2018

I miss

As the year turns from 2017 to 2018, I start my sixth calendar year being locked up. I never in my wildest imagination ever thought that I would be locked up for this amount of time, let alone being locked up at all. But here I am praying this will be my final year, and that I’ll be released to the free world soon enough. All I know is that God is in control, and that He’s got everything planned out to perfection.

There are so many things in life that I miss, being away from “civilization” for so long. When I lived in the free world, there were many things that I took for granted on a daily basis. Being incarcerated made me realize just how important these things were to me. As 2018 gets underway, I sit back and think of all the things I miss, and can’t wait to experience them all again someday soon.

I miss…….

  • Walking barefoot across carpet and sitting on a couch
  • Taking a nap on a recliner and watching television with a remote control in my hand and choosing whatever channel I want
  • Opening a fridge door just to see what is in there
  • Receiving phone calls and sending emails
  • Taking a shower without shower shoes and being able to control the temperature of the water
  • Having a room to myself
  • Looking at myself in a real mirror and not a reflection in a shiny object
  • The smell of clean clothes and wearing clothes other than the colors of tan, white, or gray.
  • Driving a car with the radio turned on
  • Making a PBJ sandwich whenever I want
  • Teasing my Grandma
  • Turning out the lights at night whenever I want
  • Swimming and sitting around a campfire
  • Going to the bathroom without having to clean the seat and cover it with toilet paper before sitting down
  • Using real silverware instead of plastic stuff
  • Burgers on the grill
  • Eating what I want to eat and all the sweets and pastries I want
  • Worshiping at my church
  • Holding money in my hand and having loose change in my pockets
  • Camping
  • Grocery shopping and going to the gas station
  • Talking sports with my Dad
  • Making a pizza any time of the day
  • Surfing the internet and sending a text to a friend
  • Mom’s gooey butter cake
  • Going to the dentist…..yes, really!
  • Using a microwave, stove, and oven
  • Family gatherings especially around the holidays
  • Cutting the grass, doing yard work and washing a car
  • Riding a bike and playing golf
  • Dressing up to go out on the town for a night
  • Hugs
  • Covering up with comforters and sleeping with a body pillow
  • Watching the Super Bowl with friends
  • Cooking and baking
  • Going out for ice cream
  • Quietness
  • Paying bills and saving money
  • Chatting with my Mom
  • Vacations and traveling
  • Going on dates
  • Wearing a suit and tying ties
  • Having a closet and plenty of space to store things
  • Flannel pajama bottoms to sleep in
  • Messing around with my brothers and sister and their spouses
  • Ceiling fans to lie under
  • The smell of home cooked meals
  • Kitchen tables, bar stools and counter space
  • CD’s, DVD’s and even VHS tapes of my favorite movies
  • The feel of a wallet in my back pocket, along with my keys in my possession
  • Watching Cardinal baseball and Blues hockey games
  • My 7 nieces and nephews……5 of which I have never even met
  • Most of all, I miss my Mom, Dad, family and friends

Even though I miss these things I’ll be much more appreciative of them all when I become free again. My challenge to all of you reading this today is that you remember the small things in life and don’t take them for granted. Give thanks to God for all things He provides in your life, even the smallest of small things that don’t seem important. Because to Him all things are important!

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Welcome to Who-Ville!

Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas……” Every year during the Christmas season at the Seagoville, Texas, Federal Prison, the compound is changed into a Christmas spectacular, with an array of decorations among the seven different units. Each unit is entered into a decorating contest to compete for the prize of a special new-release movie and popcorn in the auditorium. Watching a new release movie and receiving “free” popcorn is a very big deal in prison, so most units go all out in trying to win the award.

This year my unit decided to do the theme from the movie “The Grinch.” My unit has 150 two-man rooms, a number of 6-12 man rooms, two levels, two sides, and sleeps 375 inmates. It is the largest unit on the compound. In other words, there is a lot of space that needs to be filled with decorations. But we also have many more inmates that help out with decorating. The rules stipulate that any material found on the compound can be used for decorating, except wood, plastic, and any other dangerous or hazardous material. Basically, the only material we are allowed to use is paper, cardboard, soda cans, and paint (which the unit counselor can buy if asked).

With the artistry and creative minds that are on this compound, just a few supplies and materials are all one needs to make a Christmas spectacular. And let me tell you, it was more than just a Christmas spectacular in my unit – it was a Christmas production as well. Here is a list of some of the decorations and events that happened in my unit:

  • Each room was turned into a Who-ville home, with both a cardboard mailbox and a porch light that could light up, using a handheld commissary reading light
  • Street signs and “Welcome to Who-ville” entryways
  • Multiple Christmas murals painted on the walls
  • A 20-foot tall Christmas tree made out of 2,000 soda cans, with shredded paper and presents underneath it.
  • A cardboard fireplace protruding from the wall
  • A 16-person choir
  • Shredded paper falling from the second floor to make it look like it was snowing
  • Giant 3D snowflakes hung across the balcony
  • A Grinch lair
  • An inmate emulating Cindy Lou’s great grandson, giving a tour while telling a story to the judges
  • Colored paper covering the walls
  • A giant 20-foot tall blow-up snowman made out of paper (I’m still not sure how they were able to blow it up)

After a month of planning, organizing and decorating, my unit was ready for the show-and-tell and to be judged by the “big wigs” of the compound. With snow gently falling from our balcony, Cindy Lou’s great grandson gave the tour and told a story while the choir sang in the background. It was more or less a production that was well rehearsed. It took about 15 minutes from start to finish with a lot of oohing and aahing from the judges the entire time. Needless to say, they were all very impressed and said this was the best overall showing in all the years of the decorating contest. It was quite the scene to see.

Yes, you guessed it……we earned first place honors this year. And yes, this was the highlight of my Christmas this year. No presents or visits from any family and friends, but still a good time with inmates who have become friends and family while here, and together we made this Christmas  a positive experience.

Most important of all, some of us celebrated the birth of baby Jesus in this dark place and know that even here His light can be seen by those of us who claim Him as our Savior. He was born for all people, including those who are incarcerated. Take a few minutes and pray for those who need to know him, inside and outside the prison walls, and may God give you His peace as you begin a new year.

Happy-New-Year-2018-Images-4

Pop Goes the Knee

ski_knee_injury-698x321

The first thing that comes to my mind when I hear the word December is winter. The first thing that comes to my mind when I hear the word winter is snow. I absolutely love winter time, especially the snow. Although I don’t like being cold, I love the cold weather. I always have enjoyed sitting outside around a fire watching it snow. And I have always loved cold weather outdoor activities and sports. I would much rather be bundled up on the ski slopes than run around on the beach wearing swim trunks.

In Texas it hardly snows, maybe an occasional dusting on the ground each year. For the past several years I’ve been disappointed that another winter has gone by without a significant amount of white stuff on the ground.

Thinking of snow always brings back a memory that happened to me in 2005 on a field trip with some students. I was teaching at an inner city school in Milwaukee at the time and most of the students had never gone snow skiing before. We decided to take them to the local ski hills of Wisconsin. Yes, hills are a good way to put it. While skiing down a mountain in Colorado can take up to 30 minutes, skiing down a hill in Wisconsin will take about 30 seconds. But this place was perfect for these middle schoolers who had never skied before. Lessons came with the lift tickets so the morning was spent learning how to ski and stop on the bunny hills before taking the lift to the top of the slopes. Some of the more athletic kids picked it up instantly and were breezing through the lessons. As soon as they passed the lesson and got the OK, they were ready to take the lift up to the top.

After lunch a few of the boys who were doing fairly well asked if I would take them to the terrain park to do a few jumps…….nothing big or scary, but just to get a few feet off the ground. I agreed and we immediately took the lift up to the area where the park was located. We spent about an hour or so there. There were many falls and wipeouts, along with many laughs. As the confidence of the kids grew they would go faster, hit bigger jumps and catch more air. They were enjoying every part of it. I’ve done my fair share of jumps throughout my skiing days, so I was having a good time as well.

Then it happened…..on our last run through the park, I noticed a jump off to the side that I had not yet hit, so I decided to give it a whirl. I didn’t have a whole lot of speed as I was unfamiliar with the jump. But it was good enough to get a few feet off the ground. I hit the middle of the jump and was on my way to sticking my last landing of the day when all of a sudden I noticed it was a flat landing instead of a sloped landing. Sloped landings create a softer landing, whereas flat landings create a hard impact, causing all of your weight to land in the same spot at the same time. I knew I could land it, but also was ready for a hard impact. Even though I knew what to expect, as soon as I hit the ground, my right ski shot out, while my right knee buckled inward and all of my weight on that side of the body. POP came the sound on my inside right knee. I hit the ground immediately and was in excruciating pain. The kids skied over to me and saw the expression on my face and knew I was hurting. They helped me remove my skis and get me to the bottom of the hill. I had just partially torn my Medial Collateral Ligament (MCL). I was officially on the disabled list.

Thankfully, it was not my ACL that tore nor did I fully tear my MCL. Both of those would require surgery. However, I had to go through ex-rays, MRI’s and attend many physical therapy sessions in order to rebuild my knee. It took months of rehab and was not easy. I had to go through a lot more pain in order for my knee to heal. And worst of all, I was not allowed to do any physical activity until I got the approval of my doctor. He told me that my right MCL will remain partially torn for the rest of my life, unless I fully tear it. Then surgery would be needed to fix it. I have had no problems since then.

Prison would not be the place to tear it since I would be required to live with it. I’m just a little more cautious these days when it comes to playing sports that involve the bending and twisting of the knee. But I still won’t shy away from the jumps while skiing……that excitement can’t be given up!

In a way, living my life is just like getting injured on the ski slopes. I have gone through many tough times and have experienced a lot of pain and suffering. When my body is in pain I go though physical therapy to make it stronger. When my life is a mess and causing me pain, I turn to God and He uses the pain to draw me closer to Him and make my faith and attitude stronger. That kind of healing makes me be as good as new again.

 

 

Best Christmas Gift Ever

Santa

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

HighwayToHeaven

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

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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.

A Letter to My 11-Yr-Old Self

dear-me

Dear Me:

Before you get too old and grown up I want you to take the time to read this letter I wrote to you. You are only 11 years old now and just starting middle school, but you have a very long and exciting life ahead of you. Things will not always be this easy, and handed to you on a platter. You will have to work at growing up, making good choices, and being successful.  Life right now seems great.

I know elementary school was a breeze for you. I guess that “D” you received on a test a few years ago really kicked you into high gear after being grounded from a soccer game. I know it really hurt you to watch your team lose with you standing on the sidelines. Mom and Dad hit you where it hurt – your love for sports. It was a lesson well learned and will never happen again. You will not always be scrawny. Even though you will be the last of your classmates to leap up and touch the bottom of the net on a basketball hoop, you will be the first out of all them to dunk a basketball. Sports will always play a huge role in your life. You will always love competition. Sometimes your competiveness will get you in trouble, especially when your temper flares up when you lose. You will, unfortunately, slam bats down when you strike out, yell at the refs over a bad call earning technical fouls in basketball games, and raise your fists to players when you are out trying to steal a base.

I need you to listen up here. Sports are just games. They are not going to define you as a person. I hate to tell you this now, and it might hurt, but you are not going to be a professional athlete. You’ll play sports in high school and be very successful. You’ll set records that still stand today as a 4-year starting varsity goaltender in water polo. Yes, you heard me correctly – you will not play soccer, basketball, or baseball after middle school is finished. Water polo, swimming, and volleyball will be your sports. You will even run cross country in college, and run a 4 minute 40 second mile. But it is your character qualities that will define you as a person, both on and off the court.

You’ll graduate from middle school with only 14 kids in your class, and attend the public high school with 600 plus in your freshmen class and only knowing three of them on the first day of school. With four lunch shifts and your shyness to meet people you will, unfortunately, eat by yourself on the first day. It’ll be OK though, because on the second day of school, you will go out of your comfort zone and meet three other guys and sit with them for lunch. It will get easier and easier to make friends after this, and you will become a people person for the rest of your life. You will have the same group of friends all four years; in fact, some of them you are still friends with as of today. Thankfully, your choice of friends will be good ones. They will not be partiers, drinkers, or druggies, but will be friendly and outgoing with all. Your group will not be the most popular, but will be the most liked by everyone. Who you choose as friends in high school and when you get older will determine the type of individual you will become. Choose wisely. Your friends will have a big impact on your life.

Temptation will not be a huge issue in high school. You will be asked to buy a gun and drugs in the bathroom your freshmen year, but you will politely say no and leave. You will have good morals and know right from wrong. Mom and Dad will raise you well and teach you how to live a godly life. Listen to them. They do know what they are talking about. You will regularly be involved with youth groups and be a leader to the younger kids. I’m so glad you accepted Christ into your heart at a young age. You will definitely need God later on in life. Don’t ever stop losing faith.

The summer before your senior year in high school you will attend and sing at a teacher’s wedding. (Yes, choir will be a big part of your life throughout high school.  You will earn all-district and all-state honors on multiple occasions. You will play a lead role in the musical “Grease” your senior year. You will also sing in the traveling choir your freshmen year in college). At the wedding of the teacher you will drink your first beer. Thankfully, it’ll take you about an hour to drink the entire cup, so it won’t get you buzzed; plus, you will not enjoy the taste so it will prevent you from drinking more.

All in all, your life will seem easy up to this point. When you turn 18 and head off to college, though, life will not be the same. You will be on your own, making your own choices and decisions. There will be many great moments and memories that you will remember forever, and you will make many lifelong friends. Cherish those moments and never forget them. You will also experience alcohol more often than you should and enjoy it way too much. You will still be sociable and continue to make friends, but you will begin hanging out with the party goers and drinking more. Alcohol will not affect your life now, but, unfortunately, down the road it’ll have an impact on the decisions you make. Thankfully, you will graduate with a 3.0 grade point average, and a degree in education with a minor in youth ministry.

Mom and Dad will be proud of you, especially after you accept a call to be a teacher in Hawaii. If only I could convince you now to stay in Hawaii longer than a year of teaching. Living there for a year will be all you can take, and you will move back to Wisconsin. You will teach at three different schools in three years, and finally find one you enjoy. You will absolutely love being a teacher and athletic director, especially coaching sports and helping students out with all their problems. And let me tell you, you will deal with a ton of issues on a daily basis. But all the students will love you and think highly of you. You’ll even be a father figure to the ones without dads.

Watch out for those parents, though. They are tough. More times than none they will think their “little Johnny” is a perfect angel that can’t do wrong. You will need to coddle those parents and guide them through those middle school years as well. You will also have a parent that will raise his fist to you three times threatening to strike you over his daughter’s playing time in a softball game. Don’t worry; he won’t hit you. Just walk away from the situation and be a better man.

As much as you love to teach, it will wear you down. You will continuously work from 6:00 am to 10:00pm six to seven days a week. Because of this, your relationships with your friends, girlfriends, family and God will go on a downward spiral. Even though you will teach religion in school you will start to become a hypocrite by what you teach. You will hardly go to church, spend too much time at the bars, cuss like a sailor, and befriend those who are considered lower class. You will be at casinos until the wee hours of the morning. You will hardly smile and joke around like you used to, and you will get angry at the pettiest of things. You will barely talk to God in prayer, and continually justify how you live your life by telling yourself that it’s OK to live this way, because God forgives you. Then you will make a choice that will cause you to go to prison.

Yes, you heard me right.  I said the P word. AM I SCARING YOU? I hope so. I’m sure you just got a knot in your stomach by what you just read. You officially hit rock bottom when you commit your crime at age 31 years of age. However, I must honestly say this will be the best thing that will ever happen to you. I know you’re asking yourself right now how prison can be the best for me. You are so confused, aren’t you? What I mean is…… physically, this will be the hardest and scariest situation you will ever face. However, mentally and spiritually this will be the best for you. As I said before, you will be on your way to destruction, a road destined to failure. However, God will intervene and save you. YES! THIS IS CORRECT!! God will save your life by allowing you to face your consequences and come to prison. No, He doesn’t want you to go to prison, but since He knows everything, He knows prison is what you need to turn your life around and get you back on track to follow His will and ways.

The day you get arrested will literally open up your eyes to the horrific lifestyle you are living. God will get your attention. He will basically say “Whoa! It’s time to reel you back in; this might hurt, but in the long run this will make you a better person and help you lead a better life”. You will spend a few days in jail before posting bail; then move back to St. Louis to live with Mom and Dad, where the refining process will begin. You will ask Mom and Dad to forgive you for bringing them into this mess which you created by your reckless lifestyle, and they will forgive. Their unconditional love for you will never waver.

The next eighteen months will be long and stressful dealing with the judicial system. However, you will be able to take your mind off these issues by working at a golf course. This will be part of the refining process by experiencing God’s creation in the wee hours of the morning watching the sun rise and the wildlife scurrying across the course. Tears will come quite frequently as you feel God’s presence shine down on you while you are alone on a fairway. Each day you will feel closer and close to God. He will speak to you quite often and you to Him. You will live your life for Him again, and most importantly, surrender your whole life to Him, and commit to His will. You know and realize God has everything under control, and knows what is best for you.

You obviously do not want to go to prison, but realize if God needs you there then you will trust Him. Your friends and family will forgive and support you, and you pray that even the people you wronged will one day also forgive you. Most importantly, God will forgive you. He will make you as white as snow, and cast your sins into the deepest parts of the ocean. Prison will be scary, but you will survive. God will protect you in a number of occasions. You will place yourself in the “Hole” (solitary confinement) for your own protection for 6 months, but will witness to both of your cellies while there. You will be in three different prisons in three different states. The inmates you encounter will see that spark in your eyes and who you live for. Some will even say they want what you got. They will recognize you and what you’re about……by the way you hold yourself and what you say. You will be a walking testimony. Unfortunately, some inmates will mock you and make fun of you, but that will only make you stronger.

Time will go fast. The changes in your life will be dramatic and very positive. You will be happy and joyous, just like you are now at the age of 11. You will constantly encourage and lift others up. You will put others first over yourself on a regular basis. You will show caring and sympathy to those who need it. You will listen when someone needs a sounding board. You will share words when someone needs advice. You will be there when someone needs a shoulder to cry on, and to pray with them. You will not only survive, but thrive in prison. Even though you will be locked away you will be set free and at peace. This is not the end of the road, but a start as to what is to come. God will look down on you and say, “This is my son whom I love.”

As I close this letter, I just want to say that God gives every person free will. He gives them the choice to do right and wrong, and gives everyone the choice to accept Him into their lives. You accepted Him into your life at a young age. You will lead a godly life most of your days, but will slip and fall when worldly desires overtake you. After God has broken you down you will come back to Him stronger than ever, and realize that you need Him. He will always be there for you. When the times are tough, He will be there; when it feels like you are alone, He will be there. He will always wait for you to come back to Him with wide open arms and has your life planned perfectly. You will be His light in dark places. Others will see that light, and you’ll make an impact. Be that inspiration to them.

Many will come to Christ. Live one day at a time and live it to the fullest. Always smile. A smile can brighten someone’s day in an instant, and love as God loves you. If you find His calling to take His Word to the deepest jungles of the Amazon or to the slums of New York or even back to prison as a volunteer, do it. Always place God first and then your friends before yourself. Friends are important to have. Don’t sweat the small things; they will eventually come to pass. Focus on the eternal goal, which is heaven. You are a Christian. Represent God in everything you do. I don’t know what your life will be like after you leave prison, but one thing I do know that your life is in good hands. Keep your faith, stay hopeful, and love. One day soon you’ll be reunited with all the people you lead to Christ. Keep up the good work, and continue to do what God wants you to do. As you live your life, remember the hard times and struggles you will face down the road. But don’t despair over them. Your life is a story and will have a good ending because the best is yet to come!

Love, Me Today