Michael Santos – CLASS 1 – VALUES
by Site Admin
16. Who are you? :
My name is Michael G. Santos. I am married to Carole Santos and through my work I define myself. I strive to live as an example of what a man can become despite the adversity through which he may have to live. I am resourceful, always in pursuit of clearly-defined goals. The goals I pursue stay in harmony with the values by which I profess to live. Specifically, those value categories include the following; 1) discipline, 2) fitness, 3) godliness, 4) industriousness, 5) integrity, 6) marriage, and 7) network.
As I write this entry, on 27 February 2011, I am in my 24th consecutive year as a federal prisoner. I made some bad decisions when I was in my early 20s. I sold cocaine and that decision led to my being sentenced to serve a 45-year sentence. Since my imprisonment began, in 1987, I’ve worked consistently to redeem the bad decisions of my early 20s and to reconcile with society. It has been my aspiration to work toward earning freedom and the value categories by which I live keep me on track.
I am an author who writes about the prison experience. Through writing about what I’ve learned from others, what I’ve experienced, and what I’ve observed, I strive to help others understand America’s prison system, the people it holds, and strategies for growing through it in ways that bring strength. The work has led to the publication of several books and articles that connect me far beyond prison boundaries. Through those connections, I play a role in influencing change that may lead to improvements within this system.
In addition to authoring books, I am a man who lives deliberately, transparently, and with a deep commitment to discipline. Through my website at MichaelSantos.net, I document my journey through prison. Every day I write content with hopes of inspiring others to muster will from within and triumph over the obstacles that separate them from fulfillment, from meaning, from lives of happiness. I urge readers to hold me accountable, as I consider it my duty to work toward earning their support, to live my message. The message by which I choose to live is one of self-empowerment, one that shows a man can pick himself and live his highest potential.
Such a message requires daily commitment. Rather than promising an end, or a destination, it promises incremental progress, continuous advancement, relevance, and fulfillment through meaning. I am a man who lives this message.
17. Describe your background with regard to your education, vocation or career, troubles with the law?:
When I was 23, in 1987, DEA agents arrested me in Miami, Florida. After being extradited to Seattle, I stood trial for leading a continuing criminal enterprise. Despite my not having a history of weapons, violence, or incarceration, I received a 45-prison term after I was convicted. Ever since then, I’ve worked to build a record of accomplishments that might prove me worthy of earning freedom.
To pursue such a vision, I thought about what American citizens would expect from a man in prison. Those thoughts led me to conclude that as a prisoner I should work toward earning academic credentials; I should work toward demonstrating a commitment to leading a law-abiding life; I should work toward making contributions to societies inside prison boundaries and beyond; I should work toward building skills and resources that would help me transition into society as a productive citizen after an anticipated prolonged imprisonment of multiple decades.
Prior to prison I had been a poor student. Through a 100-percent commitment to emerge from prison with resources and opportunities to lead a fulfilling life, I became an excellent student. In 1992 Mercer University awarded me a Bachelor of Arts degree with honors. Then I pursued graduate school. In 1995, Hofstra University awarded me a Master of Arts degree. I completed coursework toward my doctorate at the University of Connecticut, but after my first term, prison administrators cited “security of the institution” as a reason to block me from completing my program that would have led to a Ph.D. degree. It concluded my formal education, or pursuit of academic credentials.
Although prison administrators blocked me from completing my doctorate degree, they could not block my commitment to educate myself. Through independent study and guidance from mentors, I worked toward developing writing skills, knowledge of business, understanding of technology, and my grasp of techniques for optimum personal performance. Those skills contribute to my readiness to emerge from prison strong, unscathed by the decades that I have served.
18. What are you going through now? :
I am completing my 8,602nd consecutive day in prison. My focus is sharp, with clarity about what I must accomplish during the remaining months or years that I have remaining to serve. I do not know exactly how much more time that I will remain in prison. Issues concerning parole and halfway house eligibility complicate the equation. Regardless of how much time I have remaining to serve, I am ready. The decisions I have made throughout the course of my imprisonment have given me confidence that I will navigate my way through any storms that are yet to come and I will do so successfully.
Describe your vision of the best you can become during the following time frames:
19. Time remaining to serve:
During the time that I have remaining to serve I will live in accordance with my seven value categories. With regard to discipline, I commit to waking every morning before 3:00 a.m. to begin my work. I will write content that I will rely upon as a tool that helps me show others what it takes to triumph over the obstacles wrought by confinement. I intend to complete all of the content for a course that I call The Straight-A Guide to Success. I will write daily content for my website at MichaelSantos.net. I will run an average of 65 miles every week, with a commitment to working toward that goal every day. I will continue to read at least one chapter of the Bible every day and to thank God for the many blessings that I receive. I will express my love to Carole every day and strive to live as the best husband that I can be, always with an aspiration of making her life better.
20. One month after release:
Preparations I have made through my first 24 years of imprisonment have given me confidence that I will transition smoothly into society during my first month. I have sufficient financial resources in savings to ensure that I can purchase the essentials to launch my career. Those essentials include clothes, technology equipment, a vehicle, and other items from which I’ve been separated throughout the long course of my imprisonment. I will spend that time bonding with Carole and reconnecting with family members from whom I’ve been isolated for years. I will evaluate income opportunities, meet with officials who will set the conditions of my release, and set a plan in place to guide me through the next year, the next three years, and the next five years.
21. One year after release:
Within one year of my release I expect that I will earn the trust of my probation officer. I will have achieved that objective by leading a transparent life. Together with my wife, I will sit with the probation officer so that I have a crystal clear understanding of what he expects from me. That first year will have been an assessment year for me, as if I am being hatched into the world after a quarter century in prison. I will have spent it working to familiarize myself with the Internet, making sense of how I can best prepare for my 60s, and making the most of career opportunities going forward.
22. Five years after release:
Assuming that relief does not come to me, I will be 54 years old when my obligation to the Bureau of Prisons comes to an end. By then I expect that Carole and I will own a home and enjoy financial stability that will allow us to enjoy and build upon our marriage. The work I will have done will provide us with multiple streams of income from ventures such as publishing, speaking, consulting, teaching, business, and investments. Carole will contribute through her nursing career, but to a lesser extent than she will have contributed during the first five years of my liberty.
23. How do those in society perceive people in prison? :
I have not been in society since 1987. At that time I was 23 and I did not give a lot of thought to people in prison. Since I didn’t know anyone in prison or who had been to prison, I don’t think that I gave any thought to prisoners. Although the prison system has grown into a beast that confines 2.3 million people, I suspect that others in society remain somewhat aloof to the prison population. To the extent that people in society to consider people in prison, they likely think of the stereotype. More specifically, they likely think of prisoners as being a lawless group, dangerous, without a sense of direction or belonging to the greater society. They likely think of prisoners as espousing criminal values, being deceitful and manipulative. In society’s view, prisoners may threaten the fabric of America. Such misperceptions feed this monstrosity that swallows $75 billion of taxpayer funds every year.
24. Describe how television programs and movies depict prisoners.:
Television programs and movies provide the prison stereotypes. They portray prisoners as tattooed toughs who prey upon the weak and scheme on ways to con or manipulate others upon release. The image of the prisoner is one of the loser, the man who is incapable of living in accordance with the principles of good conduct. Hollywood portrays the prisoner as an outlaw, a thug, a drug abuser or addict who cannot find order in life.
25. Compare and contrast your prison adjustment with the prison stereotype. :
26. In what ways is your adjustment similar?:
My adjustment is similar to the prisoner stereotype in that regardless of how hard I work, I must contend with prejudice every day. This system refuses to consider me for anything other than the bad decisions I made more than 24 years ago. As a man who serves a 45-year sentence, I live with dehumanization every day. Prison guards interfere with my ability to interact with family; they obstruct my efforts to prepare for a law-abiding life upon release; they deny that we share a common humanity, as their stated priority is to preserve the security of the institution. I am like the prisoner stereotype in that I live in an environment that extinguishes hope.
27. In what ways is your adjustment different? :
My adjustment differs from the prisoner stereotype in that despite the steel boot of corrections constantly pressing upon my neck, I thrive. While serving a lengthy prison term I have earned educational credentials and the knowledge I have gained has opened opportunities. Those opportunities have led to my building a strong support network, to my building a quasi-career, to my opening employment offers that await my release, and to my building a thriving marriage. Such accomplishments refute the prisoner stereotype of failure.
Describe what opportunities for personal growth and development exist in the following prison security levels:
28. High Security:
In high security penitentiaries, prisoners live with low self- esteem and few can perceive opportunities for personal growth in positive ways. Such environments escalate hostilities and tensions. They tend to be racial and tribal, with a heavy gang influence. Safety is a constant concern, as is the group-think mentality. Personal growth in such hostile environments as high-security penitentiaries requires high levels of discipline, focus, and awareness of the volatile atmospherics.
29. Medium Security:
Tensions can run just as high in medium-security prisons, where a contingent of gangsters is always conspiring to show their level of commitment to the gang. Staff members try to contain the rage with their efforts at micro-managing lives, but that only leads to higher levels of tension. Nevertheless, prisoners in medium- security may find pockets of space through which they can find opportunities to grow. An essential component of strategies to enhance opportunities for personal growth begins with minimizing threats to personal safety.
30. Low Security:
Whereas high-security penitentiaries and medium-security prisons hold many people who serve natural life sentences, low security prisons hold people with release dates that are scheduled within 20 years. Many of the prisoners inside low-security fences have release dates scheduled within a one-year timeframe, though all prisoners are scheduled for release within 20 years. It can still be a long time, but with higher numbers of people who can see their release dates, and others who have their eyes set on transfer to minimum-security camps, the level of volatility drops considerably in low-security. As such, opportunities for personal growth and development increase. Still, individuals must discipline themselves and make daily commitments to grow as individuals in measurable ways. They should not expect much in the way of encouragement from the prison system.
31. Minimum Security:
Minimum-security camps don’t have any more volatility than a corporate office park. Prisoners in camps all have their eyes set on release dates that are scheduled within 10 years. Despite the lack of threat to personal safety, those in minimum-security camps must contend with the same types of petty harassments and micro-management that exists in all federal prisons. Such has been my experience. Further, camps offer less in the way of vocational training than in high security prisons. Nevertheless, the self-directed prisoner will find ample opportunity to create strategies for personal growth and development.
32. Prior to release, what do prisoners generally say about their prospects for returning?:
No prisoners have ever told me that they expect to return to confinement after their release. On the contrary, many say that they will never return to prison. They don’t necessarily say that they won’t behave in ways that may return them to prison. Indeed, many foolishly say that they are going to try to do right, but if things don’t work out, a man is going to do what a man has got to do. It’s a refrain I’ve heard from scores of prisoners over the years. Those who never return to prison, I think, prepare themselves for success. They contemplate the challenges that they will face. With an understanding of the obstacles ahead, they put plans in motion that will ease their transition into society upon release. Ideally, they have a job waiting for them and they have a stable place to live. They create new support networks of law-abiding citizens who have vested interests in helping the man adjust upon release. The prisoner who is motivated to succeed upon release spends his time preparing in measurable ways and minimizes time wasted on complaining.
33. In what ways, if any, do those who never return to prison serve their sentences differently from those who do return to prison?:
34. What steps can a prisoner take to improve chances of success upon release? :
A prisoner who makes a commitment to succeed upon release leads a deliberate adjustment plan. That means he doesn’t so much focus on the calendar pages that turn as much as he focuses on what steps he can take each month to ensure he has the skills and resources in place upon release to ease his transition into society. Such a prisoner is not interested in earning meaningless certificates or with distinctions for being a model-inmate. The prisoner who commits to success upon release sets his sights on more valuable goals. He works every day toward advancing skills and credentials that lead to employment or income opportunities. He disciplines himself, always focusing on how to navigate through the day, the week, the month, and the years that lead to his release. To the extent that a prisoner commits to a disciplined and deliberate adjustment, carefully evaluating his every activity and interaction, he enhances his chances for success upon release.
35. What length of time would you consider long-term imprisonment? :
I would consider three years in prison to be a long-term. I say that because I know how a man’s life can change when he has three years or more to serve. His family and friends may move on, leaving him alone to contend with the misery that confinement can bring.
36. What expectations do those in society have for long-term prisoners? :
People in society may expect a prisoner to lack dependability and trustworthiness. The prisoner’s background may deprive him of receiving the benefit of doubt. It is the prisoner’s responsibility to anticipate perceptions of shiftlessness that he may encounter. Rather than expecting a fair shot, or a second chance, prisoners would serve themselves well to expect resistance and to prepare themselves to triumph in spite of the prejudice they are likely to encounter. Instead of waiting for a second chance, the prisoner should build a string of accomplishments that will show others the value that he can add.
37. What expectations do you suppose long-term prisoners have for themselves? :
I’ve served time with thousands of long-term prisoners. If I were to offer a blanket assessment or description of what I’ve heard others say, I would say that most have unrealistic expectations, or delusions. They fail to give proper consideration to the obstacles awaiting release. Those obstacles begin with the sad state of the economy. They continue with the paucity of job opportunities, the high cost of settling into a new routine and establishing oneself after confinement. Long-term prisoners express enthusiasm about the prospects for release, expecting that they will right themselves much sooner than atmospherics make possible. Rather than fantasizing about release from prison, long-term prisoners should focus on steps they can take to ease their transition and lessen the likelihood of returning to prison.
38. What do prison administrators and staff members expect of long-term prisoners? :
Long-term prisoners would serve themselves well to expect resistance and discouragement from the system of corrections. They may encounter pockets of support from some specific staff members who take an interest in the individual, but the culture of corrections breeds more contempt from prison staff than support. It is a culture of minimal trust, one that discourages staff members from being overtly supportive. Rather than focusing on creating an atmosphere that inspires personal growth and development, the culture in every prison where I have been held for the past 24 years has been one that extinguishes hope and values the so-called security of the institution over any human prisoner. Prison administrators and staff members, with few exceptions, expect long-term prisoners to lie, cheat, manipulate, malinger, scheme, conspire, sabotage, subvert, and disrupt. Despite such a malignant, dehumanizing environment that is toxic to personal growth and development, prisoners must grow and develop themselves anyway.
39. How would you define a “model inmate”?:
A model inmate is a cipher. He lives as a tool of the administration, equivalent to what was once disparaged as the house negro on slavery plantations. In many ways, our prison system of 2.3 million people represents the new American plantation and the model inmate is one who acts subserviently to the system. Rather than striving to prepare himself for the immense challenges that await his release, the model inmate is content to live in prison with as little disruption or challenge to the system as possible. He strives to participate in programs not for the purpose of learning or developing skills, but rather for the purpose of acquiring a certificate. He does his job, abides by all rules, shows deference to staff, enthusiastically participates in activities designed to keep the charade of corrections going. He confuses having a good attitude with preparing himself in meaningful ways for the challenges wrought by confinement.
40. How does Michael’s prison journey support or refute prison stereotypes?:
Michael’s journey both supports and refutes prison stereotypes. It supports the stereotype in showing that regardless of how hard a prisoner works, the system itself will never acknowledge openly or formally that he has been ‘corrected.’ Once a prisoner, as far as the system is concerned, the individual is always a prisoner. On the other hand, Michael’s prison journey shows the power of the individual, the will that any man can muster from within to redeem himself and make valuable contributions to the betterment of society, despite limitations and restrictions and dehumanization of the prison system. He refutes the prisoner stereotype in that he shows that even after more than 24 years in prison, a man can live with hope, educating himself and creating meaning through his work.
41. What role did the prison infrastructure play in influencing Michael’s journey through prison?:
I define the prison infrastructure as the mechanism of policies and procedures that governed my life through the years I’ve served in prisons of every security level. That infrastructure was more like a communistic system than anything else in America. It is a system where every man is equal, where every man serves the needs of the institution, where the institution provides for the individual in accordance with his needs. It is a system that provides a 400-pound man with the same ration of food as a 130-pound man. It is a system that dictates when a man can eat, or when he can use the bathroom. It is a system that rips away a man’s identity, replacing his name with a registration number. It assigns where the man sleeps, with whom he must share closely confined spaces, and deprives him of his right to privacy or personal property. It blocks his right to free speech and eliminates his right to assemble peacefully. Some may call such an infrastructure a gross violation of human rights, but it is the system under which all prisoners must live. Despite such limitations and restrictions that administrators tell us are for our own good, or to preserve the institution of corrections, prisoners must find ways to grow and develop. The infrastructure represented an exquisite design to block an individual from meaningful preparation for success upon release, but careful navigation and deliberate purpose enabled me to overcome such obstacles.
42. What vision governed Michael’s decisions as a prisoner?:
I began serving my lengthy sentence with a vision of emerging strong, with resources and opportunities to lead a meaningful, fulfilling life upon release. The sentence was too long for me to contemplate in its entirety. I was 23 when I began and I understood that many years would pass before I returned to society. Instead of contemplating the end, I focused on the first ten years. During that first decade I planned to educate myself. Then I would use skills I developed to forge new opportunities. Whenever release came, I envisioned myself walking out with dignity, confident that I could weather any more storms that were to come.
The Straight-A Guide includes seven attributes. What do the following attributes mean to you?:
43. Attitude: What level of commitment do you make to preparing for success upon release?:
I make a 100-percent commitment to preparing myself for a law-abiding, contributing life upon release. That commitment governs my every decision. It determines what time I sleep, what time I wake, and with whom I interact. My commitment to triumphing over the challenges I expect to encounter upon release is like an obsession, requiring daily assessment and personal evaluation.
44. Aspiration: Where do you see yourself at various checkpoints in the future?
Within two years from now, in the spring of 2013, I expect to walk out of federal prison. I will reside somewhere in the state of California with my wife, Carole. I will contribute to my family through earnings I generate as an author, publisher, speaker, teacher, consultant, and businessman. I will make contributions to society through the Michael G. Santos Foundation. The work I do every day distinguishes my aspiration from a fantasy.
45. What distinguishes an aspiration from a fantasy?:
46.Action: What steps are you taking toward aspiration?:
I wake every morning, seven days each week, before 3:00 a.m. to begin my work. I write manuscripts and articles that build upon my library content I will rely upon to launch my career. I exercise every day. I take measurable steps to nurture my marriage and sow seeds for the career that I expect will support our family. Every day I thank God repeatedly for my many blessings.
47.Accountability: How are you measuring progress?: What do you know about the challenges that will confront you upon release? :
I use clearly defined goals to keep me on track. Each of those goals harmonize with the value categories by which I profess to live. I record my daily progress through journals that I publish at MichaelSantos.net. Through such exercises I hold myself accountable and urge others to hold me accountable as well.
48. Awareness: How knowledgeable are you about the atmospherics around you?
I consider knowledge of the atmospherics around me an essential component of my preparations for release. I strive to move through prison as if I’m a submarine. I keep my periscope up so that I can understand the cross currents while I move stealthily below the surface toward my clearly-defined objectives. I reach beyond the boundaries that confine me through my writing. Every day I connect with hundreds or thousands of new people through my website and through the books I’ve written. In addition to those projects, I reach out through letters and telephone calls. By the time I return to society, I will have lived more of my life in prison than outside of prison. It will be as if I am being hatched into the world. I anticipate challenges on many levels, including how to use the Internet, or even computers. I will encounter challenges of obtaining a driver’s license, or a credit card. Nevertheless, I am well prepared to triumph over all obstacles.
49. In what ways do you reach beyond the boundaries that currently confine you?:
50. What do you know about the challenges that will confront you upon release?
51. Achievement: When do you celebrate success?:
I celebrate success several times every day. My schedule is very well defined. When I am at my desk and working before 3:00 a.m., I celebrate with gratitude to God. When the prison guards open the doors at 6:00 a.m. and put my morning work away, I celebrate the progress I made toward goals I set. When I return to the housing unit after between two and three hours of exercise and walk through a dorm where other prisoners sleep, I celebrate the advancement of my fitness routine. In the afternoon, when I continue toward my writing goals, I thank God for my inspiration as I lie down to rest each day after reading a chapter of the Bible and I pray for strength to carry me through another day. I celebrate my increasing knowledge that comes from reading the Bible.
52. Appreciation: What role do others have in your success?:
I am grateful to many mentors who have influenced my growth through the many years that I have served in prison. Every day I strive to prove worthy of the generous support and trust that so many have given to me. Most of those mentors have been people with whom I’ve opened new relationships since I began my term in prison. They are community leaders from all sectors of society. In addition to them, I owe a deep debt of gratitude to my family members, who have had to endure the humiliation of my imprisonment since 1987. I am especially indebted to my wife, Carole, who served many years of this term alongside me, managing my affairs and helping me to build a life despite the iron boot of corrections that has pressed upon my neck.
The Straight-A Guide measures an individual’s commitment to leading deliberate lives. As an exercise let’s reflect on the choices you made in the 9th grade, or at any other pivotal point.:
53. Where did those choices lead? :
I began making bad decisions during my high school years. I cannot blame anyone but myself, as I was drawn to a crowd of young men who lived by questionable values. Rather than impressing upon me the importance of college, or leading a disciplined life, instead I chose a faster life, one influenced by shows like Scarface or Miami Vice. They led me into the clutches of the criminal justice system, depriving me of all that others take for granted.
54. What did you value then? :
55. How would you guide your children if they were making choices in the same way? :
The bad choices I made during my early 20s have led to the reality that I will never have a child of my own. If had not surrendered a quarter century to the prison system, then I would have emphasized the importance of making values-based decisions upon my children. I would have urged them to lead lives of integrity, ensuring that harmony existed between everything they said, everything they thought, and everything they did.
56. What would you do differently if you could?:
If I could have a redo from the reckless days of my high school years, I would have made values-based decisions, invested myself more completely in my education, and worked harder to live a life of integrity. It is the lessons learned from the bad decisions of my early 20s that have guided me through multiple decades in federal prison. I will not allow reckless decisions to derail my life again.
57. Describe the differences in your life today from the first days of your confinement.:
I now have more than 8,600 days of imprisonment behind me. My life differs in remarkable ways from the day that I began serving my sentence, back on August 11, 1987. I was 23 then. Now I am 47. I have an undergraduate degree from Mercer University and a graduate degree from Hofstra University. I have authored more than a dozen books and I contribute daily to a website that helps me build upon my network of support. My network of support is extensive, including community leaders from all sectors of society. I am married to the love of my life, deeply committed to proving worthy of her love every day. Whereas I entered this prison system as a misdirected young man, I will emerge with confidence and my dignity intact, unscathed by the wretchedness of the prison system.
58. How have your activities from last week led to your activities for this week? :
According to my week-at-a-glance journal, I spent last week editing a manuscript that I expect to bring to market late in 2011 or early in 2012. That project freed me to focus on writing content that will help me introduce strategies for growing through confinement to other people. I wrote blogs every day last week; I ran 65 miles and did 2,000 pushups to advance toward my fitness goals for the year. Everything I did last week prepared me to make progress this week, just as what I am doing this week prepares me for the progress I will make next week.
59. Identify the values by which you live.:
I live by seven value categories that I articulated in my values and goals for the year. Those categories include: 1) discipline, 2) fitness, 3) godliness, 4) industriousness, 5) integrity, 6) marriage, and 7) network.
60. To what extent do your daily activities harmonize with the values by which you live?:
My daily activities harmonize completely with my professed values. The commitment is clear from the time my eyes open in the early morning, through my work ethic in all areas, through my discipline of living through every hour of the prison experience.
61. How do your professed values relate to your perceived role in society?:
My role in society will be to show others that regardless of· what adversity they face, values-based decisions can help them overcome. I will strive to document every aspect of my journey through a quarter century in prison, showing others that despite prolonged separation from society, an individual can create meaning in life through the way he responds, through incremental progress toward measurable goals.
62. Where does your allegiance lie?:
My allegiance is to my wife, Carole. All of my activities represent my commitment to proving worthy of the love she has given me through difficult circumstances. She inspires me to work harder, to muster strength that will help me triumph over the many obstacles that await me.
63. Are values situational or absolute?:
I live in accordance with the belief that values are absolute. As long as I live in accordance with the values that I declare as being integral to my life, I anticipate that I can find peace with the decisions that I make.