoning.

Francis MacNutt Dale S. Recinella, formerly a lawyer specializing in domestic and international project finance, works two days per week on staff at CHM handling our strategic planning and special projects. Sep/Oct 2002 Issue