Best Christmas Gift Ever


It seems like every year the Christmas holiday season starts earlier and earlier. Stores are set up with Christmas trees and decorations in October….way before Halloween. I hear Christmas songs being played on the radio before Thanksgiving. Stocking stuffer commercials are constantly being shown well before Christmas.

For me, with Christmas less than a month away, this is the most wonderful time of the year. As much as I would love to be out of prison surrounded by my family and friends I still love the holiday season. Ever since I was a little kid I absolutely loved this day and considered it one of the best days of the year. My siblings and I would wake up well before sunrise, rush downstairs to see what Santa Claus brought, and then immediately wake up Mom and Dad to begin opening up the presents. There were squeals of delight, cheers of excitement, and smiles and laughter throughout the entire day. It was awesome!!!

It was the Christmas of 1988 that brings back my fondest memory. Every year on Christmas Eve, my family would attend the 5pm church service. Most years my siblings and I would perform in the Christmas program during that service and then after church head to my grandparents to eat dinner and open up gifts from my Mom’s side of the family. At my grandparent’s house, there are a number of memories and traditions that will always stick with me forever:

  • Shrimp platters….the only time of the year that we ate shrimp
  • Walking down the stairs, activating the motion detector on the Santa Claus head that was hanging on the stairway wall which said, “Ho-Ho-Ho! Merry Christmas” and then played the music to We Wish You a merry Christmas. By the end of the evening my Mom or aunt or grandma would say, “Turn that thing off!”
  • When opening up gifts and someone was having a tough time ripping off the tape or opening up the box, my Grandpa would always ask, “Anyone got a knife?” (He always had a pocketknife on him but knew no one else ever did). On one particular Christmas Eve when he asked that question, every single one of us pulled out a knife of some kind from switch blades to pocket knives to Swiss army knives to large buck knives……we had planned this ahead of time. But my Grandpa laughed so hard he had tears rolling down his cheeks. It was great!
  • Receiving a calendar from my Grandpa as a gift every year. He went shopping by himself and would pick out a special calendar for each of us…..his kids, their spouses and all his grandkids.
  • Measuring our heights to see how much we had grown during the past year on one of the doorframes in their house.
  • IMG_20171130_0001The cousin picture – every year all of the cousins in the family would sit on the same couch for a picture, in the same seating order and the same body position as the previous year to see how much  we had changed from the previous years
  • The Old Maid in the jar gift….the “booby” prize when we played Rob Your Neighbor!

On this particular Christmas Eve in 1988 it started snowing during the evening, so driving the 8 miles to and from my grandparent’s house was a little slippery, but made for a true white Christmas. My family would never stay there too late because we wanted to get to bed so Santa Clause would come and Christmas morning would be upon us in no time. Once home, we would quickly get ready for bed, put out the milk and cookies for Santa, and be fast asleep in no time.

As an 8 year old kid at the time, receiving gifts was always a thrill, especially from Santa Claus on Christmas morning. We were only allowed to ask Santa for one gift, so any extra gifts we got were surprises. On Christmas morning my two brothers, my sister and I all got up very early. All our internal alarm clocks seemed to be set to the same time, and we all made our way downstairs almost simultaneously. As we all crept quickly toward the Christmas tree, we could hardly contain our excitement. One by one we saw the piles of gifts that were before us, with an exceptionally large wrapped box that was for all of us in the middle of the floor. Santa had neatly divided the rest of the gifts and placed each of them in appropriate piles as to who they were for. We were doing our best to keep our excitement under control, but for a 10 year old, an 8 year old, a 7 year old, and a 5 year old that was yard to do.

We stood around the giant wrapped gift in the middle of the floor and started to guess what was in there. Was it a television, a basketball hoop, a sled, a puppy? We were probably getting a little too loud, as Mom and Dad peeked their heads around the corner and greeted us with a “Merry Christmas!” I thought to myself, “Let the fun begin!”

My family had always had a tradition of taking turns at opening gifts from youngest to oldest. As much as I was thrilled to open up my own gifts, I was even more intrigued as to the large box in the middle. My mind was going a mile a minute as to what was in it. As we started tearing through the gifts one by one, our piles started shrinking. Soon we were down just to our stocking stuffers which would wait until later.

As the final gift was being opened, we all scrambled to the wrapped box in the middle of the floor. With the video camera on my Mom finally told us to open it up. Within five seconds, the wrapping paper was off and all four of us were ripping the tape off the box to see what was inside of it. It seemed to take an eternity to rip the tape off. I couldn’t wait! Finally, the lid was opened. As we all peered inside, at once our eyes got huge, smiles appeared across our faces, and screams from the top of our lungs could probably be heard throughout the neighborhood. We immediately all started jumping up and down and running around the box. There was no way I could contain my excitement! Santa had just brought us a Nintendo! It was a kids’ dream come true. We never guessed a Nintendo would be in the box! It was a surprise gift for sure!!

We hardly cared about our other gifts we had opened. Dad set up the console for us and we immediately started playing Super Mario Brothers for hours and hours, followed by Duck Hunt, Mike Tyson’s Punch Out and Double Dribble. I thought I was in heaven. You couldn’t pry me away from the system, even to go to the bathroom or eat. I was hooked. Fortunately, some control was restored for me again after hours and hours of being on a high. After a few days, Mom and Dad were forced to set up some rules and regulations over the gaming system as well as a time limit. But I’ll never forget unwrapping the gift that day, and the pure excitement that unraveled throughout my body. As a kid it was by far the best Christmas present ever, and a memory I’ll never forget!

Now as an adult and each day maturing in my faith, I’ll never forget the true meaning of Christmas – the birth of Jesus Christ. I still love the giving and receiving of gifts. That never gets old. But material gifts will never get us anywhere. The one true gift is from God, who gave us the gift of His Son to be the Savior and Redeemer of the world. What more could you ask for? Now THAT is the greatest gift of all time, even better than that Nintendo game 29 years ago. I encourage everyone this year to take time to remember what Christmas is actually all about and that the best present of all is Jesus!


Planning a Route


When I was a kid growing up, I loved Halloween. I loved dressing up to go trick or treating door to door around the neighborhood. We hardly had candy around the house. We were more of a chip family, especially pretzels. But I always had, and still do have today, a sweet tooth. So when we kids had a chance to get free candy, we would never pass up the opportunity.

As Halloween night approached my brothers and I would decide on costumes and strategically plan our trick or treating route. We would never go out and buy those expensive costumes, but instead scrounged around the house for clothes, hats or material and items to be used for our costumes. We could get pretty creative with what we had, so a good costume was never in question.

The most important thing about Halloween nights, though, was the trick or treating route we would take to acquire as much candy as possible in a certain time. When planning the route, there were a few factors we had to take into consideration. When it came to candy, our brains kicked into high gear and we could brainstorm our thoughts with the best of them. So one of the factors that determined our route was the spacing between houses. Growing up, I lived in an older neighborhood. An older neighborhood meant bigger yards. And bigger yards meant more space between the houses. And more space between the houses meant more walking between the houses and less door to door time. So our main objective was to get out of our neighborhood as fast as possible and trick or treat in the newer neighborhood right next to ours.

Another factor that determined our route was the amount and types of candy obtained at each house. Once again the newer neighborhoods gave out the best and most candy. So our main objective was to take the shortest route out of our neighborhood while hitting the most houses in the quickest amount of time before stepping foot in the “big candy” neighborhood.

A few days before Halloween night, my brother and I would actually draw out a map of our route and give it to our dad, and told him to memorize it, as he would be an escort around the neighborhood. We took this thing seriously.

We wanted our candy. So on Halloween night, everything usually went as planned, and we always hit up plenty of houses. I guess it did help that my brothers and I could sprint, as we basically ran from house to house. Poor Dad, he had to keep up with us. I guess you could say it was more or less a competition for us to see if we could beat last year’s total. And yes, we always received more than enough candy to last us until Christmas. It was fun and we were rewarded for our plans.

Planning a route for trick or treating and what costume to wear during Halloween can be like planning for the future when you die, except much simpler. Just like my siblings and I planned the best route to get the most candy, planning to get to heaven requires just one decision. Both situations require planning. As a kid, my siblings and I put some time and thought into what costume to wear and where to go trick or treating. Getting to heaven requires only one decision and takes no time whatsoever: to confess that Jesus is Lord, and believes that God raised Him from the dead. My route for trick or treating had a lot of turns and wasn’t always the simplest route. However, my route to get to heaven is just to believe. Have you made that decision to believe yet? It’s that simple. I pray that you make plans soon to spend eternity in heaven before it’s too late. If not, perhaps it’s time to recalculate!

Dirty Laundry


One of the joys of prison life is waking up early in the morning before the sun rises to drop off and/or to exchange laundry. OK…..just kidding. It’s definitely not a joy, but a must in order to have “clean” cloths. It is a five day a week adventure. For me, Mondays and Wednesdays are my dirty laundry drop-off days. Tuesdays and Thursdays are my “clean” clothes pick-up days. Thursdays are also my bed sheet exchange days. And Fridays are my blanket exchange day.

You may be wondering why the word “clean” is in quotation marks. Clean is a very vague term when it comes to centralized laundry. Up until a year ago, each of the units had their own washing and drying machines. We were able to buy our own detergent and dryer sheets. We would make our own personal clothes clean. But the Warden said that in order to conserve water, they were going to remove all laundry machines and make all laundry centralized. A few percentages of the inmates still wash their clothes in buckets by hand. But the majority of the inmates use the laundry services, which is an adventure every day.

When exchanging sheets, towels or blankets you never know what kind of condition the ones you get back will be in. The vast majority of them has holes and is covered with all kinds of mysterious stains. And they usually smell like they just came out of a wet and moldy closet.  Because a lot of the inmates have terrible hygiene, they don’t exchange their sheets or blankets that often, thus causing the white items to become orange tinted or yellow. It is quite disgusting, especially since I am a clean freak. But I just deal with it because I have to. And the “clean” clothes one gets back sometimes smell worse than when turned in. If you decide to rewash your clothes yourself after receiving them back from the centralized laundry, the water will be brown when wringing them out. Nice, isn’t it? So if you like to be clean, prison is not the place for you….so don’t do anything stupid to go.

The correctional officer (C0) that runs laundry usually organizes it by having three to four lines every day at the same time, since every inmate has different days to exchange and wash their clothes. Inmates help run the lines. With sleepy inmates crawling out of bed with their eyes barely open, they have to figure out the appropriate line to get in for their appropriate task. The worst part is that every day the CO switches the lines up, so you never know what line to stand in. Is this an exchange line or a drop-off line? Or is it a pick-up line? Is this a sheets only line, or am I in a clothes line? If you get to the front of the line and you are not supposed to be in that line, the CO makes you go to the very end of your appropriate line. Now, if you have read some of my previous blogs you understand that prison lines are usually long and very slow moving. So before getting in a line, it’s best to watch and ask which line is the correct one.

The CO also loves to argue and put on a show. He will stop every line just to argue. Because many inmates love to mouth off, I’m sure you can imagine the scene that one causes each morning. In my opinion, he is the leading candidate for sending the most inmates to “the hole.” Why inmates just don’t close their mouths, I’ll never understand.

The other day I go to pick up my laundry. I handed the CO my ID card and wait for one of the inmate workers to retrieve my clothes. While waiting, I notice my name on the “No Wash” board. I’m like, oh great, now what? A few minutes later the CO calls me over. I think to myself, “Here we go; he’s going to try to pick a fight. So I walk over and this is what happens.

CO:         Mr. Perino, do you know why I did not wash these clothes?

Me:        No, I do not.

C0:          Raising his voice and getting angry he says, “Well, it looks to me that in your bag you have a pillow case mixed in with your other clothes. And a pillow case is not to be washed in your laundry bag. Pillow cases are only allowed to be exchanged one for one on your appropriate day.

Me:        Knowing that he was trying to get me to raise my voice and yell back at him, I calmly said, “OK, sorry, so you didn’t wash any of these clothes?”

The other inmates are quiet behind me and are listening to every word and just waiting for the two of us to start yelling at each other.

CO:         Angrily he says, “That’s right!”

Now I had two choices: Walk away and bring my clothes back another day or get the last word in like all the inmates wanted me to do. I chose the second option.

Me: I look at the CO and as nicely as I can, I smile sincerely and seriously say, “Thank you. I appreciate it.” Then walk away.

CO: While the other inmates are laughing behind me, the CO, dumfounded, speechless, and stuttering, says, “uh…oh….your welcome.”

My cellie saw the entire scene unfold and he said that after I walked away, the CO was so confused at what just happened. He told me that he was trying to pick a fight, while I used kind and polite words to speak to him. My cellie said the CO was in shock for the next minute and that it was pretty hilarious because he didn’t know how to react to the kindness. It wasn’t a normal reaction.

I had a choice that day on how to react to my clothes not being washed. And I know I was in a situation in which I would not win. So I chose to take the higher road and to treat his angry ways with kindness. I can’t say that I always say the right thing or even do the right thing. But I do my best to lead by example the way God wants me to lead, especially in prison. I’m not sure if I impacted the CO in a positive way that day or not, but it doesn’t matter. God knows our hearts and intentions by what we do and say. I know it is hard sometimes, but maybe the next time you are in a confrontation with your boss, wife, or husband or even some random person, treat them with kindness instead. For God says to not be overcome with evil, but overcome evil with good and do everything in love.