Prison Release to California:

As we approached the end of my term, we had to figure out where we wanted to live. When a man served longer than a quarter century, he didn’t really have roots anywhere. We chose California because I’d built a strong support network that would be easier to leverage from a large state. Further, California was a big market and the state had some significant problems with its prison system. Since we wanted to live in a place that offered the best opportunity, California seemed perfect. Besides the opportunity, I liked the weather.

I had another reason to choose California as the place where Carole and I would begin our life together. Toward the end of my sentence I met Justin Paperny, a former stockbroker who served a relatively brief sentence for violating securities laws. We became friends. Justin’s conviction meant that he would need to create a new career for himself upon release. At the time, in 2008, the nation’s economy was sinking. I used Socratic questioning to help Justin see the challenges that awaited him.

“How do you plan on earning a living when you get out?”
“How will the market respond to your conviction?”
“Why would a manager hire you when so many people without felony convictions are looking for employment?”
“In what ways could you turn your experience of going through the criminal justice system as a strength?”

Those questions helped Justin and I figure out a problem. Once we identified the problem, we could figure out solutions. Millions of formerly incarcerated individuals would face the same challenges that were about to complicate Justin’s life. Prison isn’t the only problem. We saw a massive problem with all that transpired after prison. People would need to transition into the job market. I suggested that Justin join efforts I’d been making to create programs and services that improve outcomes for the formerly incarcerated.

When Justin completed his prison term, he established a nonprofit that he named The Michael G. Santos Foundation. We wrote a plan, then began writing proposals for grants to fund our work. Those efforts led to us receiving a two-year grant from The California Wellness Foundation for $140,000. The foundation agreed to provide resources that would pay Justin a salary to manage the foundation, and pay me to write literature and programs we could use to teach strategies for overcoming struggle. Through our work, we anticipated that we could improve outcomes of our nation’s criminal justice system.

Had I not learned to ask the write types of questions early on during my prison journey, I would not have been able to figure out a plan to guide me through the decades. Without a plan, I wouldn’t have been able to educate myself or build credentials. And if I hadn’t earned credentials, I wouldn’t have been able to persuade The California Wellness Foundation to believe in the vision expressed through our grant requests. I’d need to continue that same strategy upon release.

Setting clear goals characterized my entire journey through prison. When I came to the end of my sentence, I knew I had to set goals that would ease my transition into society. At a minimum, I wanted:

  • Sufficient savings to sustain me for the first year of my transition into society.
  • A job waiting.
  • A clear plan to guide me through the first year.

I’m hopeful that readers in custody will see the relationship between decisions and success. Those who make principled, values-based, goal-oriented decisions have a far greater chance of success than those who simply allow the calendar pages to turn.

As a consequence of skills I developed during the first decade of imprisonment, I found ways to add value in society. Although prison rules prevented me from “running a business,” there were other rules that allowed me to write for publication. By understanding how the system operated, I could create strategies that I knew would ease my transition upon release. Executing that strategy every day allowed me to return to society strong. Carole and I had more than $85,000 in the bank on the day of my release. More importantly, we had a plan to guide our future.


Final Takeaways:

I’d like to say the I originated the patterns of success I wrote about in my books. In truth, I learned from masterminds. Lessons from masterminds empowered me through the journey and they can empower you. In writing my books, all I did was rewrite the importance of applying lessons from the world’s leaders. Even in the context of a prison experience, those lessons advanced prospects for success. Through those books, I showed the result of living in accordance with values-based, goal-oriented decisions.

The remainder of this book will show how you can do the same. Regardless of where you are today, regardless of what decisions you’ve made in the past, regardless of what conditions you’re living at present, you have the power within to begin sowing seeds for a brighter future. Remember that every decision comes with opportunity costs. To the extent that you adhere to a disciplined, deliberate, strategic path, you can build a life of significance, relevance, and meaning.

In moving forward, begin asking the types of Socratic questions that will lead to the future you want to create:

  • Who are your avatars?
  • What would they expect of you?
  • In what ways are the decisions you’re making today leading you closer to earning support tomorrow?

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