The Baton

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How many of you enjoy watching the Olympics – especially the summer Olympics? I certainly do. I consider it one of my top five favorite sporting events. I especially love to watch the swimming and track and field events. I guess being a cross country runner makes me appreciate the running events over anything. I enjoy the distance races, but the relays are also on the watch list.

I coached track and field for many years. I also participated in the sport growing up. The hardest thing to teach and work on as an athlete on a team was the sprint relay. Instead of coaching one individual, four unique and differently talented athletes comprise of one team. All four members of the team have to be spot on and nearly perfect to win the race. Any mistake could cost the team the win or even a place. It’s the exchange of the baton that must have perfect timing and accuracy.

In a 4 x 100 meter race there are three exchanges that need to be made in a 20 meter area called the exchange zone. If the exchange is not made in those 20 meters, the team is disqualified. I’ve seen many teams get disqualified because of that, even in the Olympics. I’ve also seen teams drop the baton during the exchange, too, causing the team to lose the race. A perfect exchange is made when both runners have reached their peak speed at the same time. In order for that to happen, the runner receiving the baton must start running before his teammate reaches him. The receiver is to look straight ahead, and at the same time reach behind himself, keeping his arm as still as possible in order to successfully receive the baton. It takes precision, accuracy, and teammates working together as one. It is not easy, even as professionals. Practicing this skill over and over again is a must in order for it to be successful. It can definitely make or break a race.

“Therefore since we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders, and the sin that so easily entangles. Let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” Hebrews 12:1

Our Christian life is just like a sprint relay race. Before any of us became a Christian, someone had to tell us about Jesus….whether it was a family member, friend, or even a Sunday School teacher. At that time we were surrounded by witnesses. Today I am that witness, surrounded by many unbelievers, to represent Jesus to them. As a kid, I received that baton from another teammate. In other words, another Christian told me about Jesus. The baton was exchanged perfectly. I accepted what I was told. Once I received that baton, it is my turn to pass it on. In order to receive the baton or hand off the baton, timing is everything. The receiver must not sway to the left or the right, but be able and willing to accept it as it comes. He must stay on that straight path, and throw off everything that entangles.

God says for us to run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Unfortunately, my race has taken me to prisons in Oklahoma, Mississippi, and Texas, and to county jails in Wisconsin. As a Christian, God wants us to be witnesses wherever we are, especially in prisons and jails where His Word is needed the most. The last six years I have tried my hardest at running the race and passing on the baton. Of course, it didn’t always go as planned. The baton was dropped time and time again or wasn’t passed in the exchange zone. Sometimes I didn’t do my part all that well in passing the baton and being the witness I needed to be. Often I missed out on opportunities that were in front of me. But at other times, the baton was passed like two Olympic runners – with such a fluent and smooth motion. It felt good and I knew God’s hand was in the race.

As a Christian our life is a constant race. God puts us in the races He needs us to run – whether it’s to the jungles in the Amazon or to a business office or a hospital or even to prison walls.  He places us right where He knows we can persevere and be that witness, successfully exchanging that baton. Prison and jail is by far the hardest place I’ve ever had to run that race and try to pass that baton. But I’m not giving up and won’t. God is in control and I trust Him wholeheartedly. He has you right now in that race where He needs you. So go run that race, and be that Christian God wants you to be.

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What Do I Smell?

It’s been a while since I last wrote a blog. Things are a little different here in county jail than in federal prison. Believe it or not, time is one issue, along with the motivation and desire to write in this gloomy place. It would be so much easier if I had a computer in front of me and I could type out a blog in a matter of minutes. But no…..it’s a golf pencil I write with, yellow paper, and the U.S. Postal Service that gets my written blog to where it’s supposed to be. I guess I should be thankful that a horse and rider don’t deliver the mail anymore or else my blog might never get posted online by my mom. Ha!

So my days for the most part are spent sleeping and cat-napping as I work in the laundry room from 8pm-7am seven days a week. I miss the freedom of being able to go outside like in federal prison. Instead, I’m locked in this “cage” until I’m able to roam the halls during the wee hours of the morning while making laundry deliveries. I never thought I’d say this, but I greatly miss the prison lifestyle compared to this county jail lifestyle.

It’s been almost six years now since I last saw freedom. I wrote a blog a few years ago on what I miss the most about being free. There are a lot of physical things I miss. But there are also a lot of smells I miss, too, especially not being able to go outside anymore. While in prison, there were a ton of things I missed on the streets. But in jail, there’s even more I miss…..and I mean much more. But I’m going to write about the smells I miss the most today and what smells I have to deal with while here in jail. I’m sure some of you take these smells for granted. But I appreciate every one of them more than ever.

I miss the smell of cut grass, the smell of fresh air blowing through the house, and the smell of chimney smoke on a cold day. I miss the smell of extremely cold weather, and the smell of the hot, humid days. I miss the smell of the air conditioner in a car, rain, and the fishy smell at the Lake. I miss the smell of laundry sheets, laundry detergent, and actual scented soap. I miss the smell of burgers on the grill, hot-fresh pizza, and cookies baking in the oven. I miss the smell of car exhaust, gasoline, and sawdust. I miss the smell of pine trees, cedar and flowers. And most of all, I miss the smell of freedom. If you don’t think freedom has a smell, try being locked up for six years, and you’ll notice a strong aroma! HA!

Right now I don’t have the pleasure of these beautiful scents. Jail is not a very pleasantly smelling place, especially in the laundry room. Remember my smelly cellie a few years ago when I was in “the hole” in Mississippi? Well, let’s just say, the smells in here are much worse. To put it nicely, it smells like death, bowel movements, and body odor put together. Horrendous! I guess you could say it smells like Hell itself. And because I work in the laundry room I get to work with these smells on a nightly basis. It makes me gag, but I guess it’s the price you pay to earn time to get out of jail sooner.

Now what’s the best smell you’ve ever come across? I remember one time when I was hiking through the mountains in Colorado, my group and I came across a field full of blooming flowers. The strong aroma was amazing and took my breath away. It’s what I picture heaven to smell like. So when I came across these horrible scents just about every five minutes, I take my mind back to the fields full of flowers in Colorado. It puts my mind and nose somewhat at ease. All I know is that the day I forever leave these walls, my senses will be in sensory overload with the things I hear, touch, taste, and especially see and smell. And I can’t wait. Over 69 months down and only a few more to go. God, help me! And may God help you to appreciate all the freedoms you can enjoy right where you are.

The Adventure Continues…..

The last blog I wrote was in July. Since then, to say the least, my life continues on with this “great adventure.” I wouldn’t consider this adventure great by any means; it’s more like big, wild, scary, or unpredictable. As I write this, it is the middle of October in Wisconsin. A chill is most definitely in the air, the leaves are all starting to change colors, and a sub-zero winter is right around the corner.

Yes, I am in Wisconsin, sitting in Racine County Jail. As much as I wanted my messed up paperwork to be corrected at both the state and federal levels, and to be free, God apparently needs me to do a total of 74 months, and to finish my time in the dreaded county jail. I don’t think I will ever understand the judicial system. But I am thankful I’m in the home stretch….I think.

Unfortunately, this is the worst part of my entire time being locked away. I guess you can say your true character and attitude is built and revealed in county jail. As my Dad used to say, “It puts hair on your chest.” Well, I guess when I eventually get released, I’ll have so much hair, that I’ll be unrecognizable. J

To describe county jail a little bit, it doesn’t come close to what prison was like. Compared to jail, prison was like a 5-star resort with all-inclusive everything – whereas jail is like the slums of New York. It is completely night and day. And to top it off, I won’t be able to see the blue sky, the sun or even the green grass until I leave here, hopefully in May.

You see, I live in a windowless room with 36 other men of all ages, with only half of them taking showers or even using soap on a regular basis. In prison, one would get stabbed for not showing respect. In here, the word respect isn’t on anyone’s vocabulary. I could be taking a nap, and ten guys would be around my bed talking, screaming and laughing as loud as they could, just because they don’t care. This is a game for a lot of people, probably most of the people in here are under the age of 20, and it’s like a reunion when a new guy walks through the door. There are no shower curtains, no doors on the toilet stalls, and any cleanliness has come to a standstill. Although, I’m fed plenty here, slop (a mixture of everything) and bologna sandwiches are the norm. I use golf pencils to write letters, 2-inch toothbrushes to brush my teeth, and grocery bags that cost 20 cents from commissary to store my belongings under my bed. And speaking of commissary, one Ramen noodle costs $1.00, a bag of chips like the ones in a vending machine costs $1.50, and a candy bar costs $2.00. I sleep on a camping pad that sits atop a steel bed.

Am I painting a pretty good picture yet? But I don’t want anyone to feel sorry for me. I put myself here for my stupid choices. Jail is supposed to be bad to prevent anyone from wanting to come back. I know I never want to see the inside of a jail or prison again. So take note of what I am telling you. You don’t want to be here!!!!

Thankfully, however, (yes, I guess you can say there is a good thing or two to write about), I got accepted into the trustee’s pod to work off some of my sentence. I tried to get into the work-release pod where I would be able to work outside of jail at a real full-time job every day. But finding a job while inside a jail and not being allowed to leave for interviews or drug tests put a halt to that option.

Instead, I work in the laundry room from 8pm to 7am…..11 hours a day…..7 days a week. I’m putting in 77 hour work weeks with no days off in the near future for months on end. Since I don’t sleep at night I take a bunch of cat naps throughout the day. And as I mentioned before, sleep is not easy to come by here. Basically I work 11 hours and sleep for only a few hours in a 24-hour period, and I’ll be doing that for the next 200+ days. It’s the price I pay to get my freedom.

I’ve been locked up for the past 67 months. Many times, probably more like hundreds of times, I’ve asked God, “Why is this happening to me?” It seems like nothing has gone my way since I first got arrested in January of 2012. I was supposed to be released in January of 2017, but then I was given a new release date of the middle of 2019…..that’s a huge difference – 28 extra months. I do my best to think positive, but it doesn’t happen all the time. Towards the beginning of my sentence I was upset, angry and frustrated. I constantly asked God, “Why?” But now I do my best to ask God “What do you want me to learn from this?” or “What are you teaching me?” After saying this over and over again, it started to become engraved in my head, and I’m able to turn negative thoughts into a much more positive experience. It’s tough to do, especially in this place. But God wants me to grow up spiritually. And He most definitely is using this time locked away to accomplish this purpose.

I like this quote by Rick Warren. God teaches you love by putting you around unloving people. He teaches you joy in the middle of grief. He teaches you patience in the midst of unruly inmates (I added that one J)  God will teach you all these qualities throughout your life – and it will take the rest of your life. It’s a process. He will use all kinds of situations in your life to help you develop spiritual depth and become more like Christ.

 I’m learning every day. I’m not the same person I was back in 2012, or even a year ago. I’m continuing to develop the qualities of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. My road in life has not been easy. It continues to be challenged every day. But I do my best to trust God and ask Him what He wants me to learn from this.

On a side note…..I love mail. During my transfer from prison to jail, my address book was not able to come with me. I would love to hear from you all. If anyone desires to take the time to write, please include your address on your letter or card, too, as the mail room confiscates the envelope with the return address on it before I get it. Phone calls are quite expensive, too, so I won’t be able to call many of you either. But I look forward to hearing from you and seeing you all in the near future.

Craig Perino  99419, Racine County Jail, 717 Wisconsin Avenue, Racine, Wisconsin  53403

Living As Equals

What color is the blood inside your body? Is it red? There’s a good chance it is, or at least I hope it is. You might want to check that out if your blood is not the color red!

love-one-another

In other words, we human beings are all equal. No one is better than anyone else. I’m not better than you and you’re not better than me. We are all the same on the inside. God created us in His image. The only thing that distinguishes us from one another is the way we look – the color of our hair, eyes, skin, or how tall we are.

Unfortunately, most of us do not always see what is on the inside. We judge others on what we can visibly see and/or know. The first ten seconds when meeting someone you are already judging them, based on their appearance. Before a word is even spoken, a judgment is already occurring. “Don’t ever judge a book by its cover” should apply to people also. Don’t ever judge a person before getting to know them.

I’ll be honest with you. I struggle with judging people. I’ve gotten tremendously better since coming to prison, but this is still one of my weaknesses. There are so many different types of people in this place. I seem to congregate towards the inmates who are more like me and have the same likes and dislikes, as most people do wherever you are. But in this small 1800 person community, I have become open-minded to the many other groups that take place in this prison. And it has led me to realize that we are all the same on the inside. Oh, our minds and attitudes are different; the issues of our hearts are different. But our bodies on the inside were all created the same.

Believe it or not, there are a lot of good decent people in prison. Yes, I know it says in the Bible that no one is good, not even one. However, there are inmates who are truly sorry for what they did and are doing everything they can to change and better their lives. I know I’m one of them. One day these “good” people will be free, living out in the community like a normal person with one difference. These people will have the title murderer, sex offender, or drug dealer hanging over their heads. They will be like sheep thrown into a pack of wolves, just waiting to get torn apart, mocked, or ridiculed because they are a felon. I will be included among this group.

Yes, you will judge us because of what you’ve heard about us. Some of us are not the same people before coming to prison. They have changed and want to have a normal life again. It will be hard because you will judge us. You might know a felon who lives in your neighborhood or even right next to you. I encourage you to take the time to get to know that person and help them become productive members of society again. Who knows? By helping them and being kind to them they will see Jesus in you and come to know Him better. Jesus says, “Whatever you did to the least of these, you also did to Me. Do not judge or you will be judged.”

Be open-minded. Take that initiative and be that example to let your light shine. After all, this is God’s command….to love one another. Love me, but please don’t judge me.

God’s Symphony

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As I start to write this post today, I have exactly four weeks until I exit Federal Prison for good, even less time when this blog gets posted. When I leave here, I will have done 64+ months behind concrete walls and razor sharp fences. I will have done time in three Federal Prisons and two County Jails. I will also have experienced living with the general population inmates and living in the specialized housing unit….also known as “the hole” (solitary confinement).

I would never have imagined that I would spend this amount of time in these locations locked up, let alone any time at all. However, if someone would ask me if I could change one thing about my life, my answer would be “nothing at all.” Do I regret some of the choices and decisions I have made in my lifetime? Absolutely, Yes! But both the good choices and bad choices I made define me as a person. It is who I am today and I would not change my life for anything. I have learned from my mistakes. I have grown and matured because of my mistakes. And I have led others to Christ where I am because of my mistakes. I know I have said this before, but this is by far the greatest adventure I have ever experienced in my lifetime.

I know this has been hard on my family, especially my parents. But we have all grown in some way, shape or form because of this. God has truly been with us every step of the way and has delivered us time and time again. Prison is the result of my poor choices. While God is disciplining me, He is testing my family and putting them through a trial. Some trials are short lived, while others are 64 months long. All of us in our lifetime will face really hard seasons when it seems as if the entire world is against us, when we think we just cannot win…..being stuck in the judicial system feels like it is a dead end road. But when we keep standing strong, following the Lord, and obeying His calling, He will see us through and keep us on His path. My family and I are definitely living proof of that truth.

My life and my family’s life will never be the same again. We will continuously go through struggles, tests, and ridicules as the result of my decisions and actions. But our question should not be Why Us? Instead, it should be What Now? I know more of who I am now than I did before I got arrested. My days will not always run smoothly. There will be times when I will put on a front and pretend smile just to get by even though I am hurting on the inside. There will be days when I will want to curl up in a ball and cry my day away. But these are the days when  God is rebuilding me. Like a bone that breaks and gets stronger when healed, God breaks us down only to build us back up even stronger. God empties our hands so we can finally reach for Him.

I want to close out this post with a story I stumbled across just the other day. I had to read it a few times just to understand it. But when it finally did come to me, it hit me hard and opened up my eyes to God’s perfect plan and will.

When I was a kid I had a friend named Joey. Joey had been taking violin lessons since he was three years old. His parents were accomplished musicians who played with the symphony orchestra in my town. Sometimes they would take us to rehearsal with them, and we would run around the building while they rehearsed. The orchestra made a record, and Joey could play along on his violin flawlessly, in perfect harmony with the record, as if he sat in that orchestra with them. I wanted to be able to do that so when I was about ten I asked my parents if I could start taking violin lessons. They got me a violin. I practiced hard and learned “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.” When I got really good at it, I put on the record Beethoven’s Fifth. I tried to play along like Joey did, but I didn’t sound anything like what I heard. My strings squeaked and my notes were off key. Eventually, I gravitated back to Twinkle Twinkle and played that instead. But the record kept playing and Beethoven’s Fifth went on perfectly and never missed a note. Praying in God’s will is just like that. He tells us if we pray anything according to His will, it will be done. But our prayers aren’t always in tune with the symphony.

 I continuously pray. My family continuously prays. My friends continuously pray. We have been praying for that miracle of my release for the last five years. My release date has been changing for the last year and half. Even when I leave this place on July 31, the state of Wisconsin still might have custody over me until next fall. We just continue to pray for a miracle of freedom. We pray that it is God’s will to let me go. But you know, no matter what happens, my music always gets trumped by God’s symphony, and His symphony without a doubt is playing something much more beautiful. I want my life to be the symphony God has chosen, and not merely Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. Why? Because His symphony, His plan for my life, is much grander than I can ever make it.

Coming to an End

As my prison time comes to an end at Seagoville Federal Prison in Texas, I look back at these last 63+ months and think about all I have been through. It has definitely been a roller coaster ride; the ups and downs, the good times and the bad times, the happy times and the sad times. My prison experience wasn’t great, but it wasn’t bad either. It is what you make of it that determines how it will go. I refused to let prison get the best of me, but instead I got the best of prison. Believe it or not, there will be things that I will miss about prison. It’s like a whole new world in here, one I’ll never get to experience again, nor do I want to.

My love for sports has always been very high. I enjoy playing them, watching them, even coaching them. With the weather somewhat decent year round in Texas, sports leagues are constantly going – from softball to sand volleyball to ultimate Frisbee to pickleball. I will actually miss playing them.

Why would I miss prison sports so much when I can do the same thing outside of prison? You’re right….. I can do all these sports outside the prison walls. But in prison, the atmosphere is completely different. It seems like 90% of the inmates enjoy seeing someone fail. The negative behavior and comments outweigh the positives by at least ten to one. Since I have always leaned toward the underdog, I always cheer for the guys and teams that are being cheered against, which most of the time are the underdogs or the not-so-popular inmates. I guess that is why I love coaching the not-so-athletically -gifted inmates. It brings me joy watching them succeed.

The leagues here are very competitive, too. Inmates will do most anything they can to win, even bending the rules or cheating if they can get away with it. Let’s not forget about the constant complaining, too! I do my best to stay away from these types of people and get on opposite teams. I absolutely love beating these people and teams. Is that a bad thing?

That is why when I coach and draft people on my teams, I don’t always pick the best athletes, but the ones who like to have fun, listen, are good sports, and will work hard. Out of the fourteen softball and sand volleyball leagues I’ve participated in while here, my teams have won the championship seven times. The other inmates wonder why I win more than most. I tell them the same thing what I just said above…..that we’re out to have a good time and to encourage each other. Most just laugh and roll their eyes at me.

One thing I do love about playing sports in prison is that it gets my mind off prison life for that short period of time. I don’t have to focus or think about getting out of here or life after prison. I don’t have to think about the nuances or the mundane prison schedule. I feel free and focused on the game at hand. Sports put my mind at ease. It’s like a relaxer, a feel-good feeling.

This past week my sports career at Seagoville came to an end. My softball team, which consisted of only three returnees from last year’s championship team, won the league title again this year. And for the third year in a row, my three-man sand volleyball team, with every year being a completely different team, won it all again, too. People say I carry the team. But I strongly disagree with them. It’s the hard work, effort, want, and drive by all members of the team, regardless of athletic ability, that results in winning.

The days remaining on my prison sentence continues to get fewer and fewer. It’s been quite the adventure, one I’ll never forget. God has definitely been with me, protecting and caring for me every step of the way. But He’s not quite finished with me yet, as He needs me to take a pit-stop in Wisconsin for a few months before heading to St. Louis to begin my real life. And all I can do is trust and obey. I know I’m in good hands.

Coach

It was the first year I was eligible to play Little League Baseball. My dream of playing in the Big Leagues for the St. Louis Cardinals was finally underway. I was so excited! I would be wearing an actual uniform, playing with real umpires and pitchers, even playing under the lights on some occasions. The majority of the boys in my first grade class all signed up together to be placed on the same team. What a fantastic way to start my career, I thought.

The only problem…..we had no coach. Who would want to take on the daunting task of coaching a bunch of seven-year-olds how to play the game of baseball? Some of the boys in my class were natural athletes, while a few of them couldn’t even walk and chew gum at the same time. To turn the newly formed team into a success was a near impossible task.

Fortunately, there was on individual who jumped at the opportunity to teach us how to throw, hit, and run bases. He was loving, caring, and showed a whole lot of patience. He quickly jumped at this opportunity to make a difference to a bunch of scraggly kids. That person was my Dad!

As a 7-yr-old I thought my Dad knew everything and was the coolest person ever. (Actually, he still is pretty cool today, even at the young age of 68, and still does know quite a bit!) When he told me that he was going to be the coach of my baseball team, I just about jumped through the roof. I knew I was in good hands with my professional career. I was already anticipating a roster spot to open up for me in about fifteen years with the St. Louis Cardinals.

Of course, that did not happen. The season came and went. I can’t remember a whole lot about my first season of baseball other than we lost more games than we won. But what I remember the most was the time and effort my Dad put into that team. It was not a paid position; all voluntary. He sacrificed countless hours out of his own time to teach us how to play the game of baseball. He didn’t coach us because he had to, but because he wanted to. He wanted to make us not only ballplayers, but also better individuals in life as well, even at the young age of 7 or 8. He taught us sportsmanship. He taught us teamwork. And most importantly, he taught us respect. He took time and helped each one of us individually to develop our skills. When one person failed, he never gave up until that player succeeded. He was loved by many and liked by all. He ended up coaching our team for six years. We had our ups and downs. But we also had a lot of fun!

Whenever a coaching opportunity arose during my grade school and middle school years, my Dad was also the first one to volunteer, not just for me, but also for my older sister and two younger brothers as well. Yes, he had a fulltime job, but was also a full-time father, putting his family first in life. He ended up coaching baseball, soccer, basketball, and track and field through many seasons for my siblings and me. Even today, when he runs into some of his old players, all grown-up now and in their 30’s, they still call him “Coach.”

He does not coach anymore. But he still is an inspiration and role model to many, especially me. Thank you, Dad, for being such an amazing father. You’ve been with me through all of life and have taught me so much. I strive to be like you someday. You truly are the #1 Dad in the entire world. Thank you for making a difference in my life. Happy Father’s Day! I love you!DSCF3972 (2)