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Justin Paperny/ Straight-A Guide Newsletter #7: Sylmar Juvenile Hall

April 20, 2012 in Personal Journal Entries by Justin-Paperny

 Straight- A Guide Newsletter #7: Sylmar Juvenile Hall 

April 19, 2012

Earlier this week, I exchanged some email correspondence with my friend Michael Santos. He recently completed his 9,000th day in federal prison, and on August 11th of 2012, he begins serving his 26th year. In our correspondence, I explained to Michael that Jimmy Wu and I are teaching weekly classes to a group of really bright young men at Barry J. Nidorf Sylmar Juvenile Hall. The young men who participate in our program made decisions that exposed them to some pretty harsh penalties in the criminal justice system. Jimmy and I are using some of the books that Michael wrote to help them understand strategies to overcome imprisonment. As Michael did, we are trying to impress upon the students the importance of reading books with a specific purpose in mind. Following the strategy, Michael explained to me, made a huge difference in opening opportunities for him while he grew through his lengthy sentence.

In describing for Michael the experiences of my latest class, I expressed some frustration at my not knowing how to properly answer a young man who was facing a life sentence. He was only 16 and didn’t understand how participating in a class would help him because he expected that a judge could sentence him to life in prison. At the conclusion of our class, Jimmy spent some time alone with the young prisoner, offering some helpful words. I, on the other hand, remained at a loss for words. It bothered me. I couldn’t sleep. The next morning I wrote to Michael asking for help. Michael responded suggesting that, like Jimmy, I make a special effort to reach the young man. His notes, and my summary follows.

Michael totally identified with the feelings of hopelessness that accompanied a long sentence, but he also knew from personal experience that if an individual reached deep inside of himself, he could find the strength to carry on. Reading with a purpose and participating in the Straight-A Guide program, he said, could open opportunities for any young man who struggled with the torment of decades in prison. Those opportunities would not be apparent in the beginning, but in time, the opportunities would open in abundance.

Michael told me to tell the young man that by reading and educating himself, he was like a farmer who planted seeds. The gardener might plant thousands of seeds, expecting each of those seeds would bring forth trees at some future point. Yet from the seed alone, the farmer would not be able to tell which seed would bring forth the tree that produces the most fruit.

That’s what learning and reading with a purpose was all about. By reading books, the young man would be planting seeds that would help him later in life. If he chose the books wisely, they would teach him lessons. Those lessons might include learning how to express his thoughts in sentences and paragraphs. They might help him become more skillful at making persuasive arguments. By learning more, he opened the possibility to persuade a judge or other powerful forces in society to grant him his liberty. Yet while studying, he would never know which lesson

would be the one that offered the most fruit, possibly even freeing him from the difficulties of his life.

Although the young man faced the wrath of the criminal justice system, by working to educate himself he could create his own hope. It was true that a judge might soon slam the young man with an incomprehensibly long sentence, just as happened to Michael. But if the young man worked to educate himself, then used his education to make positive contributions to society, those contributions would lead to his building a strong support network. That support network could bring meaning to the young man’s life. Those in his support group would develop a vested interest in helping the young man reach his highest potential. In time, influential members of society might come together on the young man’s behalf to lobby for his release. If he worked toward earning his freedom, that young man would always have a beacon to strive toward. He would build the strength necessary to triumph over the indignity of a lengthy sentence.

Any individual who faced a struggle might begin by thinking in terms of incremental steps, always with his eye toward what he wanted to become. If he made a 100 percent commitment toward becoming something more than he was today, and he could see with clarity who he wanted to become, then he empowered himself to set the course that would lead to his aspiration. Michael wrote that in his case, he could build more strength by focusing on what he could do within the confines of prison rather than dwelling on all the limitations and obstacles associated with imprisonment. He never counted on any directions or guides from the institutions that held him. In fact, Michael said that prisoners should expect cynicism and interference rather than help. But by tuning out the noise of confinement and taunting from others within the system, and by following The Straight-A Guide, a man created his own direction. Discipline carried him through in ways that could result in his emergence from prison as a totally different man from who he was today, even if the length of sentence imposed blocked him from seeing even the possibility for release.

I was grateful to discuss the frustrations I was having with Michael. Michael used the strategy of reading with a purpose to lift him through 25 years in prison. By reading books about others who had overcome enormous challenges, like Nelson Mandela, Michael found hope that he too could conquer decades in prison. When Nelson Mandela faced sentencing, the wretched judicial system in place under Apartheid resulted in Mr. Mandela receiving a life sentence, despite his not having committed a crime. And yet Nelson Mandela never gave up. He always worked hard to improve the life of his fellow prisoners and to improve his own mind. That incredible strength led Mr. Mandela to make enormous contributions to mankind, to change a country, and to eventually seize his liberty and to walk in freedom again.

The powerful message that Mr. Mandela represents is that regardless of what severities we may face in a given moment, we can never tell what good will come later. I will use that message to inspire others who participate in our Straight-A Guide program.

Justin Paperny
Executive Director
Michael G. Santos Foundation www.Straight-A-Guide.com

Justin Paperny/ Class 3: Accountability

April 13, 2012 in Accountability, Straight-A Guide Curriculum by Justin-Paperny

97. Describe your thoughts on whether accountability logs would help, hinder, or provide indifferent to your opportunities for success upon release.:

I was always against them until I went to prison. Or I should say I never thought about doing them. In my 20s I was successful as a stockbroker, I worked hard, but in many ways I was spinning my wheels. My goals varied quickly, depending on the day, the situation. Without an accountability tool to guide me, I struggled to hold myself accountable. That has all changed since going to prison.

98. In what ways will probation officers respond to efforts you’ve made at documenting your values, goals, and commitment to preparing for a law-abiding life upon release?:

I hope my probation officer responds favorably to my efforts in prison. That said, I would not be shaken if he/she does not. He or she will probably have a heavy caseload, and their goal will simply be to make sure I conform to the terms of my supervised release. I do not work to please a probation officer. I work hard to create a better life for those that love me. I work hard so I can repay my victims. Do not get me wrong. I will work hard to earn the trust of my PO, to prove to that I am committed to living honorably.

99. Elaborate on ways that full transparency with regard to your prison adjustment through accountability logs can influence potential employers or support networks.:

Documenting my journey through prison, I think, will demonstrate to potential employers and others that I am committed to change. Writing every day provides me an outlet to prove to others that despite the mistakes of my past, I am determined to improve, to make the most out of the one life I have. My prison record exists for anyone to review. I encourage others to read my blogs, my book, and to hold me accountable with every word I have written. That approach, of reviewing my work, is more effective than my telling an employer how much I have changed. Of course I am going to say that. The problem is most men say that. Deciphering who has and who has not is an issue an employer must debate. Documenting my journey show a deliberate approach to improve, despite the terms of my confinement. I hope employers take notice.

100. Describe the role accountability logs played in their success.:

Well I know that Michael ascribes a great deal of his success to his accountability logs. Every accomplishment, every goal is written in his little black book. He notes the time he wakes, the time he begins working, writing. It is extensive, but it keeps him on track.  He is able to monitor performance at a moments notice.  I have read scores of books that describe business leaders daily activities. All of them, in one way or another, use tools to hold themselves accountable. If it works for them it will probably work for me.

101. How do universities evaluate which students to admit?:

First thing, I presume, is their academic record, followed by community involvement. Those records in essence are accountability logs; it shows what the applicant has been doing with his life.

102. What information do creditors consider when deliberating on whether to extend loans?:

They consider our financial resources, references, credit reports, past employment and so on. These tools determine how fit one is to repay the loan.

103. What governs investment decisions that people make?:

Past performance is a pretty good indicator. It provides me an inkling of comfort knowing that the investment has performed in good and bad markets. I have always enjoyed reading prospectuses and offering memorandums.

104. How do your responses to the above questions support or refute the value accountability logs?:

All I know is the difference in my life before I used accountability logs and after. Writing down my goals, in short, keeps me working, holding me accountable at all times. I know no other way. Plus writing down goals, and accomplishing them, makes me feel good. It is a strategy I wish every prisoner would embrace. But sadly most do not.

Justin Paperny/ Class Ten: Leadership

April 1, 2012 in Straight-A Guide Curriculum by Justin-Paperny

251. What does leadership mean to you?

It means making decisions that move one forward, and always considering the consequences of our actions. Leadership is certainly a value and it requires discipline. Effective leadership gets me closer to my goals.

252. In what ways have your past decisions prepared you for leadership?

When I was an athlete, an baseball player all of my decisions embodied leadership. I was a good teammate, disciplined, a real leader. I lost a lot of that when I became a money manager. I started following, not leading. I was impressionable and did not trust my own judgment. So my past set me up as a follower and leader. I am leading again.

253. Where does leadership begin?

With the individual. No matter what is happening in the world we have a choice on how we adjust

254. In what ways can an individual measure his capacity to lead?

We must be honest and never evade the truth. Do our past actions align with leadership or following. I measure my actions, my past, my behavior and know if it reeks of leadership or if I am fooling myself. My goal is to never be a contradiction.

255. In what ways can an individual measure his effectiveness at leadership?

We will know if we are effectively leading if we are advancing closer to our documented goals. And others on the team will be inching closer as well.

256. What does it mean to have a vision?

It means that every second of every day gets us closer to the goals we have made. A vision helps one stay focused on days when it is easy to get lose. Somedays I lose focus, and then I remind myself of my goals and plans and my ultimate vision. It helps me stay focused.

257. How does a leader gauge the effectiveness of a plan?

By measuring it according to his goals. Every month I write out my goals: how many miles to run, how many blogs I want to write, how many at risk youth I want to mentor, and so on. Then I can always measure my progress against my plans.

258. Why would leadership require accountability tools?

It lets us know if we are track. If I want to run 100 miles a month, for instance, I need to track my progress. My tools help me know me understand how many miles I run on a certain day, week, month. Then I can plan and take action. If I want to run 100 miles my logs tell me where I need to be every day. They keep me on track.

259. How would a leader make the most effective use of accountability tools?

By referring to them every day, and constantly updating them. My tools keep me focused and on track. My tools tell me if I am on track. They remove the guesswork.

260. How would you describe leadership by example?

By demonstrating the right acts rather than just talking about it.

261. What does leading with integrity mean to you?

It means making tough decisions, and living according to our values, no matter what. It means doing what is right, even when it may be hard.

262. In what ways does personal leadership require an individual to put the concerns of others ahead of his own?

The great leader Warren Bennis once said, “leaders are richly endowed with empathy.” We must consider others as we lead, and be empathetic to their situation. Great leaders always consider others.

263. How can our behavior in prison influence the lives of those we ask to support or sponsor us?

264. When living within the restrictions of prison boundaries, where can we turn for leadership training?

265. Describe an individual who has leadership skills that you admire?

266. To what extent would emulating such leadership traits influence your prospects for success?

267. In what ways do our day-to-day actions show our commitment to personal leadership development?

268. How can a commitment to personal leadership development while in prison influence your relationship with people you haven’t yet met?

269. In what way can the Straight-A Guide influence your prison adjustment?

270. In what ways can the Straight-A Guide influence your prospects for a law-abiding, contributing life upon release?

271. In what ways will you use the Straight-A Guide going forward?


Justin Paperny/ Class Two: Goals

May 5, 2009 in Goals, Straight-A Guide Curriculum by Justin-Paperny

64. What values might lead a person to success upon release from prison?:

Values mean nothing if not actively pursued. For too long in my 20s , I talked about living a values based life. But it was only talk. Now, I live according to my values; they guide me as a compass guides a fisherman at sea. I do not talk about living openly, honestly; I live that way. For me part of the challenge is accepting how difficult it is to life according to the values that we have defined for ourselves.  In other words, it is easy to say one is ethical, honest and so forth. It is much harder to follow through.

65. How does a person ever become his values?:

By working at it every day, understanding that there will be setbacks. I strive to live openly, decently. That does not mean that I will never error again.

66. How does a person strengthen his integrity?:

A person strengthens his integrity by doing the right thing, îespecially when it may cost him the most. To speak up, to do the right thing, to dissent, not only strengthens a persons integrity, it also helps that person develop self worth and confidence.

67. What immediate challenges will a prisoner confront the day his prison term expires?:

I read that 70% of felons remained unemployed after one year. That is a challenge I must confront. I must accept that others will judge me for my crimes, rather than who I am striving to become. I expect to face financial challenges as I move back into my home. That said, I feel ready because of the efforts I have made since coming to Taft.

68. Housing:

For someone that does not have a home or apartment, I expect that it could cost several thousand to get adjusted. Security deposit, rent, and so forth are expensive and it is incumbent on the prisoner to prepare for these expenses.

69. Household furnishings:

Bedding, computers, and so forth could cost at least $6,000.

70. Clothing:

Depending on the length of incarceration the costs will vary. My friend Michael Santos will need a whole new wardrobe, while for me it will cost very little.

71. Transportation:

Depends on where the prisoners releases. In Los Angeles one needs a car. Buses, taxis, etc are doable but unrealistic. I expect to lease a reasonable car at a reasonable price.

72. Incidentals:

Liquidity is an important issue as one leaves prison. It may take a while to secure employment. I am expecting to begin working immediately, but that does not mean the money will flow immediately. I couldn’t imagine working with less than $15,000 as I make my transition.

73. How much in the way of financial resources should a prisoner expect to need in the way of financial resources to transition to society?:

$10,000 at least, or less if a job has been secured. Anyone in prison should use every day to reach out and try and secure employment both in the half way house and upon their full release. I did and it worked!

74. How will prospective landlords, employers, creditors, and others in society respond to an individual who discloses his criminal record(s) and history of imprisonment?:

I know that landlords that do no care and some that do. I am a landlord and have never cared. That said it will be a barrier for some. Some landlords, I presume, will not want to take the risk of renting to a felon, especially if other applicants are waiting in the wings. The prisoner must be prepared to respond to questions openly, honestly. The answers must be concise, while conveying the message the prisoner has learned from his misdeeds.

Describe the job market in the sectors for which you would like to find employment::

75. What range of income does the market offer?:

I am preparing to launch a career as a speaker. I know that a market exists for what I am trying to do. I have a mentor Walt Pavlo, a felon, who travels the country sharing his story. He has spoken at numerous business schools. I am not aware of how much he is making, but I know he is doing well enough to pay his court ordered restitution, his rent and other requisite expenses. I also expect to work as a consultant to offenders facing their own struggle with the justice system. I would like to retain 20 clients my first year at a cost of $2,500 a client. That income, alone with my speaking fees, I hope will total $100,000.

76. What level of education or experience do candidates for such employment typically have?:

My degree from USC, I think, gives me credibility as I begin my career as speaker. My book, Lessons From Prison, I suspect will also help cement me as an authority on the subject of ethics, and specifically the consequences that follow cheating. My market is unusual in the sense that one must serve a prison term. It is not a ride one would willingly choose. My experience of thriving through prison should also help me prepare others to face their own prison term with dignity and strength.

77. In what ways will a prison record influence possibilities for employment?:

My prison records precluds me from obtaining a license. That is a major setback. Distinguishing myself in prison, rather than languishing, would be the only to overcome the obstacles ahead. That requires my waking early and working late. I am trying to use my term as an asset, rather than a weakness. There is no other way.

78. Where is the general employment rate in your community?:

Anywhere from 10-20%, with a higher number being underemployed. It will be tough.

79. How would you expect the general employment rate to compare with the unemployment rate for people with your background, considering prison record, educational record, and experience?:

It may affect me in the halfway house. I will not have launched my new career yet. To qualify for home confinement, I have heard, I must secure employment at a company that provides a weekly paycheck. Upon the completion of my sentence I do not expect the unemployment to affect my career. Organizations will always need ethics and compliance training in good times or bad.

80. How much time do you anticipate needing between your release date and securing the job you expect to land?:

Zero time. I earned my way to a job from prison by reaching out and showing the value I would provide.

81. If halfway house placement requires forfeiture of 25 percent of gross earnings, of your monthly take-home pay, how much do you anticipate you will keep during the time you’re in the halfway house?:

My expectation is that I will have to surrender 25% of my gross pay to the halfway house. They expect to me remain lawfully employed and abide by the rules. I am confident I will achieve those objectives.

82. What do statistics show that average households in America earn each year?:

Not sure, maybe $70,000.

83. How so you anticipate your income will compare with that average one year after your release from prison?:

Too early to tell. I will be jumpstarting a new career in a tough economy.

84. What emotions do we introduce when we obsess on issues beyond our ability to influence?:

I occasionally obsess over issues. Obsessing can be an impediment to success, especially if they are issues I cannot control. I still stew over decisions I made that led to my imprisonment. I remain frustrated and angry that my behavior caused pain to so many. It is a weakness of mine—it always has been. Introspection taking to the extreme becomes obsession.

85. How can we overcome the despair that accompanies imprisonment?:

By actively pursuing our values, and enjoy the struggle that can follow such a pursuit.

Michael wrote about the numerous ways that his behavior could lead to the extension of his prison term or the aggravation of his prison conditions. No one wants to serve longer prison terms or serve sentences under harsher conditions. :

86. What types of behavior lead to such outcomes?:

For me I have had to embrace the concept of subordination. Subordinating myself to staff and other inmates ensures that I remain on track. I avoid altercations at all costs—I have no one to impress. My positive behavior puts me in a position to create a meaningful life from prison.

87. How do harsher prison conditions influence an individual’s ability to prepare for success upon release?:

I have seen my friends go to the SHU and struggle. Serving time in the SHU can totally destroy what a prisoner is trying to accomplish. It takes a strong person to overcome such conditions. It is part of the reason I avoid complications at all cost. I could handle the SHU, but why if I do not have to?

88. How does behavior that leads to harsher prison conditions influence the lives of those in our support network?:

Spending time in SHU or getting transferred to a higher security prison can be devastating for family members. Riding on Con Air or the prisoner transport can keep an prisoner out of touch for days on end. The family worries about their health, their safety, their sanity. I cannot put my parents through any more stress! I will not put myself in a position to serve time in SHU nor will I violate any of these ridiculous prison rules. I am also aware thay my incarceration is harder on my parents. Prisoners adjust; I have. Yet family members wrestle with the idea that a loved one is away. I know this, I get it. I am determined to make their lives better, not worse. That is why my behavior ensures that I avoid any altercations that can lead to harsher conditions.

89. Although the prison system offered ways to lengthen a prison term or aggravate the conditions under which a prisoner served his sentence, what objective mechanisms exist within the system for a prisoner to distinguish himself in a positive way?:

None that I know of.

90. How then does the system encourage individuals to work toward reconciling with society, prepare for law-abiding lives upon release, or earn freedom?:

It does not.

91. Describe the goals you have set?:

It is my goal to finish Lessons From Prison before I leave prison. I would like to clean up my diet a bit. The food here at Taft is better than I had expected. I would like to continue to write a daily blog, and to continue to connect to thousands my blog. I will continue to be grateful for my blessings, including the love of my wonderful parents.

92. Describe how your goals relate to your professed values?:

My goals revolve around discipline, fitness, courage, and family. They all align and work with my goals.

93. How clearly can you gauge your level of success toward each goal you set?:

I gauge them weekly. I access how much I have written, how much I have exercised, how well I have eaten. I gauge whether my beliefs align with my actions. Some weeks are better than others, however, I am committed to improving.

94. In what ways does one goal lead to the next?:

I develop self worth and confidence with the completion of every goal. It means I am living up to one of my stated values: productiveness. Goals imbue me to work harder, to do more. And incremental goals add up over time. For example, upon my surrender to Taft I had never run long distances. I ran 2 miles, then in time 4, then 5, 6,7,8,9, and now 10 daily. I celebrated every achievement, and then moved on. Completing those goals spawned an attitude that I can accomplish anything.

95. If you achieve all of your goals, how will they influence your prison adjustment?:

Achieving all of my goals will require me to work harder. A cliche holds that life is not a sprint but a marathon. It is true. When I complete all of my goals, I think, I will have come full circle. I will have proven to others (or at the least myself), that it is possible to change your life from prison. Setting goals is helping me make that happen.

96. How will the goals you set influence your prospects for success upon release?:

My goals will help ensure my survival on many fronts. Writing and reading and studying and exercising have helped me grow smarter and more prepared for the challenges ahead. I hope it proves to others that I am disciplined, that I am committed to a better life. My writings exhibit the growth of a man through the austere conditions of imprisonment. Completing my goals, especially the reading and writing goals, have helped me finally accept responsibility for my actions that lead me to prison. Indeed accepting responsibility is the first step in overcoming a conviction. I set a goal of doing it, and I would be a liar if I did not admit that it took me a while.


Justin Paperny/ Class 1: Values

May 5, 2009 in Values by Justin-Paperny

16. Who are you?

My name is Justin Paperny. I am a 34-year-old man who grew up  in Encino, California. I attended Montclair Prep before moving on to the University of Southern California, where I earned my degree in 1997.  From USC I went on to become a stockbroker at Bear Stearns and UBS, then as a real estate agent in the distinguished house of Sotheby’s.

In 2007, I pleaded guilty to securities fraud. In 2008, I began serving a sentence inside a minimum-security federal prison camp. In May 2009, I will walk out from the federal prison in Taft, California, carrying the lifetime stigma of being a convicted felon.

Since crossing over into prison boundaries I have worked hard to atone for my bad decisions while working as a stockbroker. I understand the journey to restore my good name will take a lifetime. I am committed, however, to the process, to the struggle of overcoming the reckless decisions I made that led to my conviction.

Since surrendering to prison  in the fall of 2008, I have committed to a daily routine that is both rigorous and challenging. Since October 2008 I have written a daily blog describing my experience through the criminal justice system.  I also allocate ample time to exercise and to tutoring my fellow prisoners on subjects ranging from mathematics to English to geography.

I am a man who is trying to prove to others that it is possible to overcome the struggles of confinement. It is no doubt a system that breeds contempt and failure. All prisoners, however, with work and discipline can put steps in place to ensure that we leave a little better and stronger than when we went in. That is who I am.

17. Describe your background with regard to your education, vocation or career, troubles with the law.

I grew up in Encino, CA, then graduated USC in 1997 with a degree in Psychology. As a young man baseball defined me. I had the privilege of playing in three separate World Series baseball tournaments, and was a proud member of the University of Southern California Baseball team that lost in the national championship game in 1995.

After graduating USC I built my career at Merrill Lynch, Bear Stearns, then UBS. Some awful decisions I made regarding a clients hedge fund account led to my conviction for securities fraud and the 18-month sentence I am wrapping up at Taft Federal Prison Camp.

My background, I know, is not one suggests a brief stint in federal prison. I was raised to know right from wrong, I had positive role models in my life; I had coaches and parents that held me accountable; I had all the breaks. In prison I realized the opportunities that I took for granted—opportunities that most of my fellow prisoners could only dream. Some will always judge me for my bad decisions, I know. That I cannot undue. All I can do is work to become better, stronger, and more prepared to overcome the tough challenges ahead.

18. What are you going through now?

I am nearly complete with an 18-month prison term for violating securities laws. I am proud of my accomplishments through prison. I surrendered to prison out of shape, unhappy. I now run on average of 10-miles a day, or approximately 60 miles a week. I am reading nearly a book a week, and write a blog every day. I have some trepidation about my pending release, however, I am comfortable knowing there is not much more I could have done to thrive through prison. I put in the work and feel ready to go home, to see my family, to start my new life.

Describe your vision of the best person you can become during the following time frames:

19. Time remaining to serve.

My vision is to continue to work deliberately towards the goals I have set. I envision a life centered around balance and perspective. My vision is to allocate ample time to work, exercise, family, community, and education. My vision ensures that I contribute to society, that I use my experience through the justice system as a positive rather than a negative.

20. One month after release.

One month after release I hope to be on my way to building my new career as a speaker on the subject of ethics, finance and white-collar crime. I also hope to have my new website established so others who are struggling through their own complications with the justice system can reach out to me. I will also spend that time reconnecting with my family.

21. One year after release.

One year after my release I hope to be thriving! I will have completed my first year on federal probation; I will hopefully be traveling the country sharing my story; and I also hope to be consulting several offenders a month as they prepare to surrender to prison.  I also hope to be in better or at least the same shape as I am the day I leave prison.

22. Five years after release.

Five years after my release I will be 39 years old. By then I should be an established authority on ethics and the justice system. I expect to be one of the most sought after speakers in the country. Today marriage and children is not a priority, but within 5 years after my release I hope to be married with children.

23. How do those in society perceive people in prison?

I never thought about it till I became a prisoner. Had I thought about it before I went to prison I probably would have assumed that most of the men were bad, full of vice, lacking in character. That is not really the case. I know now that many of the prisoners are good men who for one reason or another felt the need to judge the line between right and wrong. I expect perceptions of me to be all over the board as a result of my prison term. I consider it one of my many obligations to correct the myths that others have about our prison system that confines more than 2.3 million people.

24. Describe how television programs and movies depict prisoners:

Films, etc do nothing but feed into the myths that people associate with prison.  They create the idea that we are inveterate criminals who are always looking for a way to scheme, to rob, to get ahead. It is sensationalism at its best.

25. Compare and contrast your prison adjustment with the prison stereotype.

I will explain in better detail below.

26. In what ways is your adjustment similar?

It is similar in the sense of how staff perceives me. I am not looked at any differently than any other prisoner. I am not saying I should be looked at differently, however, my efforts to work, to give back in prison, I think, are laudable, noteworthy. Not to staff, however. To them I am just another number.

27. In what ways is your adjustment different?

I do not complain about my job nor housing situation or food or anything else for that matter. I make the most of what I got! I am proud of what I have done since surrendering to prison. Completing multiple goals, while introspecting daily has put me in an enviable position to thrive from the moment I leave prison boundaries. That adjustment, I know, is different—but not one that should be extraordinary. All prisoners can do it!

Describe what opportunities for personal growth and development exist in the different prison security levels:

28. High security.

Having never served time in a high security prison I cannot comment on the opportunities that exist. I have learned from the writings of Michael Santos, who served many years in the Atlanta penitentiary, but other than that cannot comment.

29. Medium security.

Same as above

30. Low security.

I have never served time in a low though my experience convinces me that the low is not too much different that a camp. The average sentence is longer and more men usually reside in the low. I assume hostilities are reduced in a low versus higher security prisons, in part, because prisoners have clearly defined release dates. Some men, I have learned, prefer the low to the camp and often wish they were back. Some find the camp boring. I do not. I presume the same opportunities remain.

31. Minimum security.

It is very easy to serve time in a camp. Every day presents me with opportunities to strengthen my body, my mind, my spirit. My work assignment is not terribly difficult, and the dorm is quite comfortable. Truth be told I really like the men, and will miss many of them with my release. I have accomplished more in the camp than I did the prior 3 ½ years fighting my case.

32. Prior to release, what do prisoners generally say about their prospects for returning?

Most of the men talk of their plans upon release. Some seem far-fetched, some are unrealistic, and some plans are outright foolish. But none of the plans revolve around committing crime and returning to prison. Yet so many of us do.  I consider it my duty to ensure that I am prepared to beat the odds. That means I focus on tasks that are both realistic and attainable.

33. In what ways, if any, do those who never return to prison serve their sentences differently from those who do return to prison?

I am always thinking about the road ahead. Sure, there are days I am not in the mood to read, to write, to run. But those feelings wash away when I remind myself of the challenges that await me, that await all convicted felons. In Prisoners Come Home, a book by Joan Petersilia, I read that approximately 70% of felons remain unemployed one year after their release. I work as hard as I can to ensure I beat those odds, which will of course ensure I never return to prison.

34. What steps can a prisoner take to improve chances of success upon release?

A prisoner has many opportunities in a camp. The first step, I think, is accepting responsibility for our choices that led us to prison. That requires discipline and effort. Then they do more than talk about leaving prison stronger. Too many men in prison talk. They talk about what they will do tomorrow, next week, next month. But they never start. Reading for me was the first step. It helped me gain perspective on my predicament. And reading helped me prepare for the next step: writing. The steps must follow together, with consonance, not dissonance.

Sentence length is not a factor that is controlled from within prison, but adjustment inside prison may influence success upon release. For a better understanding of prison expectations, describe your thoughts on:

35. What length of time would you consider long-term imprisonment?

One year or more.

36. What expectations do those in society have for long-term prisoners?

Based on recidivism rates they expect us to resort to crime, to a life full of dishonor and deceit.

37. What expectations do you suppose long-term prisoners have for themselves?

I am not really sure. I know that none expect to return to prison. Some expect very little, and many are beaten down by a system that has dehumanized them. Part of the problem is so little is expected of us. It is hard, I am guessing, to suddenly flip the switch upon release. Hence it is essential the prisoner work while incarcerated.

38. What do prison administrators and staff members expect of long-term prisoners?

Not a lot. As long as we do our job, stand for count, and follow the rules they are happy.

39. How would you define a “model inmate”?

According to the staff a model inmate is someone that plays by all the rules.  I still struggle with this definition. I am not sure exactly.

40. How does Michael’s prison journey support or refute prison stereotypes?

Michael has proven that a prisoner can do anything. He has. When other men see him, hear what he has done, they are astonished. Many—myself too at first—do not believe what he has done or been through. Still he is not rewarded for his efforts. He remains locked up, despite accomplishments that warrant his freedom decades ago.

41. What role did the prison infrastructure play in influencing Michael’s journey through prison?

Whatever negatives they threw at him, he turned into a positive, as cliche as that sounds. They did not encourage him to excel, but just do his time, like the rest.

42. What vision governed Michael’s decisions as a prisoner?

He wanted to make his family proud, to prove that he can overcome anything with dignity and strength. It is the same formula that guides me through the indignities of imprisonment.

The Straight-A Guide includes seven attributes that he describes explicitly in the books Triumph!  And Success! What do the following attributes mean to you?

43. Attitude: What level of commitment do you make to preparing for success upon release?

My attitude is much different since surrendering to prison. My attitude now is positive, optimistic. Optimism flows because of my efforts to work hard every day.

44. Aspiration: Where do you see yourself at various checkpoints in the future?

I aspire to be the best speaker in the world on ethics and white-collar crime. I aspire to be a man of honor, of integrity. I aspire to become the man my parents groomed me to become.

45. What distinguishes an aspiration from a fantasy?

Fantasies come while we are sleeping and like a dream requires no basis in thought. Aspiration takes real work, every day, to become true. Their is no comparison.

46. Action: What steps are you taking toward aspiration?

I work all day, ever day to make my aspiration a reality.  I do not just talk, I act. And I fail often in reaching my goals, but at least I am trying; I am not afraid to fail, as I recognize that failing is a necessary component of success.

47. Accountability: How are you measuring progress?

I track my running and writing logs and compare them month over month. Without logs we will never really know if we are advancing closer to our goals.

48. Awareness: How knowledgeable are you about the atmospherics around you?

I am aware of my surroundings at all times. I know I am a prisoner; I understand that my life could be uprooted at anytime. I am aware of the challenges that await me. I am aware of the odds.

49. In what ways do you reach beyond the boundaries that currently confine you?

My blog helps me stay connected, and I write home frequently. I write to people from prison and ask them to support my work. I visit a lot as well.

50. What do you know about the challenges that will confront you upon release?

They will be significant and that is why I prepare. Times are tough, and I will not be able to have the same career because of my crime. I must work to prepare.

51. Achievement: When do you celebrate success?

I feel my achievements all day. I may finish a run, then stop to think about what I have been through, where I am going. I enjoy waking early and working while the dorm sleeps. Achieving things that others say is not possible inspires me to do more.

52. Appreciation: What role do others have in your success?

I appreciate the support from so many. Namely, my mom and dad. Succeeding will be easier with their love.

53. Where did those choices lead?

My bad choices began when I graduated USC. I suddenly got caught up with money, with thinking I was entitled to a certain life. Those choices led to pain and shame for those that love and support me.

54. What did you value then?

I valued money, women, how I was perceived by others, status, and laziness.

55. How would you guide your children if they were making choices in the same way?

I will urge my children to embrace the idea of individualism, while always being respectful of others. Their needs can come first, but they cannot violate the needs of others. Treat others as they would wish to be treated. And I will teach them to stand up for what they believe in—and teach them the difficulty of that challenge.  Like their father they will be self-reliant.

56. What would you do differently if you could?

I would have continued to practice good habits upon my graduating USC. Doing so would have prepared me to respond better to many of the dilemmas I faced as an executive.

57. Describe the differences in your life today from the first days of your confinement.

Well I am adjusted better and understand my surroundings. My routine is set and I know where to be at every second, and know what I should be doing. That is different from the beginning.

58.  How have your activities from last week led to your activities for this week?

I spent last week writing, reading, running; no different that the prior 50 weeks.

59. Identify the values by which you live.

I value courage, discipline, productiveness, health, and integrity—doing the right thing when it will cost you the most.

60. To what extent do your daily activities harmonize with the values by which you live?

Since surrendering to prison my values harmonize with my stated values.

61. How do your professed values relate to your perceived role in society?

Now they aall relate. In society, like I am in prison, I aim to honest, decent, and fair. Those are valuable values in society. They are like currency, and will help me excel.

62. Where does your allegiance lie?

My family.

63. Are values situational or absolute?

Absolute, unless there is some unique, crazy situation that forces me to choose.

Copyright 2019 The Michael G. Santos Foundation