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 Best In Class Reentry Systems: Federal Correctional Complex in Florence, Colorado 

Picture of Michael Santos

Michael Santos

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Federal Correctional Complex in Florence, Colorado

Reentry is a clinical term practitioners use to describe a transition back into society after a term in prison.

My name is Michael Santos and I started a 26-year journey through federal prison in August of 1987. The Bureau of Prisons released me in August of 2013.

In August of 2018, my wife and I will celebrate five years of liberty. The bullet-points below identify highlights I would cite as evidence of a successful reentry—at least during my first five years since my release from federal prison:

• Teaching for a year as an adjunct professor at San Francisco State University
• Successfully completed more than $9 million in real estate transactions
• Building an investment portfolio that now exceeds $5 million in assets
• Creating digital curriculums that leaders in corrections use to inspire and educate more than 100,000 people in prisons across America
• Building a strong network of professional mentors, friends, partners, and clients

I list the accomplishments above for one reason: I want people to know that regardless of where a person is on the journey, a person can start making decisions that will lead to better outcomes.

Preparing for Reentry
I made bad decisions in my youth. I fell into patterns of behavior that led me into selling cocaine when I was 20. When I was 23, authorities locked me in prison, where I would remain for 9,500 days. While in prisons of every security level, I prepared. I prepared for a life of meaning, relevance, and dignity. Those preparations led to university degrees, publishing books, and developing a mindset of absolute ownership and responsibility.

Leaders like Socrates and Mandela taught me to accept that I was responsible for the bad decisions that led me to prison. I had to own those decisions.

Likewise, I accepted that I alone would be responsible for my reentry. If I made good decisions in prison, I anticipated that I would have a good reentry. If I made bad decisions in prison, I would face continuing cycles of struggle.

On Wednesday, July 25, 2018, I had an opportunity to visit the Federal Correctional Complex in Florence, Colorado, to share the story. It’s the story of how decisions in prison lead to prospects for success outside of prison. During the 60 months that have passed since I concluded my sentence, I’ve shared my story in more than 20 different prison settings. Speaking to men in the Bureau of Prisons is always a highlight for me. But more than anywhere else, I appreciated the opportunity to speak in each of the four prisons in at the Federal Correctional Complex in Florence.

Federal Correctional Complex in Florence, Colorado: FCC Florence:

The Federal Correctional Complex in Florence has four separate prisons. It’s most famous for the Administrative Maximum Unit, also known as the Super Max, or ADX. The ADX confines people that the Bureau of Prisons considers to be the most challenging to confine. Those people may have histories of violence, predatory behavior, disruptive tendencies, or volatility that can threaten any institution. Journalists from around the world have written about the highly restrictive environment, and mental-health professionals study the influences the ADX has on people.

Besides the ADX, FCC Florence is also home to a United States Penitentiary for high-security inmates, a medium-security prison, and a minimum-security camp.

Our team creates and sells products and services to improve outcomes of the criminal justice system. We’re grateful that leaders like Warden Andre Matevousian, who presides over the ADX and all prisons at FCC Florence, recognize that we can contribute to community safety. It’s been a long journey to receive purchase orders from such leaders.

Contracting with The Bureau of Prisons, or any large government agency, requires considerable amounts of preparation. To obtain such purchase orders, our team must go through a lengthy process.

For me, the process began many decades ago. Below I offer a chronology of how decisions made while growing through 26 years in prison led to more than $1 million worth of purchase orders that government agencies and other groups have invested with our team. They perceive us as partners in an effot to improve outcomes of the criminal justice system with successful reentry systems:

1. I made a decision to lead a values-based, goal-oriented adjustment while serving 26 years in prison.
2. I documented a series of accomplishments while in prison that included earning university degrees, publishing books, and building a strong support network of mentors and professionals.
3. I leveraged the resources I built in prison to raise capital upon release.
4. I used that capital to build assets that would grow in value.
5. I built a personal brand and several professional brands around that messaging of preparing for success after struggle.
6. I used those brands to open relationships with more business professionals and government leaders.
7. I created digital products that would allow our team to inspire and educate people in struggle, helping them expand their mindset and embrace the concept of personal responsibility.
8. I registered our company with the appropriate agencies that would allow us to contract with the federal government.

By being 100% authentic, and completely transparent, more opportunities opened. When Warden Matevousian, who presides over one of the most secure federal prison in the nation called to order our products, I felt grateful for another opportunity to contribute to the lives of people in prison.

Federal Correctional Complex in Florence, Colorado: Visiting the ADX:

I arrived at the ADX at 8:00 am, on Wednesday, July 25 to begin my day of preparations. Warden Matevousian greeted me in the lobby. With the Complex Warden as my personal escort, I didn’t have any challenge getting in—or getting out! I simply provided my driver’s license, walked through a metal detector, and we were inside the nation’s most secure prison. We walked to his office for a preliminary discussion about ways that he perceived our team could provide value. Then we walked into one of the programming areas of the ADX.

I have a history of working with Warden Matevousian, as he was one of the first federal officials to purchase digital products I created. At the United States Penitentiary in Atwater, I made presentations for an audience of more than 200 people with high-security classifications. Hundreds of people in the penitentiary earned certificates from the program that I created. Warden Matevousian told me that those men raved about the program, saying it was the most valuable program in the institution.

Good programming leads to better decision making.
Better decision making leads to more community safety.
More community safety reflects a successful outcome of the criminal justice system.
We can measure better outcomes by the following metrics:

• Fewer incidence of violence
• More participation in educational programming
• Better planning for success upon release

Since professionals in the Bureau of Prisons deemed the men in the ADX as being the most challenging, I looked forward to introducing our Mastermind Straight-A Guide program to people confined there. I felt absolutely confident that our program could contribute to a shift in mindset from people who lived without hope. Our YouTube channel, at Prison Professors, reveals the type of content that we provide.

People in prison respond to the content for one reason: It’s 100% authentic. Through the video files, the audio files, and the PDF lessons, I show that I never ask anyone to do anything that I did not do while I was in prison and that I’m not still doing today. More importantly, the participants can see the results that follow. They see positive outcomes that flow from leading a values-based, goal-oriented adjustment in prison.

By shifting the mindset of people in prison, we show the benefits of earning freedom. We help people in prison see how to build a path to liberty, restore confidence, and live a life filled with meaning and relevance, even while they’re in prison.

This isn’t to imply that the men could not receive a similar message elsewhere. They could. I received this message from many leaders. Those leaders include Socrates, Mandela, Frankl, and others. The messaging from our programming, however, is different. Our programs shows how to apply that mindfulness in a modern prison setting.

The FCC Florence Presentations:

Warden Matevousian told me that he took control of the Federal Correctional Complex in Florence earlier in 2018, only a few months ago. Despite being in control for only 90 days, he introduced a new emphasis in programming. By retaining our firm, Prison Professors, to bring me in as a contract trainer, and our products in as a resource to both inspire and educate people in prison, he shows the same type of leadership that we see in top-performing companies.

Warden Matevousian invests in people and he wants best outcomes.

The Setting at ADX:

The team at ADX converted an industrial section of the penitentiary into a classroom. I walked into the room and saw concrete walls without windows. In the center of the room, five steel cages were bolted to the floor. The cages were about the size of telephone booths that we used to see on city street corners before the proliferation of cell phones. Each steel-mesh cage held a single prisoner.

I stood in front of the five men who gave me their full attention. I spoke openly about my journey. During the 75-minute presentation, I spoke about the importance of mindfulness. I revealed what I learned from leaders and how lessons from those leaders influenced my decisions. Rather than focusing on the outcome that I wanted, I explained how I trained my mind to focus on the best possible outcome. That shift in thinking influenced my journey, and I felt confident that a shift in thinking could influence their journey, too. Although nothing could change the past, we all could work toward a better future.

I had an opportunity to speak one-on-one with the five men who were in attendance. They were men who wielded immense power over prison gangs across the United States. Tommy Silverstein, founder and leader of the Aryan Brotherhood, was one of the men. He told me that he wished he had received the message I was delivering 50 years ago.

I asked Tommy for his help. Too many young prisoners came into the prison system with the wrong mindset, wanting to join gangs. Tommy could help to communicate a positive message, revealing why he wished that he had heard the message earlier in his prison journey.

There were people in prison that our team would never be able to reach. Yet those men in the ADX carried influence with many new prisoners who mistakenly wanted to make a name for themselves in prison. I asked those men in the ADX to embrace the concept of making values-based, goal-oriented decisions. Then they could use their influence for good, taking strides to reconcile with society.

Speaking with those men was one of the highlights of my career. I would like to have spoken with everyone confined in the ADX, but security concerns would not allow all of the men to be out of their cells. To overcome the hurdle, staff members set up a video camera and they recorded the entire presentation that I made in front of the five leaders from the ADX. They’re broadcasting our Prison Professors’ message throughout the ADX now. We’re making a difference in shifting mindsets.

Following my presentation to the prisoners, I spoke with dozens of staff members who attended. They included mental health professionals, lawyers, reentry coordinators, and educators. Our team felt grateful for an opportunity to contribute, I explained, and we were committed to offering more content that would help them engage people in prison with a positive message of preparing for reentry.

From the ADX, I went to make the same type of presentation to men at the United States Penitentiary, altering the message slightly to fit the scenario. Some of those people had previously been confined at the ADX. Through positive programming and the avoidance of disciplinary misconduct, they transferred to the more open high-security penitentiary setting.

After my presentation at the USP, Warden Matevousian and I went to the Federal Correctional Institution, a medium-security prison. He introduced me to Warden Goetz and I ate lunch with the two wardens in the staff dining room. Then I made a presentation to a crowd of about 200 people who were serving time in the FCI.

Finally, we went to the minimum-security camp in Florence. The camp is relatively small, but since I served about 18 months of my sentence at that minimum-security camp in Florence, I knew it well. For this group, I offered concrete steps they could begin taking to sow seeds for higher levels of liberty upon release. I offered insight on steps they could take today to overcome obstacles that complicate life for so many others who return to society after prison.

At Prison Professors, we appreciate every opportunity to communicate our positive message to people in prison. The decisions we make today put us the pathway to success. We’re looking forward to expanding our relationship with leadership at the Bureau of Prisons, and to leaders of prison systems across America.

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