I Believe God’s Promises

Psalm 91Psalm 91:14-16: “Because He loves me” says the Lord, “I will rescue him; I will protect him for he acknowledge my name. He will call upon me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble; I will deliver him and honor him. With long life will I satisfy him and show him my salvation.”

To sum things up with that verse…..God rescues, He protects, He answers, He delivers, He honors and satisfies. Wow! Six powerful promises. What more could we want from our God than to have His promises. Now hold that thought!

As I sit here writing this, a lot has been happening since I’ve arrived at Yazoo City’s prison on March 4. And unfortunately some of it hasn’t been so good. If you read my previous blog everything was going OK; a few run-ins with some trouble makers, but nothing big. I hung out with other Christians, attended Bible studies, got asked to play guitar at church, was even a few days away from moving cells and getting away from sharing a cell with a Mexican gang member. As I was getting familiar with the people and surroundings, I thought it was smooth sailing. Unfortunately, in a federal prison nothing is smooth sailing. You must always be on your guard or “the devil will come at you like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” 1 Peter 5:8 And that he did.

It all started Friday night March 14 when my cellie told me that I needed to show my papers (legal documents stating your crime and length of term) to a few higher up inmates in the gang ladder (also known as checking me out) to determine if I can stay on this compound because there were certain cases they didn’t tolerate. One of the first things we are told is that asking for papers is illegal, but it’s done anyway, since the inmates believe your business is everyone’s business in prison. I thought a few days before that I had handled that conversation and they were good with it. But apparently it was still a hot topic, as my cellie told me that I didn’t want to get my nose broke or even worse. “Just warning you”, he said. I told him my papers were coming next week and left it at that.

After dinner on Saturday night, two Christian brothers came up to me in a panic and told me something is going down and that I’m in it. They told me a certain gang was coming after me very soon. Needless to say, it freaked me out big time as that was the first time in my life a serious threat had ever been made against me. I had two options: stay and confront them by fighting, or run and hide. Just so you know….fighting in federal prison is no joke, as they can come carrying shanks (knives) looking for serious blood or even death. People do get killed in prison. I have never been involved in a fight in my entire 33 years of life and I knew God was with me, but I still needed to use common sense and get off the compound permanently by checking myself into protective custody, out of harm’s way. So on Saturday, March 15, I started my long stay in the Special Housing Unit (SHU), or, as some people call it “the hole,” where disciplinary inmates are sent. Those in protective custody and those under disciplinary rules are treated the same way – all privileges taken away.

I’ve been here for 10 days now and have yet to leave this cell. It’s a 23 hour lock-down cell with one hour of outdoor recreation in a cage if we’re lucky. But in 10 days I have not had one opportunity to do that. It’s a 10’ x 10’ room with a bunk bed, toilet, sink, shower, table, and no window. I’m sharing it with a 62-yr-old man who takes two showers a week, always sleeps, and passes gas constantly. He’s a perfect definition of a smellie cellie. There is no television or radio, and this is the best sports time of the year with NCAA basketball going on that I love to watch! I don’t even know what teams are in it. I am not allowed to use the telephone for 30 days, and then will only get one 15 minute phone call every 30 days after that. To say the least, these are the worst living conditions I’ve ever been in. I have to stay locked in this cell for 1-6 months before a transfer occurs to another facility. Yes, I will be moving again. But for now, I’m safe.

On a positive note, I was allowed to bring a Bible in here and one stamp! I’ll survive. I hope to receive stamps soon to write a letter to some of you. But if you feel the urge, mail definitely is the highlight of my day. If you want to send puzzles or articles off the internet….sports or news since I will have no idea what is going on in the world)….and devotions. Books are great if sent through a publisher (yes, Amazon does count as a publisher. I heard used books on there are very cheap – just saying, hint, hint!). These are long days and I need things to do.

That’s my life right now. Prayers are always needed for strength for me to survive day after day. My God is bigger than all this and He has promised me He will get me through this.

Speaking of promises, when looking at the six promises of Psalm 91 as I began this article, not one of these promises has God failed to uphold for me during this past year of being incarcerated. I have had my many difficulties and confrontations with people, but because God loves me, He doesn’t let anything happen. Joshua 23:14 says it best, “Not one word has failed of all the good things the Lord your God has promised concerning you. All have come to pass for you. Not one of them as failed.” It’s extremely hard for me to sometimes realize that God holds true to His promises. I definitely have my moments of doubt, especially with so much negativism that has gone towards me for the last two-plus years. But He knows me best, and I trust that He’ll never fail me, and I’ll definitely never question Him. So next time you are having a bad day or a bad week, think of the six promises in Psalm 91 that God is doing for you and will continue to do for you. Just think, it could be worse. You could be stuck in a 10 x 10 cell with a smellie cellie all day!!! But in the middle of the odor in this cell, I truly am blessed. Why? Because I have a pen, some paper, and a Bible. And a God that loves me so much that He has promised to rescue, protect, answer, deliver, honor, and satisfy all my needs. And one day soon, sooner that we all think, I’ll be doing God’s will back on the streets, because this He has promised!

Standing Firm

solid groundI was awakened at 1:30am on Tuesday, March 4, to make my treck to Yazoo City MS, the federal prison I was assigned to. After spending the last 3 weeks in the Oklahoma Transit Center, it was time to start my prison ministry for God. I had 30 minutes to pack up my temporary cell. Unfortunately, I was not allowed to take anything with me, so I had to tear up all my letters, including another blog that I wrote but was unable to send out. I left behind all the devotional booklets I received from Lutheran Hour Ministry and pray that they will be put to good use by someone and not tossed out.

After being released from my cell I was sent to a holding area with 40 other inmates that were being sent to Yazoo as well, including Rail, a Christian inmate that I’ve traveled with since Chicago. We were told we would be taking a 530 mile bus ride to Yazoo City which would take about 9 hours. Ugh! The seats were at least padded, but there was no headrest so sleeping was not an option. Our hands and feet were shackled the entire ride, so it made for some ideal, comfortable, riding conditions. Ha! We pulled out at 4am and started the journey. I sat right behind Rail so I had someone to talk to along the way. But basically everyone just killed time by looking at the farmland as we traveled through Arkansas and Mississippi. We stopped at three places along the way but were not allowed to get out. We were given food on the bus and there was a bathroom. We arrived in Yazoo at 2pm. There were 21 of us that went to the medium security and the other 19 (which was Rail) went to the low and minimal facilities. It took approximately 5 hours to fill out forms and take care of all the administrative paperwork required and then we were shown to our units and cells. There are 12 units at the medium facility with approximately 140 guys in each one. When walking across the compound to go to my unit I noticed that it was bigger than I expected and actually nicer looking, too. It reminded me of my college campus with everything connected and a huge courtyard in the middle of all the buildings. When I arrived at my unit the cell I was assigned to was occupied, so I had to look for another cell on my own. Immediately a Mexican guy motioned to me and said I could live with him. Of course I had all sorts of anxiety going through me the entire time since arriving.

Now there aren’t a whole lot of Caucasian people at this prison, so when I got to my cell the white guys immediately flocked to me. I was bombarded with many questions and was told the rules and the likes of prison life by all of them. It seems there are more politics that go on inside a prison than all the politics that happen in Washington DC. It’s crazy! I immediately was asked to join a gang, but I kindly declined by saying I was a Christian and that I just wanted to do my time in peace with the Lord. They didn’t like to hear that but I held my ground and continued to say No Thank you.

It was almost lock down time when I arrived at my cell, so I couldn’t familiarize myself with anything or take a walk around. I had about a million questions to ask my cellie that night, and he was kind enough to explain the ropes of everything. The next morning was the true test as to where I was going to sit in the chow hall. The Caucasians wanted me to sit with them, but I found the Christian table and was drawn to them. I got to know a few of them which was a relief but remembering and learning faces and names would take some time. I had many things to take care of and get familiar with that first week, such as the items I needed to buy on my own through my commissary account and to locate the chapel and meet the chaplain. I was able to take care of those things the first day in Yazoo. Throughout the first week things went smoothly in regards to taking care of all my needs and things I had to get done. One thing I noticed is that the people here are a type of people I’ve never encountered before in my life. Yea, I know it’s prison, but it’s like I’m in a whole other world and I’m stuck in it. There is more gossip and secretive talking going around than a middle school full of kids. The maturity level is very low so it makes 12-yr-olds outside of prison seem like adults. The inmates want to get in everyone’s business. I’ve had a few confrontations throughout the week that people want to start with the new guy (me), with all of the confrontations being started by the whites. I guess Christians will always be persecuted for as long as we live and I surely feel persecuted in this setting. But God is good and He will deliver us when we stay focused on Him. When confronted with antagonism I would walk away. I know God is watching out for me. I keep to myself quite a bit; I listen to K-Love, a Christian radio station, almost non-stop and am constantly in God’s Word. Yes, I do feel like a loner right now with evil all around me and probably will until the confrontations stop and I get to know the other Christians. As far as this first week goes, I’m just trying to survive with my life.

One person that I have been talking to a bit is a Jehovah’s Witness. Good guy….and he loves sports, too. He mentioned that he admired the way I stood ground about my faith, so that felt good. My cellie is not a Christian, so perhaps God can use me in some way towards him. I certainly don’t want to be here, but feel that God has me here for a reason and a season. This is just a bump in the road of my life, and in a few years I’ll be through it.

One final thought taken from Deuteronomy 31:6, “Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them. For it is the Lord God who goes with you. He will not leave you nor forsake you.” No matter where you’re at in life, God always has your back. Believe me, I know from experience inside these walls. He will never leave your side; He will never leave MY side. Whatever you’re dealing with in your life, God will get you through it and will make your life even better. There is nothing to fear with God on our team.

The Great Adventure

A plane takes off from Heathrow airportAfter spending the last eleven months in the county jails of Kenosha WI (9 months) and Racine WI (2 months), the real adventure had finally begun. At 5am on Tuesday, February 11, I was awakenened by the guards saying, “Perino, pack your stuff. You leave in 45 minutes.” I gathered all my personal items and threw them in a plastic bag, said my goodbyes and was out the door by 6am. There were a total of six of us that went to downtown Kenosha where we would wait for an hour in the downtown jail and pick up another guy and a girl before heading to O’Hare Airport to either board the con-air airplane to go to Oklahoma City or take a shuttle to a nearby prison. No one knew where they were going at the time, but waited anxiously to find out. It took us about an hour to get to the airport. And when we did, unfortunately, the Kenosha officer got the wrong memo as to what time we were supposed to get there, as we were 2-1/2 hours early. So instead of sitting cramped in a van for 2-1/2 hours waiting, the officer made a few phone calls and was able to find a local federal immigration holding jail to feed us and keep us while we wait. When we arrived there, the 7 other inmates all received bag lunches. But unfortunately, they didn’t have one for me, so they gave me a huge deep dish, Chicago-style pizza slice from a local pizza company. And let me tell you, it was amazing! It was my first taste of freedom in 11 months. It was a sign that God was definitely looking out for me.

 After being there for 2 hours we loaded up and made the short drive back to O’Hara. The plane was there waiting and shortly after found out our destinations. The girl, another guy and I were all going to get on the plane and fly to Oklahoma City to stay at the Federal Transit Center for a few weeks until our prison was ready for us. I found out that I would be going to Yazoo City, Mississippi. It’s a medium security prison. Even though my points are at a camp level (minimal) security prison, I’m going to a medium for the time being because the state judge in Wisconsin decided to give me more time on the same charges, which is way more time than needed; and they are to run consecutive to my federal time. The federal judge indicated that any additional time given at the state level should run concurrent to the federal time. That doesn’t seem to be happening. God has a plan and that’s all I need to know. So yeah, basically I got placed in a medium security place because I’m considered a very mean criminal, and a huge threat to those placed in a low or camp. I know, go ahead and laugh and say this is ridiculous. I trust God is all I can say. I would love to be placed in a lower facility, so please continue to pray that this will happen.

I boarded the plane – I was actually the last one to get on the plane. When I got on, Man!  Many of these guys were the worst of the worse, going to super-max prisons. And most everyone had sleeves of tattoos all over them (I guess I have to get some now J) and shiny, bald heads. It was definitely a sight I won’t forget. Good thing I haven’t shaved in two months and have a mountain-man beard so I didn’t look quite so innocent.

I got to my seat which was the second to the last seat on the airplane. I was sandwiched between a heavy guy and a thin guy. The heavy guy’s name was Rail, whom I’ll talk about shortly, and not sure the name of the thin guy. I actually didn’t say a single word to any of them in the airplane. I found out Rail’s name later on. We got some food and water on the plane and were allowed one bathroom visit. Oh, everyone was cuffed and shackled the entire time, so it was ideal, comfortable conditions.

Before I knew it, we were there. As soon as we got there, we were searched once again, filled out some forms, changed from our street clothes (which was the first time wearing them since the day of my arrest, and I had to donate them, so I’ll never be seeing them again – guess I’ll have to buy some black pants and black shoes when I get out. Can’t wait to go shopping!) to khaki pants, white t-shirt, and blue slip-on shoes.  Then we were placed in a bull-pin room like herded cattle, where we waited for about 2 hours to be put in a dorm. When my name was called, there were about 20 of us, with one of them being my seat partner in the airplane Rail.

We were then split into groups of 10 to go into two separate dorms. Rail and I both went into the same dorm and happened to be next-door neighbors in a dorm with 59 cells for a total of 120 people. When I got to my cell the first thing I noticed was a Bible and Max Lucado book on my cellie’s (roommate’s) bed. I said a quick thank you to God and a few minutes later my cellie came walking on. His name was Dink and we hit it off right away with a big topic of conversation about God and our faith life J. After settling in, I finally went over and introduced myself to Rail since we both thought it was neat how we basically we were together every step of the way in our journey. So we got to talking and one of the first things he said was, “I just want to find a good Christian group in prison and continue to grow in my faith.” I, of course, said “Me too.” We got to talking about our faith lives. He also told me that he gets a lot of devotional and Christian readings sent in from his people on the street. And I was like, wait a minute, me too!!. The I asked what prison he was going to, and of course you probably all know his answer because he said, “Yazoo City, MS” and of course I said, “Me too!” J We hit it off from that point forward, helping each other out with everything. Things have been OK here, better than county jail. The food is better and there is cable television, so I can watch ESPN again. I’m not sure how long I’ll be in Oklahoma City. They say anywhere from 2-4 weeks, but of course it could be longer. I’m in no rush. All I have is time right now and more time to continue in God’s Word. Oh yeah….the second day I got here I found a Bible Study group. I just wanted to share this with you all and tell you that God definitely is watching out for me. His angels are going to be around me all the time…..I just know it. He is constantly putting other Christians around me every step of the way. If any of you are worried about my safety these next few years, don’t be. Leave the worrying to God. He’s got it all figured out, and a plan that is more amazing than I can imagine. In the end, “When He has tested me, I’ll come forth as gold.” Job 23:10

 Please continue to pray. I look forward in seeing you all very soon. Love and miss you all! Craig

Journal Entries….cont’d

Portions of Craig’s journal which he began on Day 37 of his incarceration at a county detention center.

Entry #15. 5/11/2013. Day 51

Good day today! I got to see Dale for an hour and 15 minutes tonight! Bonus! I really miss him. The time went by quickly. Went to church and Bible Study today. No singing though, unfortunately  After talking with Dale tonight I had more of a glimmer of hope than I have in a while. God is good. My trust and faith are always in Him.

Entry #19. 5/15/2013. Day 55

Got locked in my room from 5pm on because my bed wasn’t made military style. About 20 of the 40 guys in the dorm didn’t make it properly. Not fun and learned my lesson. Started a new puzzle tonight. Had lots of time to kill obviously. Had a crazy dream last night that felt so real. I kept saying, “I will trust you, Lord.” God is telling me something. God, I’m listening.

Entry #21. 5/17/2013. Day 57

I met with my attorneys today and left feeling so down. They put me in a horrible mood, telling me I need to keep prison time in my back burner. I did not want to hear that and am scared. Everyone involved is looking for blood. I just wish they would see me for who I am and not the mistakes I made. I’m glad the Lord looks at my heart and knows it well. Lord, I’m praying that you can soften their hearts. I want to get out on the streets and further Your kingdom. Help me, Lord. I need a miracle.

Entry #25. 5/21/2013. Day 61

From 6:30pm on tonight my evening was superb! Got to see Mom and Dad and had a great prayer group later. God was definitely in everyone tonight at the prayer group. My Mom brought up a good point tonight and said to use this time like it’s a mission field, and do God’s work. I can do it, God, I can do it. Help me to help others.

Entry #29. 5/25/2013. Day 65

I absolutely love singing praises to God! It’s an amazing feeling. If I could sing praises all day that would be heaven. The Pastor at church introduced himself to me today and said he wants me to come to their church when I get out He saw me singing and I got his attention. He introduced me to the chaplain, too. He said they are looking for a guitarist. Praise Jesus! Our prayer circle had 15 people tonight, all time high. God is good. And my faith and trust is high.

Entry #31. 5/27/2013. Day 67

Happy Memorial Day to all our military. Thanks for protecting our country. Thank you, Dad! I’m still praying for those miracles, Lord, I’m still praying every day.

Journal Entries

Portions of Craig’s journal which he began on Day 37 of his incarceration at a county detention center.

Entry #1. 4/27/2013. Day 37

So I got this idea in my mind last night to start journaling. So here I am, writing my first entry. Day was good; had 2 unexpected visitors tonight and had a good 30-minute talk through a glass window. Went to a church service today and Bible Study which helped to break up the long day. Started working out today. I’ll be sore tomorrow. I introduced my cellmate to memorizing Bible verses today, and he just asked for the sheets to look over. Had a good devo/prayer circle tonight, working on someone to come join us. Day went faster than normal, probably because we got to watch “4 Brothers” while our cell block was being deep cleaned. All I can do, Lord, is give you all of me for as long as a have left. I will do what you want, go where you send me, obey you regardless.

Entry #5. 5/1/2013. Day 41

Wow! May 1. Happy May Day! Brings back memories in Hawaii and each class had to create their own Hula Dance. Good memories! I struggled a little bit today and then came to peace when I read “The Testament” by John Grisham – the part when Nate started attending church and was dropping all of his baggage for God. Reminds me of “The Skit Guys” YouTube video. A new guy came to prayer circle tonight. God is good. Romans 8:38-39 Nothing can separate us from God’s love.

Entry #8. 5/4/2013. Day 44

Not an eventful day today, but I guess no days really are. There’s just so much on my mind. But I’m trusting God!!! I need you, God. Please rescue me from this place. I want to be with my family. Help me, God! Someone came up and thanked me for the Intro Bible Study guides I gave him that my aunt sent me. I’m gonna continue to do Your work, Lord. You have a plan. Thank you!

Entry #11. 5/7/2013. Day 47

I gotta talk to Q tomorrow about some stuff he said about getting to heaven. There are some non-believers in our group and he made it sound like everyone is going to heaven if they want. He doesn’t like when people disagree with him. I hope it goes OK. Listening to Cards/Cubs game now and Cards are losing 2-1 in 8th. I get to talk to Mom and Dad tomorrow. Can’t wait! Another day closer to freedom.

A Slow Fade

Big_cross_in_the_fog_by_slavencrniJanuary 19.2012. A day I’ll never forget. A day I cried out and submitted my whole heart and life to God. I had just arrived back at my home from a 3-day stint in the county jail. My mind was racing, wondering what just happened. I could not believe that my life was going in this direction. I thought I was doing all the right things…..I accepted Christ into my heart at a young age, had a job where I shared the love of Christ, had many loving and caring family and friends, faithfully attended church, volunteered countless numbers of hours in the church and community, and so much more. But yet, my eyes were pouring out tears while standing over my kitchen sink, wondering, “Why did this happen? How did I get myself into this? What do you want from me, God? You definitely have my attention now. Speak to me. I need you more than ever, God.”

What I realized that night was that my faith life was slowly fading, bit by bit. I was not where God wanted me to be in this stage of life. He wanted more out of me. And it took a dramatic life changing event with poor choices I made to get my attention.

God definitely spoke to me that night. He pulled the strings on my life and said, “Easy there, Craig. You’re straying too far from my ways again. I’m drawing you back to Me once and for all to get you where you should be. It’ll be a tough and long road ahead of you, but with Me by your side, all things will work out for good.”

Oh, I thought I was living my life for God. It’s just that I had my moments where I would wander too far off His path, and He would have to pull me back time and time again. He was tired of playing tug of war. God wanted way more out of me than what I was giving Him. He wanted me to live for Him 24/7. He wanted all of Me. Being a Christian is not about going to church every Sunday or doing all the things I was doing for Him. It was about a relationship with Him. He wanted me to stop my sinful ways. He wanted me to drop everything and follow Him. That night I asked God to forgive me and told Him that I completely believed that His son Jesus came to earth to die on a cross for my sins. And that Thursday, my life changed forever.