Inmate’s Guadalupe image auctioned at gala

Prisoner uses talent to benefit Denver ministry

No one is beyond the salvation of God, not even Herbert “Pee Wee” Perkins, a mentally-ill man sentenced to life in the nation’s most locked-down prison in Colorado.

The 37-year-old, who was imprisoned for armed robbery at the Supermax prison in Florence, was recognized at the Capuchin friars’ annual Brown Robe Benefit at the Grand Hyatt Denver Hotel in October.

“This prisoner has undergone a remarkable transformation,” said his attorney Ed Aro of Arnold and Porter LLP, in a video about the friar’s prison ministry.

Perkins’ penciled depiction of Our Lady of Guadalupe, which he asked to be used to help the poor, was auctioned off for $3,000 at the gala.

“No one ever trained him. It’s a beautiful work of art he gave us,” said Father Cyrus Gallagher, O.F.M., Cap.

The Denver friar began ministering to Perkins when he entered prison at 15 years old.

The inmate, born into a family entrenched in the gang culture in New Mexico, was given drugs by his parents, including cocaine, at a young age.

“His father and uncles and everyone in his neighborhood were members of a Hispanic street gang,” Aro said in the video. “As a child, that was the life he was almost inevitably drawn into.”

His father reportedly shot himself in the head when talking to Perkins on the phone. Since then, Perkins has been diagnosed with major depression, antisocial personality disorder, and symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, according to a lawsuit filed in 2012.

He attempted suicide twice after entering the Supermax prison in 2008. Officials denied him medication for his depression.

The Capuchin Franciscans visit prisoners, including the poor and sick, like Perkins at Supermax, the Federal Correctional Institution in Englewood and youth detention centers.

“(These are) human beings that have made big mistakes, but no one is beyond the salvation and redemption of the Lord,” said fellow Capuchin Franciscan, Father Barnabas Eichor, O.F.M., Cap.

When Father Gallagher visited Perkins, he talked about God’s desire to forgive. He said the prisoner’s heart began to open up.

A transformation began for Perkins inside his 12-by-7-foot cell.

Using the talents he once used for gang graffiti, Perkins drew an image of Our Lady of Guadalupe in blue, orange, pink and green.

He gave the image to the friar who had it framed. Father Gallagher shared with Perkins how the original artwork was auctioned off during their annual gala.

With tears, he reportedly told the friar, “This is the first time anyone ever affirmed me for anything good I ever tried to do.”

Father Gallagher said in the gala video, “I, too, got teary-eyed because under the circumstances this was a major thing.”

Aro later represented Perkins and other inmates in a June 2012 lawsuit alleging the Bureau of Prisons transferred mentally-ill prisoners to Supermax in violation of its policy against housing such inmates there.

Some prisoners in the suit reportedly swallowed razor blades, mutilated themselves, suffered hallucinations and attempted suicide.

Perkins was recently transferred to a prison in Atlanta where he’ll receive mental health care.

The Capuchin Franciscans of Mid-America are members of a religious order that together minister to the underserved in more than 100 countries worldwide. They follow the example of St. Francis of Assisi to surrender their worldly possessions and commit their lives to those in greatest need.

Aro likened the friar’s prison ministry to “going to visit the lepers who no one else wants to touch.”

 

 

 

COMING UP: Did Christians ban the Games? Tales, myths and other fun facts about the ancient Olympics

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The 2020 Summer Olympics began less than a week ago, and as is usually the case, there’s been enough stunning athleticism, shocking upsets and yes, even a little bit of drama on display to keep the water cooler chatter abuzz until at least the 2022 games.

At their best, the Olympic games bridge cultural divides and unite countries around the world as the greatest living athletes around the globe compete for the coveted gold medal in their respective events. There’s a spirit of global camaraderie that welcomely comes about during every Olympiad; whether watching the Games at home with the family or going to a local bar to cheer on your favorite country, the Olympics bring people together in a way that most other sporting events do not.

Another astounding thing about the Olympics is how they’ve endured over the millennia. Indeed, they provide a special glimpse into the history of the world and those common qualities of humanity that will never die; namely, the need for both unitive, universal community and friendly but fierce competition.

The first recorded Olympic games took place in 776 B.C., though some historians speculate that they could have began as early as the 10th century B.C. The games were held every four years in Olympia to honor the greek god Zeus as one of four Panhellenic festivals, this one coinciding with the second full moon following the summer solstice, usually at the end of July or early August. The Olympics became so significant that the term Olympiad was used to mark a year the games took place, and became a common unit of historical time measurement.

Now, the ancient world wasn’t exactly known for its amicability or even peacefulness, as indicated by the countless wars and power usurpations that took place throughout its history. However, Olympic festivals were marked by a truce among the Greeks called ekecheiria, which roughly means “holding of hands.” This ensured safe travels for athletes and spectators as they made their way to the festival and was a common basis for peace among the Greeks. That the Olympic games could get even the constantly feuding Greeks to lay down their arms and come together in a spirit of solidarity speaks to their significance in ancient history.

Early Olympic events included the footrace, wrestling, the long jump, the javelin throw, the discus throw and boxing. Of course, it’s nigh impossible to read about the ancient Olympics and not come across epic tales of chariot racing, an event which was briefly banned early on but was reinstated by the first century B.C. and drew the interest of several key Roman figures (more on that later).

By the fifth century B.C., athletes from all over the Greek-speaking world came to Olympia for the games. The footrace, also called the Stade or Stadion, was considered the most prestigious event, and is where the english word “stadium” is derived from. Stade was a unit of measurement in ancient Greece which modern historians say is the rough equivalent to 600 feet or 200 yards, though the actual length has been a subject of debate for many years. Either way, it represents the length which runners in the Stadion ran to prove themselves as the fastest sprinters in the ancient world.

Interestingly, very little record about the Olympics games during the time of Christ exists. History tells us that the Roman emperor Tiberius, who was emperor during Christ’s life, won the chariot races during the 194th Olympiad in 4 B.C. In 17 A.D., the popular Roman general Germanicus, who was Tiberius’ adopted son and the future father of the third Roman Emperor Caligula, won the chariot races in 17 A.D., presumably around the time Christ was a teenager.

About those chariot races: they were known to attract elite political figures, some of whom won based on true skill, and others who only wanted the appearance of winning to further exert their power and status. During the 211th Olympiad, Emperor Nero, known for his fierce persecution of Christians and rather narcissistic personality, forcibly moved the Olympic games set to take place in 65 A.D. to 67 A.D. so he could compete while on a tour of Greece. He participated in the chariot races (with six more horses than the other competitors), and declared himself the greatest Olympic victor of all time, though historical eyewitness accounts tell a different story. Nero actually nearly died after a severe wreck, but Nero being Nero, he was still declared the winner.

Thankfully, Nero’s title as an Olympic victor and the Olympiad he “won,” which did not adhere to the established chronology of the games, were subsequently stricken from the official Olympic records after his death.

The Olympics grew over the course of 1,200 years until 393 A.D., when Emperor Theodosius I banned all Pagan festivals from the Roman emperor after Christianity became adopted as the state religion. Popular culture and history has long maintained this story of Christianity being to blame for the halt of the Olympic games. However, in recent years, some historians have disputed this account, saying that it was not for religious reasons but rather economic reasons that the games ended when they did. In fact, even after Theodosius’ death, there are still records of Olympic games taking place up until the fifth century. As the administration of Roman Empire evolved, the Olympics could no longer be sponsored by civil funds and instead became sponsored more and more by rich elites of the time. Simply put, the games became too expensive, and no one wanted to pay for them anymore.

The Olympics did not make a return for 1,500 years, until the Athens Olympics in 1896. Over the last 125 years since their reinstatement, the Games have become an integral piece of modern culture and a remnant of ancient history that was revived to great avail. As the Olympics in Tokyo continue over the next week and athletes compete for the gold, the words of St. Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians serve as a pertinent reminder of how the spirit of an Olympian imitates closely that of a Christian:

“Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified” (1 Cor 9:24-27).

So let the Games continue! And may the race be run not for a perishable prize, but an imperishable one.


Featured photo: Met Museum, Terracotta Panathenaic prize amphora (jar), ca. 510 B.C. Attributed to the Leagros Group.