It’s Pay Day!!

payday

In the spring of 1996 at the end of my sophomore year in high school I went to two places and picked up job applications….. Lix Frozen Custard and Bagels. I had just turned 16 and was ready to make the big bucks. I chose those two places of employment because I loved ice cream and I loved bagels. Good enough for me!!

I filled out the applications and turned them in. After a few days I took the initiative and called both places to talk to the manager to see if they had reviewed my application. I first called Bagels and Java. The hiring manager was not in at the time and was told to try back later. I then called Lix Frozen Custard and got the manager on the telephone immediately. Within minutes I was hired, asking when I could start.

I was ecstatic! My first real job, making just above minimum wage at the time of $5.25 per hour. I ended up working at that place for two years and then moved away to college.  With this being my first real job ever (oh, I had some grass cutting jobs before this), I learned quite a few valuable life lessons: people skills, time management and work ethics to name a few. But the best part was that I could take home any ice cream that was a messed up order. Let’s just say our freezer at home was always full! HA!

In prison every able bodied individual is required to have a job. Jobs consist of being a cook, a unit orderly, working in laundry, sewing military uniforms, officiating sports games, cutting grass, collecting garbage, librarian, or working in the office. There are about 100 different types of jobs in this place. The only inmates exempt from work are those with a medical pass, the elderly, and the handicapped. Of course, there are some inmates who can find a way to get out of work. For example, you can pay another inmate with commissary items to do your job. As long as the job gets completed, the officers don’t seem to care.

For the most part, inmates are entirely in charge of the functions of the compound. If food is not cooked, we don’t eat. If the bathrooms aren’t cleaned, they stink. If the grass isn’t cut, it looks like a jungle. And so on, with everything.

Since the weather has turned nice outside – actually in Texas it started turning nice in March – my work hours have increased. I actually have two jobs. I love to work and love to stay busy. So I have chosen to take on two jobs. I have been a librarian for nearly three years now as one of my jobs. And this is my third spring/summer season of being a sand volleyball official and my first year as the league commissioner. I work 30 hours a week in the library and 17 hours a week officiating volleyball. I’m also in charge of scheduling and organizing the games, but that comes with the commissioner duties.

If  I officiated volleyball outside of prison for 17 hours, roughly 17 matches, I would make at least $25 per match which would come to $425 per week. In prison (drum roll please) I make a whopping 37 cents per match per hour. Yes, that is cents, not dollars. For one hour’s worth of work, I can buy one Ramen Noodles for 30 cents. Because the air conditioning bill is so high here, inmates have to pay a portion for the cool air (or so I like to think) to work in air conditioning so I get paid even less working in the air-conditioned library at 21 cents per hour. Thankfully, I have enough money to pay for a manila envelope at 15 cents to mail out my crocheted hats. But I have to work extra long to pay for postage. HA!

Since sand volleyball has started up in March my paychecks have been around $50 per month, about $1.56 per day which covers five minutes out of a fifteen minute phone call and one small Hostess item or snack from Little Debbie. Not bad!!!

Money isn’t everything, though. I have survived just fine these past 51 months. Of course, my wonderful parents have helped me considerably when I needed it, and I do crochet hats for my “hustle.” But God has specifically told us in Hebrews to keep our lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have. In 1 Timothy it says the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil.

Money can be a god to many people. It can hurt and destroy many people’s lives. Why does it seem that many rich people seem to be unhappy and always wanting more; yet those with less are content and happy? You would think it would be the other way around.

Growing up I felt money could solve everything. Well, actually, it can do alot, but only temporarily. Being in prison and living on less than $2 a day really opened my eyes to the simple things in life and not money. Sure, it is nice to treat myself to a pint of ice cream every now and then. In fact, I’m getting one later today at commissary. But in my opinion, it won’t make you any happier in a couple of hours when it’s all gone. It’s a temporary high.

Money is nice to have. But it doesn’t get you into heaven. It may bring you happiness for a little while, but having Christ in your heart and getting into heaven will bring you an eternal lifetime of happiness. If you have money, enjoy it, and then use it to further God’s Kingdom. But don’t make it your god. Make Jesus Christ your one true God.

1 Timothy

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Sharing A Room

bunkbeds

Growing up through elementary school, I had the privilege of sharing a bedroom with my younger brother Eric. We had bunk beds in the room and we would alternate weekly sleeping from top to bottom. At bedtime both of us were hardly ever tired, as a lot of kids aren’t when they are forced to go to bed. Instead, we would lie there and talk or even play games.

I can still remember one game we played using the ceiling fan in the room. Whoever was on the top bunk would put an object on the blade of the fan, turn the fan on, and the person on the bottom bunk would try to catch it. I like to think of it now as improving our hand to eye coordination and reaction time. Every once in a while we would make a loud noise diving for the object. Mom or Dad would hear the noise, come up the stairs, tell us to settle down and put an end to the game until the next night.

I also remember one night before bed we caught lightning bugs outside. We put them in small Dixie cups, covered them in aluminum foil and poked holes in the foil for the lightning bugs to breath. We brought the cups inside unknown to our parents and hid them in our closet. I’m sure you can imagine what happened next. Shortly after lying down, the room started lighting up all over the place. “Oh, no! We’re going to get in trouble again!” We immediately had to catch them all as quietly as we could and throw them out the window.

I can’t tell you the number of times I went to bed sweating as a kid with the activities we played instead of trying to sleep. Good times and good memories of my childhood days!

From Middle School through High School I had a room to myself and my two younger brothers shared a room together. But in college, I once again shared a room with multiple other guys. Sleeping with snorers was and still is very tough for me. During my junior year of college I would drop tennis balls from the loft where I slept onto my roommate who slept below me on the couch to wake him up because of his loud snoring. And during my senior year I would throw footballs at my roommate who slept in the bed next to me to wake him up from his snoring.

Even now in this place I have roommates, also called cellmates or cellies. In all, I’ve had around 30 cellies in 50+ months of being locked up. I can’t say we play games that make us sweat right before bed time or catch creatures to bring inside as pets. But I have had my share of some good cellies and some not-so-good cellies, smelly cellies and clean cellies, murderers, drug dealers, gang members and sex offenders, Christians and atheists.

As I write this blog right now I have no cellie. He went home last week. And let me tell you…..it feels great to have the room all to myself. It’s been a week now with another week to go before another Christian brother moves in. In the 50+ months I’ve been locked up, not including the past seven nights, I’ve had a total of five nights all to myself. This is by far the longest stretch without a cellie for me, and I am enjoying every minute.

Not that it is quiet in the unit, as there is no door in my room, but just sitting in solitude without anyone else around can be very peaceful. That’s why I get up at 5am to have my quiet time with God before any of the other inmates wake up and cause a ruckus.

Everyone needs quiet and solitary time in their life. Both are very hard to come by here in prison. But when it does happen, I take full advantage of it. Look at Jesus! He always took time to get away from everyone to pray in solitude and focus on His Father. With the busy-ness in one’s schedule, we too, need to take those time outs to focus our minds on God. He does not want you to forget about Him in your fast-paced life. Take time for Him, whether it is early in the morning or before settling in to bed at night. Whatever time fits your schedule, I encourage you to do it, and make a habit of it. Even serving time in prison my mind is at peace. I begin each day off on a great note when I take time to worship Him in whatever quiet I can get.

be still

The Rainfall

hilo-bayfront-highway-rain

It was around 6:00 on a Sunday evening. I was on my way to school to take care of a few things before classes started for the week. This was my first teaching job right out of college and I was living in Hawaii. I landed a dream destination job right off the bat. I couldn’t ask for a better location, especially one with ideal weather conditions year round. I had been teaching for a few months now, so I was familiar with the school and the surrounding areas, especially the local beaches. On my way into work, it had started to get cloudy, looking like we were in for a little rain. We were nearing the winter months, which actually was the rainy season.

Fortunately, the past few months rain was seldom on my side of the island where I lived and taught. All that separated the west side from the east side of the island of Oahu was a mountain range smack dab in the middle.  The east side was always wet, and had very lush vegetation. When it rained hard, it rained extremely hard, sometimes up to ten inches of rain at a time.

On the west wise, where I lived, it was rather dry. I was yet to experience a severe heavy downpour….until that night. I lived only two minutes from the school. Most days I would usually walk or rollerblade. However, I pretty much stopped rollerblading, as I had a nasty spill on my way to work one day while going down a steep decline.

Just minutes after I walked into the building, it started to sprinkle. I didn’t think much of it. Like always, it would stop as fast as it started. But on this night, the rain kept coming down harder and harder. I was sitting in my classroom working away when the soft sound of the rain hitting the roof got my attention. The noise continued to get louder and louder, almost to the point of not being able to concentrate. I looked outside and could hardly make out the houses across the street. I knew then that this downpour was not going to stop. We were in for some serious weather.

I had only planned on doing some work for about an hour. I lived on top of a high hill, so I know I didn’t have to worry about flooding. Before leaving, I checked each of the classrooms and moved the important items away from the doorways and put a few things up, just in case the rain would spill through the doors. Each classroom door exited outside, like a typical California or Florida school, and a hard rain could allow water to seep in  under the doors. Thankfully, there was a lanai with an overhang over each classroom and the walkways which would help the situation.

After I locked up, I rushed to my car and drove off. I lived on top of a hill about two minutes away. It was about a half mile accent to get to the house I rented. As I turned the corner to go up the street in the blinding rain, a wall of water hit my car. It seemed as if a river was running down the length of my street. The one and only word that came to my mind was “AWESOME.” I’ve never seen so much rain water at one time.

With the rain continuing to pour down, I slowly drove up the river, hoping I wouldn’t be swept away. I had an SUV at the time that sat high off the ground so I felt pretty safe. With my windshield wipers on full speed, I could just make out how fast the current was flowing on the side of the street. With the street at a slight angle, most of the water drifted to the sides. After observing this, with my adventurous and dare-devilish mind in full swing, I immediately said to myself, “It’s body board time!”

As soon as I pulled in to the garage, I jumped out instantly. I yelled to my roommate to get the camera and an umbrella, while I changed into my board shorts. He knew exactly what I was thinking without me telling him anything. All he could do was shake his head in disbelief and laugh. I ripped off my shirt and shoes, grabbed the body board, and made my way out into the torrential downpour. My roommate cautiously followed me. As I walked to the edge of the street, and stood in the current, I almost lost my balance as the eight inches of water almost pulled me off my feet. While under the umbrella, my roommate started snapping pictures. I belly flopped onto the body board and took off. My roommate tried his best to keep up with me, but I soon left him behind in just seconds. I literally felt I was on a Class 5 white water rafting trip. It was awesome!

Thankfully, there are no sewers in Hawaii, so I knew I would not be going down a man hole. To say the least, the speed I was going was breathtaking. As I neared the end of the street, with the current slowing down, I got off the body board, turned around and started making my way back up the street to the starting point. With a huge smile on my face, and my roommate laughing, I took a few more trips down the river before the rain started to taper off and the river became non-existent.

What a blast it was! With only a few scraped elbows and knees, it was definitely worth the rush. Sometimes life brings us things we never expect…..good and bad. When that happens, be prepared! Yes, plans have to be changed, but in order to get through, we must just do it! Body boarding on the streets in Hawaii!!!! If you ever get that chance, don’t pass up the opportunity. It’s a memory you’ll never forget. I know I won’t.

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!”