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 5 Reasons Why Proper Understanding of the First Step Act Can Get You Out Earlier 

Michael Santos

Michael Santos

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It’s hard to believe something that only weighed 6 oz. felt like 2 tons. The ankle monitor might as well be renamed the “Elephant in the Room Device” because it not only proverbially carries the weight of one, but also sparks conversations when seen by others. I am staring at my right leg in disbelief that it is finally off. I was fortunate to receive the benefits of the actions I took while I was incarcerated aided by the First Step Act (FSA). This important piece of legislation helped me get off house arrest and into supervised release 1 month earlier than anticipated.

  The First Step Act, a critical piece of bipartisan legislation, promised a path to an early return home for eligible incarcerated people who invested their time and energy in programs that reduce recidivism. The Department of Justice(DOJ) finally implemented this part of the program which entailed releasing hundreds of inmates from custody on January 13, 2022. The Act was actually introduced in 2018 and provided eligible inmates the opportunity to earn 10 to 15 days of time credits for every 30 days of successful participation in Evidence-Based Recidivism Reduction Programs and Productive Activities. The earned credits could be applied toward earlier placement in pre-release custody, such as RRCs and HC. In addition, at the Bureau of Prison (BOP) Director’s discretion, up to 12 months of credit can be applied toward Supervised Release. Inmates are eligible to earn Time Credits retroactively back to Dec. 21, 2018, subject to BOP’s determination of eligibility.

  My incarceration at Montgomery’s Maxwell AFB Federal Prison Camp was quite an eventful one. I was ordered to serve 36 months after undergoing trial and losing on 3 of 4 counts. Days after the verdict were filled with confusion on the process and my attorneys telling me that the sentencing hearing could go a long way in determining my fate. One thing they also mentioned was about how the First Step Act could really help me.  Although there is an abundance of content on the First Step Act and other prison reform legislation on the internet, I found the material confusing, conflicting, and inconsistent. My attorneys stated they did not spend much time understanding that process for their clients as their expertise mainly lied in the pretrial and sentencing phases. 

  I feel that there are 5 important factors to consider when understanding the FSA and how it can be applied to help mitigate your sentence. I only understood this after being part of the Prison Professors mitigation team and discussing my experience with others that have undergone similar circumstances. I truly believe that there are crucial steps one needs to make to take advantage of the FSA.  Those that prepare themselves properly and seek guidance from and understand the criminal system, will inevitably have an advantage. Remember, it is important to make the proper educated decisions in your pathway of freedom because you may only have one opportunity to increase your chances for success. Here is what you need to know:

  1. Have a proper sentencing narrative. You want the probation officer, prosecutor, and judge to see and appreciate you as an individual who gets the seriousness of the moment. That means an effective sentencing narrative will articulate remorse, show what you learned, and persuade the judge you will never break the law again. Writing an effective sentencing narrative requires a considerable amount of time, thought, and action. It’s important to seek advice from those that have written ones where the outcome was beneficial.
  1. Create a positive reputation and upside prior to reporting. There are many things you can do before you go in, while incarcerated, and immediately after release that can help get you back on your feet again. For instance, consider creating a personal narrative website, start a blog, journaling your experience, or consider what job opportunities you may be eligible for after you get out. Knowing what to do at the right time is instrumental in aiding early release and increasing chances for success post incarceration.
  1. Once you start your sentence, the staff counselor will be your single most important contact to the outside world. He or she will be the one to approve anything you may need to help a possible early release. This includes keeping track of your First Step Act class credits, monitoring your good time credit, and issuing halfway house time. Understanding the role of this individual is crucial in the process of putting yourself in the best position for the best outcome. 
  1. Knowing the laws and how the different  pieces of current legislation can help you is vital. It is important to understand what can work in your favor and what may not help you at all. It can be complicated and frustrating to tackle this on your own but understanding the process can go a long way in getting you out earlier. Unfortunately,  a lot of people while being incarcerated end up listening to jailhouse lawyers and conspiracy theorists and end up not helping their situation. Understanding prior to going can help you focus, plan, and strategize your early release. Why not talk to people prior to going in that know the system instead of listening to those that are on the inside who may just be creating false narratives.
  1. Finally, the number one piece of advice that I can give that can be implemented day one of your incarceration…seek out and take as many courses and educational classes you possibly can. Not only will this make you a better person and help you pass time, but you begin to earn credits towards days off your sentence. It is crucial that you start exploring this as soon as possible because of staff shortages, inmate population, and high demand; you can bet everyone will be biting at the chomp to take classes as soon as possible. It’s important to have a plan and talk to those that have been previously incarcerated who have the knowledge of what camps have what being offered. This goes hand-in-hand of knowing what jobs are available to you at the camp as well. Certain jobs carry more weight than others and go towards credit for time off.  

  At Montgomery FPC, the common saying among staff was, “Take as many classes as you want, but don’t expect much credit and time off your sentence”. Although classes were accessible, they certainly weren’t encouraged. Nonetheless, the inmates kept abreast of all the news that was being disseminated by the BOP and everyone was taking advantage of whatever credits they could obtain in the hope that it would eventually result in time off their sentence. Thankfully, I put myself in that position and was finally able to see the fruits of my labor pay off. 

All the things mentioned above need to be understood and discussed with those that know every stage of the criminal justice system. Prison Professors, an Earning Freedom company, works alongside (not in place of) civil and criminal defense counsel to help clients proactively navigate through investigations and prosecutions. Our team also helps clients prepare mitigation and compliance strategies as those mentioned above.

If you have any questions or are uncertain about any of the issues discussed in this post, schedule a call with our risk mitigation team to receive additional guidance. Our team has proven measured metrics to seek the best possible outcome. 

Signed,

A Friend of Prison Professors

Prison Professors, an Earning Freedom company, works alongside (not in place of) civil and criminal defense counsel to help clients proactively navigate through investigations and prosecutions. Our team also helps clients prepare mitigation and compliance strategies.

If you have any questions or are uncertain about any of the issues discussed in this post, schedule a call with our risk mitigation team to receive additional guidance.

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