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.

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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!

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!”

What Does My Future Hold?

future

This week in all the federal prisons across the United States it is National Re-Entry Week. It’s a week when re-entry programs are taking place throughout the prison system. Every day there are programs that are dedicated to a certain area that may help an inmate when leaving a prison. I have attended half-way house programs, chapel programs, and health and fitness programs. It’s a great way to start thinking about jobs, life goals and changes that need to be made to better one’s life.

As my time gets closer to the door, I have been thinking, and others have been asking, what I want to do with my life once I leave prison. Attending these programs this week really got me thinking about my future, and how exciting it’s going to be to start my life all over again. God has definitely given me a second chance to better my life and to live a life more for Him. I’m looking forward to it!

My future is fuzzy. As I write this, I really have no clue what type of job I will find. I know there is a chance that it might be very hard to find a great job with the word “felon” tacked on to my name. When I first get out, I might have to resort to flipping burgers, washing dishes, or even cleaning bathrooms. Now I know there’s nothing wrong with those jobs, but I want to find something else. My job applications could very easily be passed up or placed in the “Do Not Hire” pile due to my past. I may not pass the interview when they ask why I haven’t worked the past few years. There are so many unknowns at this time. All it takes is for that one person to give me a chance, and I know I’ll be able to prove my worth. If you’re that person, please let me know! I won’t disappoint you!!

Ideally, I would love to work my way up the line in the golf course industry. I had such a great time during that one year before getting locked up, working on the maintenance crew at a local course in St. Louis. I could definitely see myself working in the offices at a pro shop, or who knows…. maybe finding a job working for the PGA tour down the road. Anybody have any connections they could pass on to me?

The good part about my life is that God has it all figured out. No matter where I land a job, it is exactly where God needs me to be during that point in my life. I am eager to see what is out there for me. Who knows? God could be leading me down the path that never in my wildest imagination I could ever see myself doing. But if it’s what He wants, I will follow. All I know is that when I get out of here, I want to serve the Lord more, putting Him first in my life, and continue growing in my relationship with Him. Hmmm….…..now that I think about it, maybe He wants me to be in the ministry? I could totally see myself taking His Word with just the clothes on my back, to the deepest rain forests in the Amazon. Now that would be awesome!! But whatever comes my way, I’ll do my best, and let God do the rest.

“Serve wholeheartedly, as if serving the Lord, not man.” Ephesians 6:7

BUMP SET SPIKE!

volleyball-for-funVolleyball is one of many sports that I enjoy and play frequently. My enjoyment of volleyball came to me when I was in Middle School. It was introduced to me while in physical education class. I can still remember the first time I spiked the ball. The thrill of it excited me so much that I instantly wanted to play on a team. Unfortunately, the thrill was short lived as the unit in class was only a few weeks long, and at the time, there was not even a men’s volleyball program at the high school I would be attending. However, during my sophomore year a men’s volleyball team started at both the junior and varsity levels, and I was ecstatic. I tried out and made the JV team.

Ever since then, I have actively been playing on teams…… intramurals in college, leagues at rec centers, and even leagues here in prison. This is my second full summer at this prison in Seagoville, and my second summer being involved in the volleyball league. The spring season is a three-man sand volleyball league, while the summer league is two-man. Last year’s three-man league was a random pick out of a hat draft for the teams. It was basically luck of the draw.

This year’s three-man season was an actual draft. There were 48 guys that signed up to play, so there would be sixteen equally divided teams of three. Sixteen captains were selected, me being one of them. There would only be two rounds of picks, and we randomly drew for draft order. We would go in order from #1 through 16, followed by sixteen again down to 1. I selected #4 spot, which meant I would have picks #4 and #29. When it came to my turn to select my first teammate, I decided not to choose a talented volleyball player, but I chose someone who had never played volleyball before. Then when it came around to me again for pick #29 and only four guys remaining, I again chose someone who never played volleyball before.

Many of you know how competitive I am, so you may ask why I chose the people I did. Let me say that coming to prison has definitely changed my perspective on life. When competing in sports now, I know it’s not all about winning. I have had my share of winning back in the day, and had my moments to shine. These days especially in prison, I want to help people out, teach them, and coach them. I want them to have a chance to shine. It’s not all about me anymore. It’s about them. And let me tell you, the two guys on my team are awesome. Not necessarily awesome at their volleyball skills, but awesome team players, very easy to coach, great listeners, respectful of my suggestions, easy to talk to, and guys who want to practice and get better. Here in prison, there aren’t a whole lot of people like that. I feel blessed that they are on my team, considering I didn’t even really know these guys before I chose them.

We started from square one, and are gradually working our way up. Right now we are halfway through the season and everyone is saying we are the most improved team thus far, playing better and better every game. And besides that, we all are having a great time, with a constant flow of smiles and laughter. All three of us agree that prison volleyball is not about winning, but about having a fun time, getting some exercise and enjoying our time together. That we are definitely doing!

You see, selecting and training a volleyball team is similar to leading someone to Christ. One must start from square one – form a relationship, build the relationship, and teach God’s Word, which can lead them to Christ. And in volleyball – form a team, build the team, and teach the skills, which can lead to positive results. It sounds simple enough, but it does take work. Every ministry and sports team has encountered trials before becoming successful. It takes practice and training to get on top. With God’s help and the right attitude it can happen. That is all God asks of us….. to give others a chance. Don’t give up on people no matter how “lost” they are. I took a chance with my volleyball team, and I pray that you’ll take that chance with leading others to Christ. It’s funny how a simple game of volleyball can help me to become a better witness for Christ.

I can’t say I love prison, but what I can say is I do love what prison is doing to me.

Seymour the Mockingbird

NorthernMockingbirdMost mornings Seymour is perched amidst a mushroom-shaped tree, overlooking the sidewalk, whistling his three-beat tune to all onlookers and those who pass by on their way to work or to the chow hall. It’s a cheerful  little tune that can brighten one’s day.

Seymour is a bird, a mockingbird to be exact. And Seymour is the name that the group of people I hang out with and I have decided to call him. During the morning hours he watches from about ten feet off the ground on the same branch on the same tree, singing to everyone his good morning tune. He’s a happy little fella. It’s like he says hello to us by nodding his head, and then whistles away. We politely respond by saying, “Good morning, Seymour,” and continue on our way. If we are lucky enough, at lunch time, he’ll be out on his perch again, looking over the hundreds of inmates, whistling his little tune. He’s like the compound pet. Well, to some of us that is. And we can always count on him to say hello on those sunny mornings.

I guess being in prison really puts into perspective all the little things in life that I never took time to notice. Before prison, I cannot even remember the last time I would take time to listen to a bird, let alone respond to it with a hello. The small things in life like walking barefoot through the grass, looking up at the clouds, watching the sunrise and sunset, the smell of rain, watching a thunderstorm are things I notice now. Coming to prison definitely makes me appreciate life at a whole other level of thinking, and in a good way.

How often do you notice the small things in life? Have you ever responded to a bird when it whistles at you or even took time to listen? Have you watched a bird go after a worm in the ground? Do you notice the clouds moving above you? Do you take a whiff of newly mowed grass? Do you notice the flowers blooming around you? Do you look closely at a spider’s web? God puts these small things in life for a reason. I know we don’t always see them, but they are there for us to appreciate. I encourage each of you to look around, to open up your eyes and ears, and notice those small things that God puts in your life. You just might appreciate life a little more. Plus, it will more than likely cause you to slow down your hectic pace a bit and might even put a smile on your face. And that’s always nice to see!

Let’s Eat!!

t-bone steakI love to eat. Who doesn’t enjoy a good meal! The aroma of a pizza or brownies fresh out of the over; biting into a fresh strawberry or watermelon in the summertime; cream oozing out of an oversized cream puff.  It gets me every time. I absolutely love sweets. Not so much candy (although I can always eat a Butterfinger), but the pastries, cakes, and donuts. Unfortunately, my life in prison doesn’t allow a whole lot of opportunity to eat my favorite foods or sweets.

pizzaPizza is my favorite food, with Pecan Pie being my favorite sweet, although gooey butter cake is a close second. However, here in this place, I cannot choose what gets served at meal time. The only option we have is whether or not we want to go to chow or not. Most of the time I do go, although the meal is hardly filling. But it does hold me over until the next meal. And no, the food is not like the mush you see on prison movies. It’s more like the hot lunches we would eat at school as a kid. However, during a holiday, the prison splurges a little and feeds us very well. They feed us a meal according to the type of holiday it is. For example:

Thanksgiving: turkey, ham, stuffing, sweet potatoes, cranberries, pecan pie, etc.

4th of July: hamburgers, hotdogs, brats, corn on the cob, etc.

Martin Luther King Day: chicken, collard greens, cool-aid, etc.

Cinco de Mayo: burritos, tacos, enchiladas, etc.

Yes, it is comical to see grown men get excited about the kind of food we are served, but it’s the little things in life (Ha!), and I do feel stuffed afterwards. Of course, you have to hope the food doesn’t run out by the time your building arrives…..that has happened and it is so disappointing.

We also have the option of buying extra food at the commissary (small convenience store with various food, clothing, and hygiene items). Some inmates take full advantage of that and can cook extravagant meals with the small amount of food they can purchase. Of course, it costs money and it’s not cheap. And with me making a mere 17 cents an hour (or $22 each month), I buy only what I absolutely need.

Before coming to prison I was blessed to have a fridge and pantry full of food. I could eat when I wanted to, and often did. When I was hungry I ate. When I was bored, I ate. Or I would open up the fridge every ten minutes to see if something new would pop out at me that I never saw before. I’m sure most of you can relate.

Food was always at every social gathering and events. It was everywhere. My diet has drastically changed while being locked up, and for the better I believe. I feel the last few years have prolonged my life down the road as I get older. I no longer eat those greasy or fried foods and hardly ever eat sweets. I must say I do miss them, but feel great at the same time, and I can certainly do without them. I guess we’ll see what happens when I get out of this place!