Tough Circumstances

Trust-in-God-620x250Have you ever wondered how God can use you in certain circumstances? I know I’ve written about this briefly before, but I just wanted to share a little bit more how God is at work in my life, how He takes the tough, impossible situations and brings good out of them. And, hopefully, this will encourage you, bring you a sense of hope, and remind you that no matter what you are facing, God has complete control of your life. He has you placed right where He wants you and needs you. At this moment, God has provided you with the perfect job, the perfect family, the perfect financial situation, just the overall perfect life….the life He needs you to live to bring Him glory. Your life may not be what you had planned when you were younger or even just a few years ago. But this is the path God wants you to go down right now. He teaches you lessons in every aspect of your life, both good and bad. It is our job to grasp these lessons and learn from them.

I never in my wildest imagination ever dreamed that I’d be serving time in a Federal prison for a few years of my life. As a kid, I had always dreamed of being a professional baseball player, playing for the St. Louis Cardinals. Obviously, that didn’t happen. No, God did not plan for me to come to prison. I made my own choices, and the consequences of those choices placed me here. But He is using this circumstance in my life to grow and to develop me into the godly man He wants me to be.

In February of 2014 I started my Federal Prison Mission. Yes, I call it a mission because I’m striving to further God’s kingdom while being here. I first was assigned to a medium security prison in Mississippi. I had no clue why I got designated to a medium prison. People who have similar types of crime as mine, and sentenced to time similar to mine, and who are first time offenders like me do not go to a medium facility. They either go to a minimum or to a low facility. Medium facilities are for repeat offenders, violent criminals, and those with longer sentences, none of which come close to fitting me. Next I heard that I had to go to a medium because I got extra time in a state sentence, and they want to make sure I don’t escape. As frightened as I was, I was content and knew God was in control and that He would protect me. So I accepted the assigned place.

Twelve days into my stay at the medium facility, I had to place myself in protective custody…. “the hole”…. as my life was being threatened. While in “the hole,” I had a meeting with my case manager and asked him why I was assigned to a medium security prison. He said it was not because of my extra time but because my points were too high and were not at a low security prison status. Every inmate is assigned points for the type of crime they commit, level of education, age, violent past, and repeat offenses, to name some of the criteria. The more categories a person fits into, the higher his points are, requiring them to go to a higher security prison. My case manager told me that I had a total of 19 points, just three points below a maximum security prison! I was shocked! He didn’t know why because he did not receive my case file at that time. My points were actually higher than some who were incarcerated because of murder. The caseworker and I found that to be strange. But there was nothing I could do about it at this time except to continue to pray and put the situation into God’s hands.

I ended up being in “the hole” for over five months before being transferred to a low security prison in Seagoville, Texas. Shortly after arriving at Seagoville, I met with my new case manager. The first question I asked was how many points I had and how did I go from a medium to a low facility in six months with the amount of points I had. She told me I dropped down to 10 points. Again I was shocked! It is impossible to go from 19 points to 10 points in six months. That kind of change takes years to reduce. To reduce your points, you have to take classes and work, none which I did while staying in “the hole.” It seemed as if a mistake had been made, although she didn’t come out and say so. I believe I was originally assigned to a medium security prison because the Feds made a huge mistake with my point classification.

As I look back now and remember how scary the situation was, I can honestly say that I was glad I experienced it. I truly believe God had a hand in allowing that mistake to occur. Because of the mistake, positive results have occurred in my life. One, I had to trust God even more and develop a faith like none other, knowing that no matter where I was or what I was doing, God would pull me through it. Two, God gave me the chance to witness to my two cellies in the hole and spread God’s love to them. Three, I had many hours of time to study and read God’s Word on a daily basis. God was testing me, developing me, and preparing me for the next few years of my life in prison. He knows that I’ll encounter all sorts of circumstances and He needs me to be 100% devoted to Him in every aspect of my life. He puts the toughest soldiers in some of the toughest situations. Now I’m not saying I’m a tough soldier, but being placed in a medium security prison was a tough place. God was there with me and He turned a tough, depressing, impossible circumstance into one that helped me grow in my faith and walk with Christ. Was I supposed to be in a medium security prison? No. Did I want to go to a medium security prison? No. Was I needed in a medium security prison to do God’s work and further His kingdom? Absolutely, yes! We will never be able to understand God. But we must trust Him no matter the circumstances He puts before us. It’s for a reason, a reason to help us and to do His work to bring Him glory! May you accept where you are right now and live a life that reflects God in all areas!

To Eric and Emily

A letter written to my brother Eric and his new bride Emily, read at the rehearsal dinner.

Of_Three_StrandsIt was June of 2004. The temperature was already in the 80’s at 6am. By mid-day, the temps were to top out near 115 degrees. Eric and I were standing at the top of one of God’s most magnificent creations, the west rim of the Grand Canyon. On our road trip from Los Angeles to St. Louis, hiking down to the bottom of the Grand Canyon was one of our goals. The day before we were in Las Vegas where I believe Eric spent $50 for a soda, and I spent $100 on mine – if you catch my drift.

So Day 3 of our trip was to be spent hiking to the bottom of the Grand Canyon and back up, all in one day. We spent the previous night sleeping in my SUV, near the rim. We were too cheap to pay for a camping spot as those sodas in Vegas cost way too much.  Plus, we wanted to be ready as soon as the sun came up, as we knew it would be a long day. As we neared the Canyon’s edge, Eric and I both saw a sign that said: Colorado River – 9.5 miles to bottom – 19 miles round trip. Caution: DO NOT attempt a down and back in one day.

We both looked at each other, smiled and said almost simultaneously, “All right, you ready?” and started the downward descent. We both were young and in great shape, and thought 19 miles was feasible. At least at the time we thought we were only going to do 19 miles. So down, down, down we went, switchback trail after switchback – hundreds and hundreds on a three foot wide dusty trail. But we literally were flying down the canyon as we knew we needed all the time we could get to return to the top before dark. With this pace, we figured we’d be at the bottom in just a few hours…..until we hit a snag.

As we came to the halfway point of our descent, hardly out of breath from the easiness of the downhill hike, there were two trails with no sign indicating which way to go. No one was around to ask. We spent at least ten minutes looking for a sign or some sort of clue as to which way to go, but came up empty. So we had to guess.  Unfortunately, we chose the left trail, which was the trail to a plateau overlooking the Colorado River, still a good ways from the bottom. About one-half mile into our hike on the left trail, we came upon a sign that said “one mile to Colorado River overlook.” So Eric and I both looked at each other again and almost simultaneously again said, “Might as well check it out!” So we did.

Of course, it was breath-taking, but it also added an extra three miles – 1.5 miles each way – onto our already expected 19. So after the scenic detour, we finally made it back to the intersection, filled our water bottles once again, as that was the last spot for water until we made it to that spot again on the way up. We then took the correct trail and descended once again.

At this time the temps were pushing 100 degrees with it getting hotter and hotter the farther down we went. We finally made it to the Colorado River in just over four hours. We took a much-needed break, ate our lunch, and jumped in the river as the temps were well over 100 degrees at this point. After spending an hour or so at the bottom, watching rafters go by, we started the ascent – climb of hell. Nine and a half miles up in 110 degrees temperatures. Trees don’t like to grow in this types of climate, so shade was a mere minimum. But we had to get back up to the top before dark, and so we started.

With the constant burn in our legs, the heat and no shade, we were zonked. A few miles into our ascent we did find a shady spot about the size of two basketballs put together. We both immediately lay down across the trail, putting our heads in the shade. A few minutes into our break, another hiker walks by us, and while stepping over us says, “shade hoggers”, laughs and goes on. After a short rest we continued our uphill climb, hiking only a mile to a mile and half an hour. But no matter how tired and hot we were, we kept going and towards the end of our hike, we could only go about 100 yards before taking a break, our legs hurt that bad. Just imagine using a stair stepper machine for seven straight hours. That’s what it felt like to Eric and me. After 12 hours of hiking and a total of 22 miles, we finished the “DO not attempt in one day trip”. We not only did the hike to the bottom but the scenic hike to the plateau, too. And for this, we give God all the glory.

Eric, I enjoyed doing this hike with you and would do it again in a heartbeat if you asked me to.

Now you’re probably all wondering why in the world I would tell this story. Well, it just proves to show what kind of a man Eric is on a grueling hike like this AND in life. The hike was not a hike for just any person, but for one that has qualities of perseverance, tenacity, leadership, endurance, positive attitude, and love just to name a few…. all which Eric possessed on this hike.  He pushed through during the hot and tough times. He never gave up. He encouraged and showed his love by doing a hike like this with me. And even with Eric being the young age of 22 at the time, I could see in him what kind of man he would grow to be. Ten years later, Eric not only still possesses these qualities in life, but goes above and beyond these qualities – a feat that not many have today.

Emily, you found a good man. You have nothing to fear for the rest of your life. He will always be there for you no matter what. And just like the hike, and how he never gave up, he will never give up on you. Through the tough times, and yes, I’m sure there will be tough times, the happy times, the sad times, and the joyous time, he will not let you down. He is a giver, a lover, an encourager, a jokester, a motivator, a helper, and a perserverer, to name a few. In other words, you got yourself a real winner.

The moment I saw you two dancing together on the dance floor at Brad and Shannon’s wedding, I knew you two were a match made to be.  Wait a minute, didn’t something happen on the dance floor at that wedding with you two? Sorry, had to put that in here. You know I’ll never forget that!

I’m so happy this day has finally come. Unfortunately, I’m unable to attend and am sorry that I’ll be missing your big day. It kills me to miss it. But just know that when I come back, I’ll make it all up to you.

Emily, welcome to the family. But one word of advice.  Stay up to date on sports. You know how Perinos love sports! I’m happy to finally call you sister-in-law. And Eric, good job on a choice of a woman. You deserve nothing but the best. And one other thing, thanks for being such a great brother. The memories and good times we shared together will be cherished forever. Thank you!

Finally, I want to leave you with a blessing. May God richly bless you two with a lifetime of love, happiness, and togetherness. And may God be the centerpiece in your marriage with everything you do. You two are amazing together and I pray each day is that much better than the one before. I love and miss you both. I want to be one of the first to congratulate you two. You deserve it. Congratulations!

Now a toast, so raise your glasses: to a lifetime of love and happiness with God being your centerpiece.

P. S. Oh, and one more thing. After the 22 miles hike, Eric and I decided to do another 8-mile hike the following day in Utah!

On the Move….Again

busOn August 20, 2014 I was awakened at 11:30pm and told I had five minutes to pack up and get ready as I was finally leaving “the hole” in Yazoo City, Mississippi, and moving to Seagoville, Texas. After five months and five days in a 10’ x 10’ cell, the wait was finally over. God taught me a lot in that time, and believe it or not, I am thankful for the time I spent meditating on His Word, studying, and sharing it to the few people I was around. God knew exactly what He was doing placing me there. But now it was time to move on and continue His work elsewhere.

It was a slow drawn-out process checking out and boarding the bus, but 40 inmates finally left around 5am. We stopped twice along the way to get snacks and to stretch our legs. OK, just kidding!! For the guards, I meant to say! Our feet, hands, and waists were all shackled and connected together. It was ideal comfort for traveling!

Nine hours later we pulled into the Oklahoma City Transit Center at 2pm. It took another four hours of getting clothes, filling out forms, eating, and getting our mug shots taken before finally making it to our unit. Are you allowed to smile when taking a mug shot? Everyone looks so sad, angry, or depressed each time.

I felt like I was in heaven. I was finally able to watch ESPN after 5+ months of no television. So I parked myself in front of the television for the next three hours just taking it all in. I assumed I would be in OKC for a few weeks like last time before moving on to my destination. But low and behold, at 1:30am that first night, I was awakened and told to pack up as I was leaving for Seagoville right away. Again, it took a few hours to load the bus, but we were finally on our way. We stopped briefly at Fort Worth, Texas, to drop off half of the 40 inmates before arriving in Seagoville at around 10:30am. Three prisons in two days. Crazy! I was very thankful the move happened quickly and was now over. Miraculously, Seagoville is a low security prison. Maybe somebody finally realized that I was not a fighter, not a rioter, not a stabber, and saw their mistake by dropping my points down to a low status. I was definitely happy and felt safe again.

Around noon I was walking through the compound to my unit. My first impression of this place was Beautiful! The compound is surrounded by old 1930’s red brick buildings. It has a huge courtyard in the middle with gazebos, trees, flower gardens, and brick paths going every which way. It reminds me of a college campus. There are hardly any fences, but buildings that prevent us from leaving.

As beautiful as it sounds and looks, it’s still prison, and I’d much rather be on the streets. Also, there is no air-conditioning in my unit. Who builds a place in Texas without air-conditioning? I guess that’s part of the punishment. Every day so far since arriving here it has been over 100 degrees. But at least the scenery makes up for it. And I can walk around!!

I do know that doing my time here will be a lot easier than in Mississippi. There are many activities to get involved in (sport leagues, educational classes) and many things to do to pass the time in a constructive way. There is even a weight room which most prisons in the United States do not have for safety reasons. Unfortunately, there are not a whole lot of Christians here, although I have attended several worship services. I know this is where God wants me for now. He definitely had a pull in placing me here. And has the perfect place for me inside these walls. I thank Him for the opportunity for putting me smack dab in this mission field. I never dreamed I would be doing prison ministry in my life. But I believe that’s what I’m here for. And I know with God by my side, all things will work out to His glory.

(Feel free to write to me at: Craig Perino #12180-089; Federal Correctional Institution; P.O. Box 9000; Seagoville TX 75159. Would love to hear from you!)