Too Close to the Flame: With the Condemned inside the Southern Killing Machine (Hardcover)

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Too Close to the Flame: With the Condemned inside the Southern Killing Machine By Joseph B. Ingle Cover Image

Too Close to the Flame: With the Condemned inside the Southern Killing Machine (Hardcover)


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Joe Ingle’s Too Close to the Flame is a heartbreakingly beautiful account of over four decades serving as a spiritual counselor, guide, and friend to the men and women on Death Row.

“I had been working with the condemned since 1975—but never before had an execution affected me with this much power and confusion.”

Throughout his forty-five years visiting death rows across the American South, Joe Ingle has learned, loved, and suffered intensely. In Too Close to the Flame, Ingle describes how the events of 2018–2020 finally exposed the deep wounds inflicted on his psyche by nearly half a century of enduring the state-sanctioned murder of friend after friend.

As an advocate for the men and women condemned to death by an unjust legal system that routinely victimizes the marginalized, Ingle has often found himself waiting through the darkest hours as the spiritual advisor and sole companion of those on deathwatch—the brief period of isolation that precedes an execution. In vivid detail and startling candor, Ingle describes every moment with the expertise of a scholar and the affection of a brother. Through Ingle’s eyes, we are invited into the inner sanctum during desperate attempts at clemency, intimate final hours, and the mourning that follows a night on deathwatch.

Part psychological memoir, part history of Southern state killing since the reinstatement of the death penalty in 1976, Too Close to the Flame is above all a catalogue of love—a gallery of relationships that could only be forged between people staring death in the face together. It is an account of the price of radical Christian love, a record of service to the least among us, and a testament to the full humanity of those whom the powers that be would seek to dehumanize and exterminate.
Joe Ingle, a North Carolina native, left the South after college and moved to East Harlem to join the E. Harlem Urban Year program. He spent his senior year at Union Theological Seminary visiting prisoners at the Bronx House of Detention. Prior to that experience, his initial time with prisoners, he was a typical white guy from the South. When he returned to the South, he was a changed man. Living in Nashville, TN, he began working against mass incarceration and the death penalty with the Southern Coalition on Jails and Prisons which he helped create. This led him to visit every Southern death row and create a web of relationships with the women and men imprisoned there. Working to save their lives led him to meetings in governor’s offices, legislatures, courtrooms, churches, synagogues, bishop and archbishop offices. And it led him into the homes of the families of the condemned and victims. Realizing many of the condemned had no lawyers, he along with three colleagues, created a law project—The Southern Center for Human Rights—to represent them.

Although the death penalty is an issue, for Ingle it is primarily about people caught in the killing machinery. It is where he has devoted his adult life. 

He resides in rural Nashville, Scottsboro, where the residents are dedicated to farming organically and preserving the environment. He and his wife Becca raise blueberries with some 200 bushes in the field.
Product Details ISBN: 9781637632918
ISBN-10: 1637632916
Publisher: Forefront Books
Publication Date: May 7th, 2024
Pages: 480
Language: English
"Over 40 years ago, a minister named Joe Ingle came to the set of the TV show M*A*S*H to talk to me. He called saying he heard I was opposed to the death penalty. Days later, there we sat, on a hot day on a hot set with actors and cameras and crew members and people and noise around us, talking about state killing. 'There’s going to be a blood bath in this country,' he said because Supreme Court decisions had reopened the floodgates to executions in 38 states that had a death penalty. 'I want you to help me stop it.'

"Joe led the Southern Coalition on Jails and Prisons and was the friend and spiritual advisor to an unbelievable number of people on death row. He was intent on stopping the killing and needed someone who could help bring attention to the horror of what was happening. That someone, he said, was me.

"Moved by his passion, I agreed to go with him to Tennessee’s death row where I had the chance to meet and talk with condemned men. Mostly black, brown, and uneducated, they presented a panoply of anger, contrition, hopelessness, and stoicism, mixed with moments of heartbreaking gratitude for Joe’s continued attention.

"The Reverend Joe Ingle changed my life that day. He became my guide and mentor for what has become a very personal 40-year pursuit of the abolition of state killing, including vigils, lectures, campaigns, challenging legislators and Governors, and countless visits to prisons and death rows across this country. Joe’s almost superhuman dedication and the personal sacrifice involved in his pursuit continue to inspire me today. I suspect reading Too Close to the Flame will do the same for you."
— Mike Farrell, “BJ Hunnicutt” on M*A*S*H, and President of the Board of Directors of Death Penalty Focus

"For more than four decades, Reverend Joseph Ingle has ministered to the condemned in death row facilities across the South. For Ingle, an indefatigable advocate for prison reform and a staunch opponent of the death penalty, it’s been a career of difficult but profoundly important work that has daily required him to draw from the deepest taproots of his Christian faith. Too Close to the Flame is, by turns, heartbreaking, enraging, enlightening, and at many unexpected moments, desperately beautiful. Wherever you stand on the question of capital punishment, you'll never think about the issue in quite the same way again after reading Ingle’s searing pages."
— Hampton Sides, New York Times bestselling author of Blood and Thunder and O

"As a leading Death Row abolitionist in America for over forty years, Joe Ingle has always done his work in the trenches and depths of relationships. This is not a battle for sides of differing opinions, but for the soul of humanity and justice wherever needed. You have no idea what it costs someone to watch those you have come to love, killed in front of you. You also have no idea how honored I am to call this gentle, emotional, brilliant human being, my friend."
— Paul Young, author of the #1 New York Times bestseller, The Shack

"The death of a friend can be devastating and the loss of many friends unimaginable. This book describes how capital punishment delivered the deaths of many friends to their minister and the trauma and suffering resulting from it."  
— Stephen B. Bright, Visiting Lecturer, Yale Law School

"Joe Ingle and I have worked together for the abolition of the death penalty. His book, Too Close to the Flame, is heartbreaking and heartwarming. It is a unique and fascinating chronicle of the author’s decades of advocacy for and friendships with the dwellers of America’s infamous Death Row." 
— Rose Styron, Poet and Human Rights Activist

"In Too Close to the Flame, Joe Ingle references the ancient Christian call to be a Fool for Christ. In his pastoral and prophetic work against the 'killing machine' that is the death penalty over nearly 50 years, Joe reminds us that the call of Christ is a foolish one. To follow the Christ is to refuse to look away. For nearly 50 years, Joe has not looked away as the Bible Belt South has demanded more and more state killing. I have made one visit to death row at Riverbend in Nashville to visit with Abu Ali and share in the Eucharist with six men-three Episcopal clergy and three death row inmates. That one visit changed me forever. Joe Ingle is heartbreakingly honest about how countless visits to death row, where he befriended strangers, broke him. May more of us who profess to be Christian in the Southern U.S. follow Joe Ingle into the foolish work of proclaiming the light of the Crucified Christ against the idolatry of state killing."
— The Right Rev. Brian L. Cole, Diocesan Bishop, Episcopal Diocese of East Tennessee

"Joe’s book is a rare gem that straddles the necessity for proximity to pain and practicing self-care. His ministry to those on death row and advocacy against the 'ritual slaughter' that is the death penalty is both awe-inspiring and daunting. He weaves a series of traumatic vignettes into a work of hope, horror, and healing." 
— Sam Heath, Equal Justice USA Evangelical Network

"This is a powerful testament to Reverend Joe Ingle’s decades of death row ministry, and the personal cost of that ministry. His stories expose the toxicity of the death penalty to everyone it touches, from those who carry out executions to the families of murder victims trapped for decades in a system that doesn’t support their healing. The trauma felt by Rev. Ingle and those he counseled is palpable, the pain is visceral. This book should be a catalyst for us to reimagine justice in a way that is focused on safety, healing, and accountability—not on extracting punishment and inflicting harm."
— Reverend Stacy Rector, Tennesseans for Alternatives to the Death Penalty Executive Director