With a driver’s license, a job, and a paycheck, I had to begin building a banking relationship. After I received my first paycheck, I went to Bank of America and opened an account. Charles had told me that I could not apply for credit until after I completed my obligation to the Bureau of Prisons. So I opened a checking account and a savings account.
Just to check, I authorized the banker to run a credit report on me. We learned that I had a 0-0-0 credit score. He asked how a person of my age could proceed through life without accumulating a credit score—good or bad. The banker listened with interest as I told him that I’d just concluded 25 years in custody and that I was living in a halfway house. That conversation opened another opportunity for me to tell the story of my journey, another opportunity for me to influence a potential source of support.
Many people emerge from prison and try to hide their past. I don’t make a judgment on how much information an individual should reveal. In my case, I’ve found that total transparency always served me best. By being completely honest about my past, I’ve always found that people were willing to listen. As a consequence of the record that I built while I was inside, even bankers were willing to welcome me home and encourage me. When I was ready to apply for credit, he assured me that Bank of America would be ready to help.
Over the next several weeks, many of the seeds that I’d planted while I was incarcerated began to bear fruit. As mentioned in my other books, I wrote articles every day while I was incarcerated. All of those articles adhered to a theme that somehow related to the prison system or overcoming struggle. They helped me build interest, or a brand. I became somewhat of a subject-matter authority. As a strategy to broaden awareness of my work, I asked my wife to publish those articles on MichaelSantos.com or on other social media websites that she maintained on my behalf.
While in the halfway house, I received an email from Vlae Kershner, a news director at the San Francisco Chronicle. Vlae told me that he had been following my work for years and asked whether I’d be interested in the newspaper writing a profile about my return to society after a quarter century in prison. That conversation led to an interview and a front-page story in one of the most highly visible newspapers in the world. The San Francisco newspaper published the article on Thanksgiving weekend, about 100 days after I transitioned to the halfway house in 2012.
The article didn’t only focus on my crime or the decades I served in prison. It focused on efforts I was making to build a career around my journey. The article brought publicity that validated my work. A person couldn’t buy that type of coverage, and I intended to leverage the article in ways that would open new opportunities. As a consequence of the newspaper story, people would judge me for the way that I responded to my lengthy prison sentence rather than for the bad decisions I began making when I was 20.
Those who choose to live transparently, authentically, may find that this strategy would advance their prospects for success, too. People are more receptive to extending “second chances” or opportunities to people who acknowledge their past bad decisions, express remorse, and show that they’re determined to work toward redemption.