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Michael Santos

Michael Santos

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Michelle Alexander authored a book that brought more awareness to the injustices of mass incarceration. In her book, The New Jim Crow, she wrote, “Strong coalitions are necessary to bring positive changes that topple injustice.”

After more than a quarter-century inside, I learned to appreciate the power of building coalitions. That strategy brought me strength, helped me build confidence, and helped me respond to some of the challenges of confinement. It’s also helped me to create business opportunities since my release.

Anyone can use the strategy of building coalitions. Building an alliance is like building a team. If we want to tackle or overcome a problem, we’ve got to think about all the people who can help us. We need the right people in the correct positions. If we’re responsible for architecting the coalition, we’ve got to create the tools to help our team members work toward the outcome we want.

For example, I’ll tell you the elaborate strategy I used to architect a transfer from a high-security US penitentiary to a medium-security correctional institution. I provide details in Earning Freedom, but this thumbnail sketch may give insight you can use to engineer a coalition to help you.

Early in my term, I set a goal of bringing mentors into my life. To launch that strategy, I thought about people that could teach me and help me build advocacy campaigns. People that worked in academia, I believed, might be more inclined to participate in my coalition. 

Bruce McPherson, a professor from Illinois, became one of the first mentors to come into my life. He visited me in the Atlanta prison a few times each year. We developed a friendship. I wrote each week to apprise Bruce of the work that I was doing to prepare for success upon release. He helped me immensely, and he came to trust in me.

After several years, I wanted to engineer a transfer from a high-security prison to a medium-security prison. I had to find a prison where I could make the most progress. I grew up in Seattle, but with so much time to serve, I wanted to transfer to a prison that would open the most opportunities to prepare for success.

After launching an elaborate campaign to learn about the best prison for me, I chose, McKean, Pennsylvania. Since the institution was outside of my region, a coalition to help me get the result I wanted. The incremental steps to build a coalition included:

  • Earning academic credentials,
  • Using those academic credentials to bring powerful coalition members onto my team,
  • Getting buy-in from the members of my coalition.,
  • Persuading a coalition member to coauthor an article with me for publication in a peer-reviewed journal,
  • Using that peer-reviewed journal article to influence the appropriate member in the Bureau of Prisons Central Office,
  • Getting the right coalition member to facilitate the transfer to the medium-security prison in Pennsylvania.
  • Getting the right coalition members to persuade the appropriate people in the Bureau of Prisons to authorize the transfer.

In Earning Freedom, readers can get the entire story. They will see how building a coalition from prison opened many opportunities I could leverage to create higher levels of success.

  • What steps have you taken to build a coalition of support?
  • Why would members of your coalition invest in your success?
  • In what ways would you describe why you’re a worthy candidate of more support?
  • How will your coalition of support help you overcome the collateral consequences of imprisonment?
  • In what ways will you contribute to your coalition of support?

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