This Is The Day!

golf“This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.” Psalm 118:24

The spring, summer and fall of 2012 were some of the best times I’ve had in a long time. Not because of what I did or where I went, but because of where I worked. I was hired on as a maintenance worker at a public golf course. I have always enjoyed the game of golf. I’m not the greatest golfer by any means, but I absolutely love hitting a 2-inch ball to a target 400 yards away. What made it even better…..because I am a guy who loves the outdoors……was that the scenery was breathtaking, especially in the early morning of each day. I started work very early in the morning that year, making my rounds on the entire golf course, arriving at the elevated 2nd tee box in time to see the sun rising up over the lakes and fairways of Holes 6 and 7. There was usually a low fog hovering over the lakes, and if I was fortunate, I saw deer walking through the fairways. Those kinds of mornings blew my mind away. There was not a day that went by where I did not give God thanks and praise for all He has created. God didn’t create this earth for His pleasure, but for ours. He created it for our enjoyment and use, and He definitely created it because He loves us. All He wants in return is for us to love Him back and thank and praise Him for each day of life He has given us.

How many times have you driven to work with so much “stuff” on your mind that you forgot to take a few minutes to watch the sun rise, or the green grass blowing in the wind, or even watching the rain and snow fall? What better time to notice these things when you are stuck in traffic! Ha! Slow down and admire His creation (without running into the car in front of you!) How many times have you forgotten to praise and thank God for the scorching hot days of summer or the bitter cold winter mornings? Psalm 150:6 says, “Let everything that has breath praise the Lord.”

My mornings are a little different these days. I no longer work at the golf course. I am surrounded by concrete walls, steel doors, and barbed wire fences with men in orange or khaki arguing and getting into fights, shouting profanity. However, that should not stop me from praising my Lord and Savior each and every day. Even though I cannot see the breathtaking sunrises or the green grass where I am, I am still thankful to be alive and to be able to share the love of Christ on a daily basis with my words or actions. No, not every day is a good one for me in federal prison. But I can tell you this, every time I rejoice in the Lord and thank Him for another day, it makes that day so much better. Really.

Are you praising God every day? Are you thanking Him even when you are down in the dumps, sick, frustrated, or worried? Are you rejoicing no matter what your situation? Next time you’re driving about in your community or at home or in your work place or playing a good game of golf, slow down and look around. Take a few minutes to thank and praise God for the day He has created. No matter the circumstances, let us rejoice and be glad in it. It should happen in prison….it should happen everywhere.

Scripture Reading: Psalm 150


Prized Possession

radio_mainBefore going to bed on Monday, March 31, I prayed. Now I pray every night and countless times during the day, but my prayer this night was different. It was short and to the point. I basically told God that I’m tired and I can’t do this anymore. I’m at my wits end and need a miracle.

The next morning I got up, got fed through the trap door, went back to sleep, woke up a few hours later, finished doing my morning Bible reading and memorizing of Scriptures, said a quick prayer to start my day, then…..BOOM!!!! No, it wasn’t a bomb going off or a gun shot, but it was the trap door slamming open. Mysteriously, I heard no one rattle their keys and approach the door like when food is brought, but then the greatest thing happened! A hand appeared with a radio, shoving it through the slot. Just when I lost all hope that I would never get my radio brought to me from my personal property, it happened! This was a miracle – a much needed miracle to keep me going. I thanked God right away and immediately turned it on to 94.7 K-LOVE out of Jackson. For all of you that don’t know what K-LOVE is, it’s a Christian radio station that plays Christian music 24/7, uninterrupted. And it was just what I needed! One of the first songs I heard happened to be one of my favorite songs. It’s actually five songs in one by the band called Anthem Lights. The band compiled the top five songs that were nominated for this year’s K-LOVE fan awards and made it into one song. Every part of the song to me is so powerful and has such great impact, especially the last few lines of a Matt Maher song. Check it out!!

Most of you know this already, but I absolutely love music, especially Christian music. It’s something I have a huge passion for. I’m so at peace when I hear the encouraging words from God through music. That radio has become one of my most prized possessions during my incarceration, besides a Bible. I’ve been listening to it non-stop ever since it was brought to me. It has definitely put my mind back at ease, and has given me the mental strength to get through each day.

Think about it for a minute. What is your most prized possession that you have today? Is there something you cherish and take pride in more than anything else? Is there that one thing that you could never dream of being without or giving up? Some of you can probably come up with that one thing – no problem! For others it might take some time to think about. I know for me, living back on the streets a few years ago, I had many things that I couldn’t give up and not live without. If I was asked to eliminate everything except for that one item, it would be hard to do. One more question now: Would it hurt or upset you to get rid of that item?

Now look at what God did. He gave up His most prized possession – His Son Jesus. Romans 8:32 says “He who did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up for us all.” Consider the pain God endured watching His Son go through torture and His death. Would you be able to sacrifice one of your kids? Think of Abraham in Genesis 22. He was about to sacrifice his son Isaac because God told Him to. God finally stopped him but Abraham was obedient and willing. Oh, here’s a much simpler question: Would you be able to drop everything to follow Jesus? If God asked you right now to leave everything and come and follow Him, would and could you do it? Even if it meant leaving your phone behind!! “And everyone who has left house or brother or sister or father or mother or children or fields for My sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first.” Matthew 19:29-30. It’s a tough question, I know. But would you be willing to leave everything, even your most prized possession to follow Him? I pray your answer is YES!

One more thing I forgot to say. Radio reception inside concrete cell walls is non-existence. I can faintly pick up one other country station. But for some reason, the Christian station comes in crystal clear 24 hours a day! God’s richest blessings to you all.

Where Is God?

I say:
Where are you, God, when I need You most?
Where are you, God, when I’ve lost my hope?
Where are you, God, when my faith is small?
Where are you, God, in the midst of it all?

Where are you, God, when I’ve lost my way?
Where are you, God, when I don’t know what to say?
Where are you, God, when I’m alone and scared?
Where are you, God, don’t you care?

God says:
I’m here for you through thick and thin.
I’ve never left you; here’s where I’ve been.

I was front and center at your birth
And so excited to have you start your work here on earth.
I’ve watched you grow from tot to teen,
Even saw an embarrassing moment when you plugged your nose with that bean

I was so proud of you when you took that stand
To accept me in your heart and to that I give a big hand.
I grinned when you became a college grad.
To say the least, I was one proud dad.

You continued to serve and teach about me every day.
But then temptation occurred and you lost your way.
I was right next to you when your faith was at a loss,
Even saw you turn to alcohol and hate your boss.

I saw you suffer through times of pain
But still you thought this lifestyle had much to gain.
I put my hand out for you day and night,
Hoping you’d come back to Me without a fight

You chose the world instead of Me,
But I love you so and forever this will be.
Your time locked up may be tough and long
But every step of the way, I’ll be along.

I’m happy to see your ways have turned.
You’re a witness and blessing to all; keep helping them learn.
Hold Me close to your heart and don’t let Me go
I promise I’ll get you through this, for this I know.

Your work for Me is not close to being done.
It’s starting now and when you leave these walls it’s just begun.
Your time locked up is just a bump in the road.
After I’ve tested you, you’ll come forth as gold.

The battle’s not yours, but Mine, and won!
I’m proud to be called your Father and prouder to call you son.
All things are possible with Me by your side.
So sit back, relax, and enjoy the ride.

I say:
Thank you, God, your Word’s loud and clear.
I totally get that I have nothing to fear.
I can’t wait to see Your plan that’s in store.
I’ll trust you forever with my faith, growing more and more.
I love you, God, forever, that’s true
My sins are now forgiven, and I just want to say thank you.
Written by Craig Perino 3.21.14

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.