by Karen Brune Mathis
Dale Recinella ministers to the almost 400 men on Florida’s death row and the almost 2,000 men in solitary confinement.
“I am at death row at cell front,” said Recinella, a Catholic chaplain and a licensed Florida lawyer.
“As I step in front of each cell, my job is to find where this man is with God today and to find the foothold to bring him closer,” he said.
He also talks about his ministry when he can.
Recinella is scheduled to speak to the Christian Legal Society at noon Friday at The University Club on the Downtown Southbank.
He will talk about his journey from his birth in Detroit to his move to Florida, and earning a law degree from Notre Dame University Law School in 1976 and a master’s degree in theological studies from Ava Maria University’s Institute for Pastoral Theology in 2009.
The path is detailed in his book, “Now I Walk on Death Row, A Wall Street Finance Lawyer Stumbles into the Arms of a Loving God.” The book was released a few weeks ago.
For 20 years, Recinella has served as a spiritual counselor and Catholic lay chaplain in Florida’s prisons. In 1998 he began ministering at cell front and to the men in long-term solitary confinement.
His wife, Susan, is on the staff at Florida State Hospital in Macclenny.
When an inmate is executed, Dale ministers to the inmate and Susan is with his family.
Recinella said the couple also make themselves available to the families of murder victims, although they cannot do that if the death penalty is in play because that is a conflict.
“We can minister to families of murder victims when the death penalty is not in play,” he said.
“I implore people when we speak to reach out to families of murder victims, be a community support for them,” he said.
Recinella visits death row at Florida State Prison in Starke and Union Correctional Institution in Raiford. He does so as a volunteer, and not for pay.
“’Who pays you to do this?’ one fellow demanded to know,” said Recinella, responding there is no compensation and that he is there as a committed volunteer.
“The fellow on death row stepped back and said, ‘you do this for free? You are crazier than we are,’” he said.
“I sometimes get the same answer from audiences.”
Recinella holds a job as vice president of finance and planning for Christian Healing Ministries in Jacksonville.
He cannot talk about specifics about the inmates. “The confidentiality needs to be maintained,” he said.
Recinella, known there as Brother Dale, said the death row inmates have no choice about who steps in front of their cells.
“My first question has always been, ‘How are you doing today?’” he said.
“That became a joke. ‘I am on death row. How do you think I’m doing?’”
He asks about their families, knowing that there are illnesses and issues. “I’m surprised how many men on death row have large families,” he said.
The men share “the commonalities of being a human being.”
“The commonalities are human commonalities. The worries about people we love. There is also the commonality of the fact their life is scheduled to be eliminated. That is a commonality that is a tremendous commonality,” he said.
“And there is a need for God in a deep and personal way.”
Recinella said he has found that for the most part, the inmates are open to his conversations. “I find that most of them appreciate prayer and frequently they pray for others,” he said.
“I also find that they are struggling spiritually, and the physical conditions are extremely difficult,” he said.
Recinella said the inmates’ belief systems are “all over the lot.”
“I have people who were churched and fell away. I have some who never went to church, never heard about God or had any relationship with God, and everything in between,” he said.
Recinella said that one of the deepest lessons he has learned during his ministry is that “God doesn’t give up on anybody.”
“The world may give up, we may give up, sometimes even someone’s church may give up, and not without some real reasons,” he said.
“But God doesn’t give up, and that is primarily why I am there,” he said.
The Recinellas have five grown children.
Recinella said the book explores questions he and his family have asked, and the death penalty was one.
“I used to be a very strong proponent of the death penalty. I was a pro-life activist, but I’d never considered the death penalty a life issue,” he said.
Recinella said the death penalty can interfere with healing among victims’ families because “it goes on and on and on and on and on.”
“The other part is that in the 98 percent of the murders that the death penalty is not available, those people hear that their loved ones who were killed were not as valuable,” he said.
For information about the presentation Friday, email [email protected].