I’m Free!

broken-chains-man

The night before Herod was to bring him to trial, Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains, and sentries stood guard at the entrance.  Suddenly an angel of the Lord appeared and a light shone in the cell.  He struck Peter on the side and woke him up.  “Quick, get up!” he said, and the chains fell off Peter’s wrists.  Then the angel said to him, “Put on your clothes and sandals.” And Peter did so.  “Wrap your cloak around you and follow me.” The angel told him.  Peter followed him out of the prison, but he had no idea that what the angel was doing was really happening; he thought he was seeing a vision.  They passed the first and second guards and came to the iron-gate leading to the city.  It opened for them by itself and they went through it.  When they had walked the length of one street, suddenly the angel left him.  Acts 12:6-10

Thursday, March 7, 2019 was just another typical day in the Racine, Wisconsin County Jail.  I got up, went to work until the evening (Two weeks before I no longer worked third shift laundry, but a first shift janitorial job), ate my three meals, read a little, and went to bed around 10 pm, thinking to myself that 4 am when the lights turned on was going to come quickly.  But I was used to it by now, after spending the past 202 days in this facility.  Around 3 am I woke up abruptly to use the bathroom, and thought to myself I have one more hour to sleep.  I laid back down, and not more than five minutes later, when I was just about to doze off, an officer came on the loud speaker in the pod and said, “Perino, pack up!”  I sat up, confused, thought I was hearing something with ear plugs in my ears, and asked myself, did he just tell me to pack up? I immediately got my sandals on and went to the door.  The guard working third shift let me out and asked me what was going on.  I told him I had no clue and that I wasn’t supposed to leave for another two and half months.  He knew that, too.

Then the negative side of me started kicking in.  I thought to myself that I was going to be charged a third time for the crimes I committed and was going to go to another county to serve even more time.  I was confused and bewildered and thought that this cannot be happening.  The officer called me over to his desk.  He looked me up on the computer, and sure enough, it said that I was being released to the streets.  I was shocked! But of course I was still having doubts.  Hardly anything in the past 6 years had ever gone my way, so I thought something can’t be right.  Is this a joke?  Am I going to be handcuffed as soon as I walk downstairs or step outside?

I walked back inside my pod.  Shaking, I quickly packed all my stuff together.  A few of the other inmates that were awake were in shock, too.  In each pod there is a release date list.  My name was around the eighth one on the list and it said May 20.  The phone system also said May 20.  I got my things, met the officer by the door and was escorted downstairs, while picking up one other guy for a release at the same time.  I still thought this was some kind of joke.  Sure enough when I made it down the elevator, my bag full of personal belongings and clothes were there for me.  That was when I realized this is really happening.  I’m really leaving this place and it is finally going to be over.  I still was so confused and kept asking myself “how could this be?” I couldn’t stop shaking.  When I got downstairs, the officers knew me, and were asking me what was going on, knowing that I was not supposed to be released for a few more months.  I told them I was being released.  They were as happy as I was and none of them  double-checked anything to see if a mistake actually did occur.  They wanted to get me out of there also.

I told them that I needed to call my parents in St. Louis, so they could come and pick me up.  One officer, who didn’t know me well asked, “Why didn’t you set up a ride ahead of time?”  I started laughing and said, “I really didn’t know I was being released two and half months early?”  When the officer called my parents and told them the news, my dad was so confused that he actually called back asking if this was a hoax and if this was for real.

Within 25 minutes of being waked up, I signed my release papers and was walking out the door.  I absolutely could not believe it!  After 6 years of being incarcerated in three different prisons, two county jails, countless letters written to attorneys and judges, on Friday, March 8, 2019, at 3:30 am……a day I’ll never forget….. I was a free man!

As I left the jail, all I could do was thank God over and over again.  This truly was a miracle from God.  There is no explanation of how this happened.  All the paperwork, the computers, the phone……everything stated that my release date was not until May.  But sure enough, God had other plans.  He decided that my work there and in the judicial system was finally complete, and it was time for me to move on.  All I can say is that God had to have literally gone into the computer just minutes before the releases were to be announced that night, and changed my date.

I’m still speechless even today.  Thankfully, I contacted one of my friends, who graciously picked me up in the middle of the night, and I went to their house to wait until my parents made the 7 hour drive to Wisconsin.  By 10:30 am, I was on my way back to St. Louis to start my life and my new adventure all over again.

Words could not explain how overjoyed I was on that Friday morning.  Even today, I still shake my head in amazement at how God works.  I can still vividly remember that cold, dreary, January day in 2012 when I was arrested.  My life was forever changed.  I was knocked off my high pedestal and placed in the lowest of low places.  I was broken.  I was shattered beyond repair, to the point of dust.  What was once a great life was reduced to nothing but weightless powder.

That was exactly what and where I needed to be.  I needed to be absolutely nothing and in the worst of worse places so that with time I could strengthen my relationship with God and He could build me up again and mold me and reshape me into the man He always wanted me to be.  Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being. Genesis 2:7   God needed to make me alive again and had to start from scratch in order to do it.  He had to knock me down to bring me back up.  Knocking me down and turning me into dust was the only way to get me back to my basic form so that something new could be created.  But it took time.  Six years to be exact.  That is 2,190 days.  Yes, I counted every single day.

What did you do in those 2,190 days?  Some of you got married.  Some of you got divorced.  Some of you had kids.  Some of you might have got married, had kids, divorced, remarried, and had kids again.  Some of you experienced death of family and friends, cancer, and sickness. Some of you got new jobs or retired.  Some of you bought a house or a new car.  Some of you moved.  Some of you traveled to other countries. And some of you found God.

In those 2,190 days, I didn’t have the luxuries that a lot of you had.  But what I learned and experienced during this time was much more valuable than I could ever express.  I learned the true meaning of patience.  I learned how to listen to others.  I learned how to rely on others.  I learned how to give.  I learned the true definition of being humble.  I learned how to be a true friend. I learned how to care and show love.  I learned how to serve.  I truly learned how to be happy, even where I was.  I learned how to pray, read the bible, and memorize scripture.  I grew and strengthened my relationship with the Lord.  During this time I slowed down and took advantage just where God had placed me.  This was a time for me to get back on track, and be that friend, brother, son, and leader God always wanted me to be.  I did not get sick (Miraculously, my colds and allergies never came upon me during these six years).  And not one person in my family passed away during this time.  God not only had me under his hedge of protection, but my family and friends, too.  These six years in my opinion were a training ground as to what is to come in my life.  I needed to learn how to be alive again.  I was shattered beyond repair, and made into dust.  But when dust is mixed with water, dust becomes clay.  Clay, when placed in a person’s hands, can be formed into anything he or she wants it to be.  The person molding the clay is also known as a potter.  And that potter is Jesus.  Yet You, Lord, are our Father.  We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hands. Isaiah 64:8

Six years ago was not the end of my life.  It was just the beginning; the remolding process.  I was lost, but am now found.  I was dust.  Every Single One of Those Days I was in the hands of the Beholder.  He was making me into something greater than I could ever imagine.  It was a process that has taken six years so far for Him to create His masterpiece.  And I still know He is not finished with me yet.  He still has lots of work to do.  But I truly know now that I can place my life in the hands of the Potter, for He is making something glorious out of dust.      I AM FREE!!!!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_ZCAh9WK9dg

This is my last post that tells my prison journey. Thanks for reading and you have my permission to share my story so others, too, can be free!

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Happy Birthday, Mom!

happy birthday

I can finally say this will be your last birthday in which I am incarcerated. I know it has been one long road for you. But the end is finally in sight. Our family will be complete again. I know these last 7+ years since it all started has been very tough on you. I am sure you have been embarrassed, angry, scared, impatient, and sad. But happiness and a sense of relief is right around the corner. It is almost over, Mom……almost over.

When I was growing up I know I was a hard kid to raise. Although I hardly got in trouble with anyone and followed the rules for the most part, when I was around my brothers and sister, we fought and argued constantly. How did you and Dad ever put up with us? I don’t know why we fought so often, but we did. You must have been constantly stressed out. During this time as well, I never understood why I had a curfew, while my other friends did not. I never understood why I couldn’t hang out with certain people and go to certain places while my other friends could. And I never understood why you always put school, family, and God over sports. At the time, I thought I knew everything, and knew what was best for me. But, man! Was I wrong! It took me years to realize that I knew only a miniscule of what you and Dad knew. You had a reason for everything, and nine times out of ten you were right. Why couldn’t I see that at the time?

As I got older and into my adult years, you let me live my life the way I wanted to live and did not interfere, even if you disagreed with it. You let me learn from my mistakes, even if it was the hard way. And let me remind you, I sure did make my fair share of terrible choices and decisions. But you never did tell me “I told you so”, or showed your frustration or anger. Instead, you gave your advice and two cents worth each and every time, and let me carry on with my life. Then one day I made the worse choice I ever made and it sent me to prison. I can only imagine how angry and hurt you were. As always, you were there for me every step of the way, you forgave me, and continued supporting me. You showed unconditional love for me every day of my life, and I know you will until the day one of us moves off this planet.

I remember when I used to ask you what you wanted as a gift for your birthday or Christmas, all you would ever say is “Love.” Although I always did love you, I didn’t show it or say it all the time, so I can’t say I gave you what you wanted. But today, as I write this, I can honestly give you what you have asked for since I was a little kid, and that is Love!

Mom, I love you. You are absolutely irreplaceable. I know it hurt you tremendously when I got sentenced to prison. And it hurt me even more knowing I hurt you. I did not mean to hurt you, and am so sorry. Through it all, you never gave up on me, but you and Dad both continue to share your love and support. I never thought these last few months of my sentence would ever come. But, they are finally here. We will be a complete family again, after 74 long months. No more worrying. No more fears. I’m coming home. I can honestly say that all the life lessons you taught me growing up have really impacted me positively on how I live my life today, especially in prison. I am kind because of you. I am a servant because of you. I show love because of you. My life is Christ-filled because of you. I am who I am today because of you. You and Dad taught me so much. Thank you!

You have been a role model and an inspiration. You are nothing but the best. I’m proud to call you my mother. I can’t wait to see you soon. I’m coming home for good, Mom. I love you. Happy Birthday!

Your son,

Craig

 

The Baton

Baton.jpg

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.

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

violon

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.