Scary Places

scary

I can still clearly remember the day I got arrested. It was a cold snowy day in Wisconsin, some 64 months ago. It is a day that will be engraved into my mind for the rest of my life. If the government could have used my arrest as a scare tactic to never commit a crime or violation again, it surely worked.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t happen that way, and jail and/or prison are the consequence of specific crimes. Walking into Racine County Jail with handcuffs on was the most scared I’ve ever been in my life. Without having known a single individual that has ever been to jail or prison before, I had no clue what to expect. All I knew was what I had seen on television.

After I was fingerprinted and filled out a few forms, I was escorted to a holding cell. “Here we go,” I thought to myself, “the scary part begins.” It was time to interact with the others that were arrested that day. Standing outside the twelve person holding tank that realistically only held eight people, 22 eyes were on me. I could only imagine what was going through their minds at this point. I’m “fresh meat” to them is all I could think of at the time.

As the door was unlocked and opened, I slowly made my way in. I looked around and noticed I was the only white guy among the other eleven, all supporting sleeves of tattoos up and down their bodies. Miraculously, another man scooted over and let me have a seat, while all eyes continued to stare at me in silence. I politely said thank you, sat down on the rock hard slab of concrete, and stared at the floor without making a sound.

It felt like hours before anyone said anything. Were the others planning an attack on me, I wondered. Finally, after only a few seconds of silence and observation, everyone continued talking again. I let out a sigh, closed my eyes, and prayed. I’m not sure what I prayed for right then and there, but I have a feeling it had to do with my safety.

A few questions were asked to me the first hour I was in there, but for the most part I kept to myself. The concrete bench definitely was not comfortable, and my butt kept falling asleep. My legs were cramping, too. All I wanted to do was stretch out, but there was no room, even to stand. So I just did my best to suck it up and pray I would be moved soon.

The conversations that took place hardly interested me, except one – the NBA. As I listened to the jibber-jabber, keeping to myself, I laughed silently at the comments I heard. But while staring at the ground in a daze, all of a sudden I head, “Hey, white boy! Who do like in the NBA this year?” It took a few seconds for it to register in my mind that they were actually talking to me. I looked up at the individual in a stare. He kind of chuckled but repeated the question. With me being a fantasy stat guru and because my love for basketball was pretty high, I answered his question with ease, backing it up with a few stats of my own. After answering, the cell was completely silent. Then at once they all started laughing. The man who asked me the question immediately says, “Man, white boy knows his stuff.” Of course, more explicit words were used. But with one small comment, I earned respect from everyone.

The tension was finally released after hours of wait time. I talked a little more after that. The others definitely valued my opinion, too. I survived the four hour ordeal in the holding tank before being moved into an individual cell.

At the time, I didn’t know how many more scary and uncomfortable moments like this I would have to endure. But as I write this, many more were in my future. Entering a prison or a jail is the hardest thing I’ll ever do. There are just too many unknowns, especially being surrounded by hardened, crazy, criminals that I do not know. And sometimes it can take awhile to earn that respect. With stories I’ve heard and things I’ve seen, anything…..ANYTHING…..can happen. It is just not a great situation for anyone to go through. One’s life is always at stake. Nervousness, worries, scariness, and uncomfortable are just a few emotions that go through me during those times. I have never prayed so much in my life. Time and time again, God has delivered me from danger, into His loving arms of safety.

What kind of uncomfortable and scary moments have you ever been through? Starting a new job, going off to war, sitting in front of a doctor waiting for bad news, or maybe even sharing God’s Word to an unbeliever? I know here in prison being a witness for God is a very hard thing to do. The unsuccessful rate of getting through to another inmate is very high. I can only imagine what missionaries must go through and endure in order to bring the Good News to remote areas of the world.

And  what I can’t imagine is how scared Jesus must have felt, knowing the pain and torture He would go through before His final breath as a man on earth. These days when I go through a situation that is scary and uncomfortable, I now think of the suffering that Jesus endured. And it was all for me. If He can do what He did for me, as a man, I know I can go through these tough, scary, and uncomfortable times in my life. And I know you can too, especially with God being by our side every step of the way.

Time for Recess!

cartoon

“Five more minutes,” I thought to myself. The countdown has begun. I eagerly await the excitement that will enthrall my body in just minutes. The clock can’t go fast enough. My feet are getting jittery and I can’t sit still. Only three more minutes to go now. My mind is starting to wander, and I can’t keep to the task I’m supposed to be doing. My eyes are glued to the clock. The second hand seems to putter along at an alarmingly slow rate.

Finally, there are less than 60 seconds remaining. All the other eyes around me are also glued to the clock. I look around and notice the grins on everyone’s faces. Only fifteen more seconds to go. In my head I silently give the countdown. 15…14……….10…9………5, 4, 3, 2, 1. The bell rings. All students jump out of our chairs and race for the door, squealing in delight. It’s recess time!

Remember those days? In my opinion, it was by far the best time during the school day, especially when it was nice out and the teachers extended recess for a few extra minutes. Kickballs would be flying, footballs tossed, soccer balls kicked, and baseballs hit. In Middle School, the ten or so boys we had in our small class would always find a new sport to play every few months. In 8th grade, the sports usually coincided with what professional sport was being played at the time. Football during the fall; basketball during the winter; homerun derby in the spring.

In elementary school an ample amount of kickball would be played. And every once in a while the class of boys right below us would challenge us to a soccer game or even a street hockey game. Unfortunately, the time would fly by. Those fifteen minutes were never long enough. The only thing that kept us inside during recess time was the rain. The cold temperatures hardly ever played a factor. We would just bundle up and continue where we left off the day before.

Recess never seemed to get old. It was just a great way to get out of the classroom and release some energy. Even when I was a teaching, especially when I was teaching, going outside after lunch to get some fresh air and to play football with the kids was a great relaxing feeling. To me, it helped finish out the day on a strong note.

In prison we have recess, too. It’s not actually called recess. It is called ten-minute moves. Every 50 minutes there are moves on the compound to get where you want to go before being locked in for the next hour. The other workers and I in the education department take full advantage of the moves to go outside and walk around before the move closes. I started saying, “It’s recess time” a while back, and everyone pretty much caught on to it. Unfortunately, there are no opportunities to throw a ball around or to re-enact what we used to do as kids. But it is a much needed time to get away from the mundane schedule and to step away from the other inmates, if only for ten minutes. It sometimes gives you that burst of energy to get you through the next hour. And then when the ten minutes are up, I say to everyone with a chuckle, “Recess is over. It’s time to go in.”

Just another look into what goes on behind the razor wire!

Reading Time

booksBefore entering prison, I wasn’t much of a reader. I seldom ever picked up a book to read. I basically read when I was forced to read for an assignment of some sort. Of course, I read articles on the internet, but actually holding a book in my hand was a different story.

The summer before my senior year in college, my family and I took a vacation to the Gulf Shores in Alabama. One day while we were all outside on the beach soaking in the sun, my three siblings and parents were all sitting in their beach chairs reading a book. I was just sitting there starting out into the ocean. It was quite comical to see and they still talk about me, the teacher, not reading!

Thankfully, my teaching job did not require me to read a lot. I guess that is why I majored in physical education. At the time, I would much rather be doing something active rather than reading.

When I got arrested in 2012 and was able to live at home with my parents for a year, my Mom would pass on spiritual and uplifting books to me. Before going to bed every night, I would read a quick devotional, read a few chapters from the Bible, and read a chapter or two in a book. Let’s just say my reading time has exploded from that moment on!

When I got incarcerated in March of 2013 and was in county jail for my first eleven months, basically all I did was read. That was pretty much all there was to do, unless you enjoyed watching reruns of Jerry Springer, television shows about jail, or soap operas, or loved to slam cards on the table while playing spades, talking trash, and screaming obscenities at your opponents. (now that’s a whole other story)

Most of the time I just lay on my bed and read. I can still remember the very first book I ever read while locked up……it was Stephanie Meyer’s second book of the Twilight Series. The first book of the series was nowhere to be found. But I eventually finished the entire series a few months later. I would say I finished a book every three to four days, and read nearly one hundred books while in county jail.

Since coming to federal prison my reading has slowed somewhat with all the other activities I participate in and do. But I still do read about a book a week, sometimes less. I’m really not too picky on the types of books I read, either……from non-fiction to mystery to classics to Christian, and every once in a while I’ll read a sci-fi/fantasy book. I feel that if someone takes the time to send me a book, I will always take the time to read it, no matter what kind it is. And yes, I have gutted through some tough books! By the way, if you mail a soft cover book to prison, it can come directly from you the sender. But if you want to send a hard back book, it must come from a publisher. No matter which kind it is, the package is always opened in the mail room and just the books are given to the inmate. Unless there is a note in the book or something written on the inside somewhere, I have no idea who sent me the book. That’s just the way things are done. It’s always good to write a letter or note and tell me what book you sent!

All in all, I’ve read around 400 books in over four years, well over the amount of books I’ve read my entire lifetime. After reading a book I usually pass on to someone else or donate to the library since my storage space is limited. Overall, I do enjoy reading. It just took me 33 years to figure that out. The best times for me to read is at 5:30 in the morning when hardly anyone is up and I’m doing my quiet time with God, and in the evening right before going to sleep and the unit is gradually starting to get quiet. Reading has definitely improved my vocabulary, comprehension, crossword puzzle skills, and most importantly my faith life. I can’t wait until one day I can finally sit next to a fire again when it is snowing outside and read a book in peace and quiet. That will be a perfect day. Once again, it took a prison experience for me to find something new I enjoy.

P.S. I just received two books: Enders Game by Scott Orson Card and Thief of Time by Terry Pratchett. Please let me know it was you so I can thank you!

Best Moments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Raging Fire

 

Colorado fire

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

One, Two, Three, Four…….

counting

The lights flash. The televisions turn off. A moan of disappointment is heard among the inmates. Slowly but surely the inmates rise out of their chairs and make their way back to their cells. It’s 9pm. It’s Count Time!

Count Time is when every inmate on the entire compound is counted by the officers to make sure everyone is accounted for and have not escaped. It is done every day at 4pm, 9pm, 12am, 3am, and 5am. On weekends, an additional 10am count is done. Let me tell you….it gets old fast. But everyone gets used to it. The 10am, 4pm, and 9pm counts are called stand-up counts. When the two officers that count your unit pass your cell to count you, everyone must be awake and standing. They do the stand up count to make sure everyone is alive and ticking. Seriously.

My very first cellie in county jail told me that back in the 70’s he killed his cellie (welcome to being locked up, Craig!) because his cellie blew cigarette smoke in his face. (This was when cigarettes were allowed in cell prisons). He cleaned up the mess and made his dead cellie look like he was always sleeping during count time. Unfortunately, after a few days, the room started to smell and eventually his body basically exploded. He was forced to tell the officers what he did. That incident is one of the reasons for a stand up count. (and yes, it’s a true story)

Thankfully, during the 12am, 3am and 5am counts, they let you sleep. But they do shine a bright mag light on your face. Since I’m a light sleeper, I’m often aroused from my sleep. Yeah, I guess you can say I haven’t had a decent night’s sleep in 47 months now.

It takes anywhere between 10 and 20 minutes to count the entire unit. Unfortunately, there are some very “special” counters here….. counting inmates can be a very difficult task for them. The numbers of the two officers that count each unit must match up before the count is cleared for the unit. In my opinion, counting the inmates should be easy for them. But when they add the top tier and the bottom tier together, it seems to be a little tricky. HA! My record for most recounts during one count time is four. It took nearly an hour for the count to be cleared. This one particular officer continues to work here. She has gotten better, though. On average these days, she usually only has to recount a couple of times a week. But we all groan when we have her as an officer in our building responsible for the count. I can’t imagine why!

Once the numbers are matched up in the unit and the entire compound is accounted for, the count is officially cleared and we can leave our cells and go back to our activities. When I’m finally free from this place, and I’m at home during the times of 10am, 4pm and 9pm, and I randomly stand up, don’t ask questions. You’ll know why!!!! (This was written so you have an idea of what a day is like in the life of an inmate.)

Taking the Plunge

luana-fallsAs I make my way up the rock face alongside the 20’ waterfall on the island of Oahu, I think to myself, “What am I doing?” I consider myself an adrenaline junkie, so doing this type of thing is what I live for. Yes, serious injury or even death is always a possibility. But I’m also the guy that says to take chances. When you’re feeling it, you’re feeling it. And today I’m feeling it!

As I reach the top of the waterfall and get to my feet, I turn around and look back at the mass of people gathered around the 20 ‘ x 20’ pool of water. This will be the last time I see these people again, as well as the pool of water, until I’m halfway down the 50 foot blind leap of faith along the Luana Falls. I wave, smile, and turn to follow the local Hawaiians through the dense forest as we skirt our way along cliffs and through the raging creek beds. Just getting to the top of the jump is an adventure in itself. But after twenty minutes, with sweat pouring down my face, we get to our destination.

A look of fear immediately comes across my face, as the locals all start to laugh. I peer over the edge. I see moist leaves and branches mostly, with glimpses of the water as the leaves rustle in the wind. I also hear the thunderous roar of the waterfall. That is why they call this the blind leap. Over the years, the vegetation has drastically grown thicker and more dense. And that is why the jump is so exhilarating, even to the locals, as the jumper comes shooting out among the trees into a dark blue pool of water.

As the locals start to jump one after the other, it’s almost my turn. My stomach starts to turn into knots with a queasy feeling inside me. The guy before me does a reverse swan dive leap through the leaves, I hear his splash, and then a cheer, and step to the edge. It’s my turn. I look to my left and gaze at the valley below….this cliff is way higher than I thought. But I’m not one to step away from something like this. It’ll all be over in seconds. With only one local left behind me to jump, he points and tells me to jump through a tiny opening in the leaves where it’s less dense and safer. I look down one last time and can just make out a few people waiting for my descent through the leaves. I take a deep breath and jump.

I hit the small opening dead on and shoot through the leaves in less than a second with forty feet to go. The crowd is screaming. I feel like I’m flying. The free fall is an incredible experience, feeling like I am in the air forever. But in just seconds my feet touch the water and the rest of my body plunges through the surface. I swim to the top, pop my head out of the water as the throng of people cheer.

It’s over! I did it! As I look from the water, back to the top of the cliff, I think to myself, “What was I thinking?” But I loved it!!

I’ve actually done this jump quite a few times since that day. It got easier with each jump. But the feeling in the air was always the same. I’ve had many experiences jumping off some pretty sweet cliffs in my lifetime. But this plunge is never to be forgotten!

How many of you have ever taken a plunge into a pool of water off a cliff? How many of you have ever taken a plunge into a swimming pool? Or how many of you daily take the plunge into God’s Word?

That’s the reason I’m writing this specific blog, to encourage you to daily commit your life to His Word. Whether it’s five minutes a day or thirty minutes a day, God wants you to get to know Him on a personal level. I know in my past with my busy and chaotic schedule outside of prison, I hardly ever plunged into the Word. It took a prison experience to daily commit my life to Him.

My alarm is set for 5:30am every morning before the mass of inmates start to stir. And for a half hour every morning, in the quietness of the unit, I plunge into His Word. I couldn’t ask for a better way to start the day. And I couldn’t ask for a better feeling. It doesn’t get much better than that