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Michael Santos

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I’ll paraphrase Jonas Salk: “I look upon ourselves as partners. Each of us contributes and does what he can do best. I don’t see a top and bottom rung—I see all horizontally—part of a matrix. Every human being has a purpose, a destiny. We all find ways and means to provide opportunities for everyone.

Being oppressed, beaten, or forgotten challenges us to find ways to create meaning. Leaders taught me that a person could grow stronger by contributing to the lives of others. That’s how we strengthen ourselves.

Like anyone else going through challenging times, I wanted to transcend my struggles. I couldn’t do anything about my bad decisions as a younger man. They led authorities to charge me with federal crimes and to a judge sentencing me to 45 years. Somehow, I had to find a way to stay disciplined and motivated while climbing through that term.

Thousands of people around me went through the same challenges. And people in the broader community also struggled. To empower myself, I could work toward solving problems that afflicted every person in society. 

That work gave me a reason to start working early in the morning. Contributing to the lives of others—or at least participating in activities that led me to believe I made a positive contribution—helped me build self-esteem and self-respect. Those activities led to more confidence, making me less like a prisoner and more like a fully-functioning man. 

The efforts wouldn’t get me out of prison any sooner. Yet the investment of time toward something more significant than my life gave me hope. 

Rather than merely “serving time,” I felt as if I were a part of something more. I believed the thousands of hours I devoted to personal development would open new opportunities. Those new opportunities brought meaning to an atmosphere of despair.

The more I read about leaders, the more convinced I became that a strategy of “contributing” could help me overcome the indignities of imprisonment. As with any project, I had to take incremental steps. By advancing in small ways, opportunities would open for contributions of more considerable proportions. 

Even though the prison confined me, I could sow seeds early to become part of the fabric of society.

Reading Plato’s Republic and A Treasury of Philosophy opened my eyes to the power of contribution. Those books, and other stories on leadership, helped me to see the power of societal contributions. They can help a person suppress the pains of external forces like a lengthy prison term or discouragement from others. 

As Mahatma Gandhi wrote, I could work toward becoming the change I wanted to see in the world through contributions. That concept helped me grow stronger, influencing my adjustment.

Not all people learn how contributing leads to personal empowerment. The herd mentality influences them, putting people on a pathway of hate and negativity. 

Nothing positive comes from hatred. 

Although my adjustment didn’t lead to my getting out of prison one day sooner, the adjustment pattern helped me feel productive, opening opportunities through the decades I served and even more when I returned to society. 

I can easily connect the dots and see how a hopeful adjustment contributed. 

  • By being proactive, I persuaded universities to let me work toward earning academic credentials. 
  • Studying at a university opened opportunities for me to connect with mentors. 
  • Those mentors introduced me to publishing opportunities. 
  • With publishing opportunities, I built a more robust support network. People began to see me as a contributing member of society—even while I served a 45-year sentence. 
  • As a result, income opportunities opened. 
  • I found Carole and married her in a visiting room. 
  • When I got out, my career flourished, opening new income streams. 

Our course participants can empower themselves by contributing to their communities. Those contributions build self-esteem and restore confidence. When we find ways to help others, we simultaneously help ourselves.

  • How would contributing to the lives of others influence your mindset?
  • What opportunities open through hatred?
  • What opportunities open through kindness?
  • How do external factors influence our ability to contribute to the lives of others?
  • How would building partnerships with others influence your prospects for success upon release?

Word of the day: oppress / Define oppress:

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