Now I Walk on Death Row: A Wall Street Finance Lawyer Stumbles into the Arms of A Loving Godby Dale S. Recinella
As one of the most influential finance lawyers in the country, Dale Recinella was living the American dream. With prestige, power, and unthinkable paychecks at his fingertips, his life was perfect... at least on paper. But on the heels of closing a huge deal for the Miami Dolphins, Dale's life took an unfathomable turn. He heard--and heeded--Jesus's call to sell everything he owned and follow him. Thus began a radical quest to live out the words of Jesus--no matter what the cost.
In this quick-paced, well-written story, Recinella shares his amazing journey from growing up in the slums of Detroit to racing through "the good life" on Wall Street to finally walking the humble path of God--the path of ministry on death row.
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Now I Walk on Death Row
By Dale S. Recinella
Chosen BooksCopyright © 2011 Dale S. Recinella
All right reserved.
Chapter OneFrom Times Square to Time Square
The blazing Florida sun of late summer has been cooking this building for hours. It feels like a zillion degrees as I step from the air-conditioned quarterdeck, where the staff takes their breaks, onto the actual death row corridor. The solid steel door slams shut behind me, and the electronic dead bolts engage with a resounding bang from deep inside the wall. I face a six-foot-wide concrete path, blackened and discolored from years of strong chemical cleaners, yet still slick with today's humidity and the drippings of human sweat.
Along the right are the death row cells. To the left is a string of grimy windows open to the heat penetrating relentlessly from outside the concrete exterior of the wing. From floor to ceiling a wall of steel bars, barely covered with chipped and peeling beige paint, stretches down the entire corridor, separating the concrete floor into two walkways. Between the steel-barred wall and the windows is the area called the catwalk. It is too far removed from the cells for me to minister to the men inside. One can barely reach far enough through the bars to touch fingertips in prayer. Even speaking from the catwalk requires me to shout at the men in their cells and for them to shout back. It is more than a problem of distance. It is a function of the acoustics as well.
Today I am on the gate walk, the path immediately in front of the nine-by-ten-foot cells, each holding one of the fifteen men on this corridor until Florida can execute them. A voice can be readily heard on the gate walk from several cells away. As I begin speaking to the man in the first cell on my right, several of the men on the corridor can hear me.
It is September 1998, my second week ministering on death row in Florida. The priest who has been making these rounds by himself for fifteen years walks ahead of me. The physical environment of this place has worn him down and broken his health. He needs to move on. In June I will be taking over the cell-to-cell rounds from him. In the meantime I am his shadow, learning the ropes and the names and faces of the unseen men who inhabit more than four hundred cells on Florida's death row. For me, it is a blessing that they come in small bites, fifteen cells at a time along one side of each corridor. For those men, I am a curiosity, a newbie, a green prospect. One man in particular on this corridor is determined to challenge my motives and denounce my credibility.
From his cell near the end of the corridor, he hears me enter. As I work my way from man to man, he knows from the sound of my voice that I am white. He knows from my speech patterns that I have lived a life that is socially privileged. Unbeknownst to me he is waiting, ready to give me what for. Finally, thirteen cells into the corridor, I arrive at the barred door that is the front wall of his house. He is not smiling.
"Good morning," I greet him. "I'm Brother Dale. How are you doing today?"
"Yeah, I know who you are." He dismisses my salutation in a breath. "And you are in way over your head, Mister Brother Dale. You think you know what's going on here. But you and your cracker mind don't have a clue!"
My attorney-trained brain is already in gear, collecting data on this angry new face. He is about two inches taller than I am with roughly my build. His chest and arms reveal great strength, like someone who has been working outside most of his life. He is African American, and he is angry. His eyes burn with intensity, and his lips are stretched taut. The sweat on his skin reflects a weird iridescence from the fluorescent bulb on the back wall of his cell, creating the illusion of an aura of anger.
"I'm sure you're right." My lips form the words, but my mind has already detached. I am hastily building a shadow space to think and analyze from a distance, while my body stays in the moment. Although my adrenaline is pumping, I dare not reveal fear or tension. My body is stalled in neutral while the instincts of fight-or-flight are revving in my chest.
"You don't even have a clue how right I am." He stretches his hand outside the bars of his cell with his pointed finger now just an inch from my face. His fist pumps forward punctuating each syllable. "With your cracker upbringing on the right side of the tracks, you don't know nothin' about my life or about my world."
As he leans forward, close to my face, with eyes burning, I have a split-second recollection of a movie where the bad guy has x-ray lasers for eyes. If the lifeless remnants of beige paint were not already peeling off the bars of his cell door, I think his eyes would burn the paint right off.
I find myself mechanically charting the portion of space on my side of the bars, which he has claimed through his gestures and his rage. There is barely any energy for thought. All my resources are engaged to make sure I do not challenge his claims to my space and do not step backward or wince. My instincts from street ministry and raising teenagers have kicked me into receiving mode. There is not yet an opening to respond. From my silence, he assumes I disagree.
"Don't be a rube, boy." His large arms move upward and his hands grip the cell door bars that frame the sides of my face, twisting back and forth with each breath. "You think some cracker judge put me here? You're wrong. You think some cracker jury put me here? You're wrong!"
On the heels of the tirade, his pause seems louder than his words have been. The moment has come to respond. Sounding as neutral as possible, I ask the obvious question.
"Then how did you get here?"
"I was born on this side of this door!" His head thrusts forward with each phrase, delivering the verbal equivalent of pummeling head butts. "From the first day of my life, everything put me on track for this cell on death row. I was born on this side of this door."
His words hang for a moment in the stagnant, stifling air. Although he is enraged, I do not sense any animosity toward me personally. The steel bars standing between us afford a luxury rarely available on the streets. I can step into this anger and claim it as fertile ground for the Kingdom.
"Let's assume that you are right." I speak firmly while locking my eyes on his and intentionally leaning into his space that has been extended to my side of the bars. "That means I was born on this side of this door, that I had just as little to do with being on this side of the bars as you did with being on that side of the bars."
He freezes, then steps back a half step, with his fists still firmly gripping the bars on either side of my face. My words have met an angry but open heart. With our eyes still rigidly engaged, I lean a little farther into the contested space and place my hands on the bars one space outside each of the bars he is gripping. His gesture, which originally was meant as a threat, is now reframed as an encounter.
"Here we are," I continue. "What are you and I going to do now?"
He looks puzzled for a moment. Then he drops his hands to his side, muttering a stream of expletives punctuated by glances at me and the repeated phrase "crazy white whatever."
The entire corridor is dead silent. Every ear in every cell on wing 3-Left downstairs is pushed against the bars toward the corridor. There is no doubt in my mind that the microphones in the ceiling that allow every word to be monitored in the control rooms are turned to maximum pickup. This is the moment to push the issue. But my voice must be devoid of pressure or threat.
"What are you and I going to do now?" I ask again in as neutral a tone as an Italian lawyer can muster while his heart is pounding out of his chest.
The protagonist in this drama has retreated to the center of his cell. He sets his right foot on the bunk about two feet off the floor, as though to steady himself. His right hand moves to his chin in a gesture of thoughtfulness. Finally he responds.
"I don't know. Let me think about it."
In that moment I could not imagine that six years later he would ask me to be his spiritual advisor for his execution; that I would be with him for hours each day during the last six weeks before he was killed; that I would stand next to his wife to catch her and comfort her as she collapsed, sobbing in her home when his lawyer handed her the open box of his cremains. I could not imagine the hundreds of times we would speak at the front of his cell, always ending with him shaking his head in dismay, saying, "Man, oh man. You sure are white."
In the moment all I can imagine is getting outside and getting some air. But there are at least another hundred cells to see before the priest and I exit the prison that day.
Hours later, the priest and I are standing in Time Square at Florida State Prison to be processed through the master control room. This is the prison where the executions take place. This is the prison that holds the death house, which men are moved to when their death warrant is signed and after they are removed from the long-term cells at the death row building.
The two main corridors of Florida State Prison intersect in the shape of a huge cross. The longer prison corridor runs south to north for over a quarter of a mile. The suicide watch wing and medical clinic are housed at the southern extremity. The execution chamber and the death house make up the northern end. The shorter corridor cuts across the trunk of the cross. Its eastern end runs to the front entrance of the prison building. Its opposite end terminates at the west door. The place where the trunk of this cross intersects the horizontal transept is called Time Square. It is an intentional play on words because this is Florida's big house. This is where serving a sentence is referred to as doing big time. But it is not just a nickname. It is official. The words Time Square are spelled out with four-foot kelly green letters in the beige floor tile of this space.
The moment triggers a flashback to another place, another time, another life—my life more than twenty years earlier when I practiced law as a project finance lawyer in the U.S. and international capital markets. In those days there was only one Times Square in my life, and it was in the Big Apple. New York City is where the deals close because that is where the money is. As I stand with the hopelessness of the suicide watch wing to my right and the Florida death house to my left, the green tiles embedding the words Time Square in the floor of the cross resurrect a distinct memory.
* * *
I am in a conference room on the highest floors of the General Motors Building in New York City. It is the waning days of 1985. The fate of Joe Robbie's new stadium for his Miami Dolphins football team is on the line. The deal had been condemned as hopeless from the very beginning. My job is to make sure it closes.
That is not an unusual position for me. The surest way to pique my interest in a deal is to tell me that it has been deemed hopeless. Barry Frank was my law partner in Miami for several years. He knows that about me and is not shy about taking advantage of it. He calls me about the stadium deal near the end of October.
Barry's client is a huge investment bank that has reached an agreement with Mr. Robbie to finance his new football stadium for $125 million. There is one catch. The deal must close before year's end because of tax law changes. That means a very specific deadline: 2:00 p.m. on New Year's Eve, the time the fed wire shuts down. There is no room for wiggling. If the $125 million is not in the fed wire by two o'clock on December 31, the deal will not close, no professionals will be paid their fees or reimbursed for their thousands of dollars in out-of-pocket costs and the Miami Dolphins will not have a new stadium.
Barry calls me about a month before Thanksgiving. I am incredulous.
"It takes about eighteen months to put together a stadium financing," I protest, "and that is if everything goes perfectly. You are saying we must do it in ten weeks, including the holidays!"
"I know," he laughs. "It definitely sounds like your kind of a deal."
"How soon do we start?"
"I'm here in New York." He shifts into his get-the-lead-out tone of voice. "We just signed the commitment letter for the financing. Why aren't you here yet?"
"Because we haven't agreed on my fee yet. Assuming we do, when do you want me?"
"My secretary already has you booked on the 6:00 a.m. Eastern Airlines flight out of Miami tomorrow. A limo will meet you at LaGuardia."
It is standard operating procedure. Finance lawyers are constantly in the air between south Florida and New York.
After setting the fee, we divvy up the turf. Barry is responsible for all the matters dealing with revenue and real estate. He is the best real estate lending lawyer I have ever met. That is his domain. My job is to dog the paper work and ensure that the documents accurately reflect the deals being cut at the table. With over a hundred documents, totaling thousands of pages, under constant revision, that will be no small feat. The race is on.
The site for negotiations is an enormous conference room table on an upper floor of the GM Building near Central Park, the offices of the midtown law firm that represents Joe Robbie. As I exit the limo from LaGuardia Airport and check in with the building security in the lobby, I know what to expect. All the big New York law firms seem to use the same interior decorators and furniture suppliers.
The building elevator will open up into a dedicated lobby with the law firm name in large gold, bronze or silver letters plastered across the wall. As New York law firms are crazily merging and falling apart in the 1980s, it is not unusual for the big metal letters of the new firm name to barely hide the shadows of the prior letters revealed in the fade of the wallpaper. That will not be the case with this firm. It is a mainstay among the so-called silk-stocking firms in midtown Manhattan.
Fungible art, intentionally meaningless enough to avoid offense to any potential business client, will adorn the imported textured paper on every wall. The stained and varnished veneers coating every desk in every office and in the reception lobby will be painstakingly matched by moldings of either light pine or deep mahogany around every window and every door. All the decor reflects off seamless marble floors.
The receptionist, always blond and curvaceous, will invariably speak with a voice and diction that betray her original reason for moving to New York City—to find stardom of some kind. Her meticulous business dress with an impossibly tight bodice will make it clear, however, that those futile dreams are now behind her. Just landing her MRS degree with a wealthy client of the firm is worth settling for. It happens more often than people might think.
I am not disappointed. This firm follows the New York law firm playbook. After being greeted, identified and assigned to a staff person, I am escorted quickly into a huge conference room filled with tense and angry people. The decor is brighter and more cheery than that of most conference rooms I have lived in for weeks and months at a time. The massive conference room table is hand carved from rich, dark wood. The level of varnish and polish is so deep that those sitting at the table can see their entire reflection. The monotony of thought-numbing art on the walls is interrupted by intricate brass fixtures imitating old street gaslights, by a few brass-bordered mirrors and by a wet bar at one end of the room.
Good, I think to myself, noting the presence of my favorite brands of scotch in the liquor cabinet. We are going to need that.
Joe Robbie and his lawyers are huddled around one corner of the massive table. My new clients, the investment bankers from Wall Street, are sitting with Barry directly across from Robbie's entourage. Representatives of the NFL and the various Miami and State of Florida government agencies involved in this massive project are strewn about the room randomly like cards in a game of 52 pickup. A well-known, highly respected Miami attorney represents the Florida bank that will monitor construction and disburse the $125 million to build the stadium. I know without asking that his instructions are the same as mine: Make sure the deal closes.
The political and public pressure is extreme. Miami wants a new stadium. No one is smiling.
"Did I miss the closing? Has the money already been wired?" I speak in Barry's direction but watch for everyone's reactions.
"In your dreams." Barry smirks with his boyish sardonic grin. "We have a few issues first."
"Oh good." I laugh back. "I love issues."
"Well, then, you're gonna love this deal," chides a man about twenty years my senior, sitting three people away from Barry. "Pull up a chair."
I immediately figure him for a lawyer. It turns out he is an attorney from a major Cleveland law firm and is representing the secondary lender in the deal. He and I will know each other well before this is over.
Everybody in a charcoal gray or blue pinstriped suit is a lawyer. The bankers all wear solid dark blue suits but get creative with their ties and their shirts. Almost any color tie is allowed as long as it is silk. The custom-made solid color shirts with off-color cuffs and collars are in vogue in 1985. Given enough bankers, there could actually be a lot of color in the room.
Excerpted from Now I Walk on Death Row by Dale S. Recinella Copyright © 2011 by Dale S. Recinella. Excerpted by permission of Chosen Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author
Dale S. Recinella has served for 20 years a volunteer chaplain and for 13 years as a lay chaplain for Florida's death row and solitary confinement. Dale has worked as a licensed Florida lawyer for over 30 years. He and his wife, Susan, have five children and live in Macclenny, Florida.
Dale S. Recinella has served for 20 years a volunteer chaplain and for 13 years as a lay chaplain for Florida's death row and solitary confinement. Dale has worked as a licensed Florida lawyer for over 30 years. He and his wife, Susan, have five children and live in Macclenny, Florida.
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What would your life be like if you heard the words of Jesus and asked, "Do you think He meant what He said?" How would your life change if you discovered that the gospel was personal - that God meant for you to apply His instructions to your daily life? These are the questions that a prestigious Wall Street finance lawyer faced after walking into church one night and hearing the challenge Jesus gave a rich young man - a man just like him - in Mark 10:17-25. Now I Walk On Death Row chronicles the spiritual odyssey of Dale S. Recinella - a man who spent a lifetime running from God - only to discover that he cannot escape God's call. In this memoir, we witness how God transforms Recinella from a powerful, privileged, chain-smoking attorney to a humble, self-sacrificing, volunteer chaplain who ministers to the poor, the homeless, the mentally ill, those with AIDS, and ultimately, those living in solitary confinement and serving on death row in Florida's most dangerous prisons. It's been a long time since I've read a book that has touched me so deeply. When I first saw the title, I didn't want to pick it up. After I started reading it, I didn't want to put it down. If you're looking for a book that will change your perspective on life and the world around you, then read this book. I cannot recommend it more highly.
Now I Walk On Death Row by Dale S. Recinella is a riveting story of one man's journey from his personal death row to eternal life and servitude among those condemned on death row. The author is transparent as he shares the trials of his childhood, poverty and suffering, and the self-made trials of adulthood. Anyone looking from the outside would have only seen a successful finance lawyer, wealth of Wall Street, and luxury. Inside, Dale Recinella was a broken man searching for a more purposeful life. When his brother invites him to a Bible study, he attends with the purpose of meeting a girl. Yes, he finds his wife, but also the Lord. In studying the Bible with his wife, a question continues to invade his thoughts. Did Jesus mean what He said? They began to peel away the comforts of their lifestyle, decreased their workload, and increased their ministry to the poor and homeless, still asking this thought-provoking question. When he was asked to attend a conference sponsored by the American Catholic Church, he asked the panel the following. The things you are saying about our gospel, to go beyond our comfort zone, our gospel to live in relationship with the poor, our gospel duty to make management decisions in multinational companies based on criteria other than just profit, these things are tremendous. But I have been an American Catholic all my life and have regularly attended church in wealthy suburban parishes for the last twenty years. I have never heard this from the pulpits of an affluent American church. When will we hear these words from the pulpit of our American churches? .. After translation into several languages, the reply came. Don't wait to hear it from the pulpit. Jesus said it. You read it. Go do it. Unemployed, his wife accepted a position in Florida. He decided to volunteer at the prison, sharing Christ's salvation to those awaiting death. One priest had been serving the entire prison for fifteen years and knew that Dale Recinella was sent from God for this time. The author also shares his personal journey to a total pro-life position, a position that I, too, hold. He was once asked, How can a Christian justify being opposed to the law of the land? The death penalty is the law of the land. The author replied, So is legalized abortion, and as a Christian I must be against that as well. He has fought against the execution of the mentally ill, and has been a minister to the families of the inmates and victims. He reminds us that when we live out the words of Jesus, what we give up is nothing compared to what we receive in return. I highly recommend you read this inspirational book. It will not only open your heart to greater service to God, but also open your eyes to the lives of those on death row, remembering that they, too, are souls for whom Jesus died. This book comes with the recommendations of many Christian faiths and Christian ministers. This book is published by Chosen, Spirit filled Living, a division of Baker Publishing Group.
If you want to read a book that falls into the category of "I can't put this one down" then add Now I Walk on Death Row to your summer reading list. Wow! How do I summarize this one? It was, truly, one of those books that once I started to read it I couldn't put it down. This is the true-life story of Dale Recinella, a Wall Street finance lawyer, who decides to ask the question, "Does Jesus really mean what he says?" The answer, he concludes, leads to a transformation in his life that can only be explained as miraculous. Over time he leaves his work as a finance lawyer and enters the full-time ministry (volunteer, ministry, I might add, not paid ministry) serving "the least of these". Mr. Recinella begins by serving the homeless and down-and-out in the inner city where he lives, then transitions to serving AIDS patients, then works with men in prison, and eventually ends up as a volunteer chaplain ministering to the inmates on Florida's death row. It is a remarkable journey - one that is a model of what it looks like to "walk by faith and not by sight". This book at times made me laugh, cry, and even get angry - it was everything a good book should be. And to top it all off, it is a true story. Now I Walk on Death Row challenged me - and will most likely challenge you - to examine if you're really taking Jesus at his word and if you are truly living the life God has called you to live. What was shocking (and humbling) as I read the story is not how bad life is for many people in this world, but how ignorant I am of the pain around me and how unwilling I can be to sacrifice my own self to share with them the good news of Jesus' love. This book receives 5/5 stars. Note: I received this book free from the publisher as part of their blogger review program. I was not required to write a positive review of it. I am disclosing this to comply with FTC regulations.
I received this book for free from Bethany Publishers. This book was by far one of the best books I ever read. When I first received the book, I wasn't sure what to expect. I was curious about the author since he was a lawyer and I happen to work in a law firm. It was amazing that when I read the first page, I was immediately drawn in and I couldn't put the book down. Mr. Recinella is a prolific and gifted writer. I sincerely hope he writes another book, because I'm definitely going to read it. I never laughed and cried so much from a book in my life. It was so interesting to read about his life from basically being an unbeliever and then how he becomes a believer in Jesus Christ. But not only did he become a believer, he became a servant of the Lord. He took God at His Word and gave his life to serve others. He is truly an inspiration. This book was life transforming, thought provoking as it was convicting. It really makes you think about those who are incarcerated but innocent and facing the death penalty based on archaic laws. I don't want to give too much away, but I highly recommend this book and believe everyone should read it.
Now I Walk on Death Row by Dale S. Recinella is a thought provoking biography of one man's journey in faith. Recinella first learned about the unfairness of life when his younger sister, Jan, was crippled by a high fever that left her in a vegetative state, bringing his parents' life in the American Dream to an end. He grew up to be a lawyer, to always have enough money and to be in a position of control in life. His career takes off and he is soon handling billion dollar deals, but his marriage and family life suffers as he engages in a fast-paced lifestyle of drinking and extreme work weeks of 100+ hours. His younger brother, Gary, confronts Dale and helps him turn his life over to Christ. That decision soon leads him to wife Susan and they begin a new life together with three more children and life in a high-priced neighborhood with all the best things money can buy. Until Susan and Dale read the story of the Rich Young Man in the Bible where Jesus tells him to give all his belongings to the poor and to follow Him. This sets the couple, and their children, on a quest to discover: Does Jesus really mean what He says? The answer they finally discover sends them on a path of radical surrender and obedience that few readers can truly comprehend following. Eventually Dale works as a spiritual adviser in Florida's state prisons for death row inmates. Dale's journey is absolutely fascinating and his willingness to live as God commands, no matter the cost, is both inspiring and jaw-dropping. The writing is compelling, and I had a hard time putting the book down once I started reading it, because I truly wanted to see where God would take the Recinella family. I hope that Dale follows up this book with one focusing only on the stories of the men he has met in his time working on death row. The book takes on an urgency and depth when the Dale starts his work in the prisons, and I would love to read all of the stories he didn't have room to share here.