Best Moments

The other day I received a letter from a friend asking me what my best moments in prison are. I immediately thought this would be a great topic to write on, and to share with you a little bit more about prison life. Of course, there is not a whole lot of excitement that happens on a daily basis. It is pretty repetitive and routine, but the days do go by quickly as long as I stay busy. Believe it or not, I do have great moments in prison – a few actually.

My first one is receiving visits. I am not from the Texas area or have ever lived in Texas before, so I do not have many friends and/or family close to me. Because of that, it is hard for my family and friends to come and visit me often. I am blessed, however, to have my fair share of visits, more than most other inmates actually whose family and friends do not live in the area. The reason why I enjoy visits is because it’s an incredible feeling to be next to your loved ones, seeing them in person, and to actually feel their touch again. I never realized how much I miss my family and friends until coming to prison. In the visiting room there really is not a whole lot to do except look at each other, talk and eat overly priced vending machine food. (A 12 oz soda is $2.00; sandwiches $5). When we are together for those few hours the time goes by quickly. There is always something to talk about. And watching other inmates and their loved ones interact can be quite interesting, too. The apple sure doesn’t fall too far from the tree for some of the inmates, to say the least. HA!

Seeing my loved ones in person, laughing with them, and hearing their voice live is truly a blessing. I’m so thankful for the love, support, and forgiveness I have received these last few years.

Similar to visits, phone calls are also some of my best moments. A couple of blogs ago, I described the excitement of the fifteen-minute phone calls I make to my loved ones. I’m only allowed to have 30 phone numbers on my contact list, so I take full advantage of all 30. The reason making phone calls is one of my best moments in prison is because, once again, I get to hear the voices of my loved ones. It is hard being away from my friends and family, especially for long periods of time and around the holidays. Phone calls keep us together. When I first got locked up, I made it my goal to keep in touch with all of my family and friends. The last four years of being away from everyone, I can honestly say that I am still as close, if not closer, to all my family and friends today as I was then.

I feel receiving mail is a big part of my best moments as well. Seeing my name on the mail list or hearing my name being called during mail call always brings a smile to my face. Notice the theme here? All my best moments so far evolve around family, friends, and loved ones. I’ve come to realize that my need for my loved ones is very important in my life. Receiving an encouraging word, a card, a handwritten letter or even a book is what I look forward to on a daily basis. It’s not the same as a phone call or a visit, but seeing that someone takes the time out of their busy schedule to show me that they care means more than you can possibly know. And anyone who writes me will always receive a letter or phone call back from me. So if you want mail, you know who to write to. HA!

Being a coach and a teacher for so many years, I’ve developed the niche for helping others. When it comes to volleyball, I absolutely love taking the weaker, underdeveloped, new volleyball players and do my best to turn them into Olympians. Oh, maybe not quite that level, but someone who can compete in a competitive league when they leave this place. I love to drill fundamentals into their heads, along with a constant flow of encouraging and uplifting words. Seeing a smile on their face when they make a great play sometimes excites me more than it does them. It doesn’t matter who they are or how well they play, as long as they are willing to listen, I will always be willing to help someone out, and critique them in a positive and loving way. That is why teaching volleyball and helping others succeed is another one of my best moments here in prison. Unfortunately, I will never be able to coach again, but I do know God is developing my people skills into something that is bigger than anything I could ever imagine.

I sometimes may not be the best at sharing God’s Word to others verbally, but I do know I give it my all when leading by example. I try to not only live my life by being a hearer of the Word, but being a doer of the Word as well, Yes, people are a big part of my life as you can see by all of my best moments here in prison. I don’t let prison get the best of me, but I sure do know I try to make the best of prison. I’ve said this many times before, I’m not happy I’m here in prison, but I am happy God is using me here to become the man He wants me to be. And for that I give thanks to God, family, friends, inmates and loved ones for helping me define all of these best moments in prison as I await the best moment still to come – hearing the words, “You’re free to go, Perino!”

Raging Fire

 

Colorado fire

It was the summer of 2002. I had just finished my first senior year at Concordia University in Mequon, Wisconsin (Yes, that’s right, I had two senior years). I was gearing up for another fun-filled summer working as a counselor at a Christian sports camp called Kanakuk Kamps in Bayfield, CO, right outside Durango in the southwest corner of the state. Before moving out west for the summer, I was working the month of June for my Grandpa as a carpenter, building a department store inside a mall.

A week into the job, I got tragic news that fires were raging throughout the entire state of Colorado and were slowly making its way to Bayfield. The fires were still a good ways from the camp, which was only in its second year of existence, but the director of the camp sent emails to all of the workers and future campers of the potential danger and ever threatening situation. He told us all to pray unceasingly. I thought to myself that surely God would spare a camp built to further His Kingdom and to tell kids about Jesus. So I prayed daily for the camp and that the summer would go on as planned.

Each day I received updates. And each day the fire crept closer and closer to the camp property. Then I got word midway through June that the area and the camp had to be evacuated. All the campers were sent home and the counselors were told to leave for a short period of time, but to check in daily. It was a sad day, especially with the pictures I had received of the fire and devastation in the area. I can still remember the pictures of Vallecito Reservoir, which was only five miles from the camp. The reservoir, which the camp used for skiing and tubing, was ever so low because the water was being used to contain the fire. In the background of the pictures, the entire mountainside was engulfed in fire and smoke, flames shooting as high as 200 feet in the air. I was shocked, saddened, and confused, and figured any day the camp would be burned to the ground.

I was sadly anticipating the dreaded email saying that K-Colorado was no longer standing. Finally the day had arrived. I woke up early, getting ready for work and checked my email. There it was. I was not ready to start the day on a bad note, but knew I had to read the somber news. So I opened it, and read it. And what do you know! The first words I read and I can still remember today were………It’s a miracle! The camp was spared! It truly was a miracle. I knew I had to experience the catastrophe firsthand and see the devastation with mine own eyes to truly believe how big of a miracle God had performed.

A few weeks later the workers returned, new campers arrived, and the camp resumed normal operations. I made my way to the Durango area in July. I was actually excited but also nervous with what my eyes were going to see. When driving through Colorado, I could see small fires throughout the state. But thankfully none were near the southwest corner.

After the 18 hour drive from St. Louis, I finally made it. Words can’t describe what I saw. charred treesUpon nearing the camp, all I saw were black and charred trees. There was hardly any green vegetation. Houses were burned. Grassy fields were black. I was in a state of shock. I thought to myself, how could K-Colorado be up and running with all the devastation around? Then I saw the most beautiful sight in the blackened forest. In the middle of all ugliness, there stood our camp – green trees, flowers blooming, clean cabins and buildings. It was like heaven in the midst of hell! A beautiful sight to behold!

The fire did actually reach the property and burned a number of trees, but only on the outskirts of the property. The camp is in a valley between two small mountains. We were told by the firefighters that the fire came racing down one mountainside at blazing speed, literally stopped when it reached camp property, sent flames 200 feet in the air shooting up and over our camp to the other mountainside, and continued its devastating path, bypassing us entirely. They said it was an amazing sight to see. I was told the evacuation happened very quickly; there was no time to pack the summer equipment away. Ropes on the edge of the property used for climbing and zip-lining were left out, as well as rubber walking mats used for traction to walk on the steep slopes. One of the coolest things I saw was the blackness of the trees surrounding the rubber mats and yet the rubber was not burnt nor molted in any way. The fire literally went up to the mat, singed the edges, and then stopped. The ropes were not burned, despite the trees around them that were burned to the ground. And not one single cabin or building had smoke damage or any type of damage whatsoever. God’s thumbprint was literally pressed down on the camp, and the fire skirted right around it. There are other stories and pictures I could talk about, but I think you get the point.

God is a miracle worker! Nothing is impossible for Him; especially stopping a raging fire that was destroying everything in its path. If He can do that, He can work the impossible in your life today, tomorrow, and the rest of your life. Keep the faith. The God of miracles has your back.