DIY Self-Advocacy Workshop 

Do-it-Yourself Self-Advocacy Workshop: To help more people facing challenges with the criminal justice system, we’ve developed a do-it-yourself workshop. The workshop assists people who want to help themselves through the challenging times ahead. We’re happy to offer this lower-cost alternative to the more personal services that our mitigation experts offer.

In this era of the First Step Act and the CARES Act, it’s more important than ever for people to engineer self-advocacy initiatives. This workshop offers ongoing support for people while they work toward the earliest possible release date. Simultaneously, the project generates resources to build our nonprofit, the Prison Professors Charitable Corporation. Through the nonprofit, we continue to gather information that helps all justice-impacted people get a better outcome. For example, you may want to review our interviews with subject matter experts, including:

To start, let me introduce myself as your primary instructor. My name is Michael Santos. Please feel free to skip the background section below if you’re familiar with my journey. I offer the backstory for those who may want some information about the instructor.

Background on Instructor:

My name is Michael Santos, and I am the founder of Earning Freedom and the Prison Professors nonprofit. My partner is Justin Paperny. You may be familiar with Justin through our other platform, White Collar Advice, where he has a significant presence. Since 2008, when we met inside the Taft federal prison camp, Justin and I have collaborated.

For context, you should know that I made terrible decisions as a young man that led me to federal prison in 1987 when I was 23. I served the next 26 years as federal prisoner number 16377-004. During those 9,500 days, I served time in every security level.

Members receive a paperback copy of Earning Freedom: Conquering a 45-Year Sentence and Prison: My 8,344th Day. Earning Freedom tells the story of what I learned from my 9,500-day journey and the importance of self-advocacy. The book is a roadmap for laying out a plan to maintain discipline and energy while climbing through a lengthy journey. Prison, the story of a single day, describes a detailed examination in the importance of daily self-advocacy. We send additional content through Corrlinks messages to help participants “stay the course” on the path of self-advocacy.

I would never ask anyone to do anything that I didn’t do.

Michael Santos

What Happens After Sentencing?

By beginning a self-advocacy strategy early, a person can begin to restore confidence, building a record that will lead to a better outcome. After sentencing, the person may not have the advantage of an attorney. For that reason, a person should learn steps he or she can take to work toward a transition to society at the soonest possible time.

When federal judges impose sentences, they order the person into the custody of the Attorney General. The Attorney General tasks the staff members in the Bureau of Prisons to carry out the sentence. Toward the end of the sentence, staff members may transition the person to a Residential Reentry Center (RRC), also known as a halfway house. Before the First Step Act, few mechanisms existed for a person to work toward advancing a release date.

On April 9, 2008, President George Bush signed the Second Chance Act. That law authorized the Bureau of Prisons to transition a person from federal prison to a halfway house for up to 12 months. Of those 12 months, a person could serve up to six months, or the final 10% of the sentence, on home confinement. 

An example may bring more clarity to that rule. Consider the length of sentence for two people:

Person serving a 30-month sentencePerson serving a 120-month sentence
Sentence length: 30 months Good time credit: 4.5 months (15 percent) Time in the BOP: 25.5 months Eligible time in halfway house: 12 months Eligible time on home confinement: 3 months (10 percent of the sentence, because it’s less than six months)Sentence length: 120 months Good time credit: 18 months (15 percent) Time in the BOP: 102 months Eligible time in halfway house: 12 months Eligible time on home confinement: 6 months (maximum amount under the Second Chance)

Ultimately, each warden could decide how much RRC time to award within the framework of the Second Chance Act.

The First Step Act and Compassionate Release:

The First Step Act passed in 2018. It opened more opportunities for people in federal prison to advocate for an earlier release. Besides earning credit for participating in learning programs, a person could petition for compassionate release under the First Step Act.

Before the First Step Act became law, requesting compassionate release or leniency was practically impossible. First, a person had to persuade the BOP to file a motion with a sentencing court, asking a judge to grant compassionate release. If the BOP refused to file the motion, a judge would not have jurisdiction to grant relief. Despite thousands of worthy candidates, the BOP filed few motions. Clearly, despite having the power to grant mercy, the BOP would rarely act on its own accord to support a request for compassionate release.

With the First Step Act, a person did not need the Bureau of Prisons to file a motion for compassionate release. If a person went through the appropriate process of requesting administrative remedy, the person could file a motion with the sentencing court, and a federal judge could grant a compassionate release.

The CARES Act:

During the Pandemic, President Trump signed the CARES Act, with vast implications for people in federal prison. People serving federal sentences had a new opportunity to transition to home confinement. The CARES Act authorized the Bureau of Prisons to transition people to home confinement much sooner than before. Typically, if the person’s sentence was less than 18 months, the BOP would consider the person for home confinement after the person served 25% of the sentence; if the sentence exceeded 18 months, the person would qualify after he served 50% of the sentence.

To transition to home confinement under the CARES Act, a person had to qualify. The person could not have a history of violence, and the person should have a good record in prison to show an extraordinary and compelling adjustment.

The BOP released a set of Memorandums to guide prison officials.

Since the Bureau of Prisons released the Memorandum, thousands of people transitioned from prison to home confinement. They remained accountable to the Bureau of Prisons until the end of their sentences. Yet those people were at home with their families. People serving sentences on home confinement had significantly higher levels of liberty than if they remained in prison. While on home confinement, the people could:

  • Work and earn a living,
  • Have a modicum of freedom for recreation,
  • Attend classes and prepare for higher levels of success.

Despite the danger of COVID, and authority under the CARES Act, the BOP did not authorize all eligible people to transfer to home confinement. If the BOP did not transfer a person to home confinement, the person would have to work through administrative remedy process, showing why he or she was a worthy candidate. People in prison must become masters of self-advocacy.

Our DIY Self-Advocacy Workshop offers ongoing insight and guidance for people to launch an initiative that could advance a person’s candidacy for transfer to home confinement, compassionate release, and other ways to improve outcomes during a journey through the Bureau of Prisons. 

What do participants get from the DIY Workshop:

  • A self-directed course that teaches participants how to prepare an administrative remedy package to start a request for home confinement, or overcome other challenges that come while serving time in prison.
  • A self-directed course that teaches participants how to prepare a request for the sentencing judge to consider a self-directed request for compassionate release.
  • Ongoing tutorials we send to the participant in prison twice each month.
  • Access to our [email protected] newsletter, which we send to members of our community in prison.
  • Data from our ongoing research apprise participants of what works for people who self-advocate well.
  • Access to our weekly group video calls, where participants and their advocates can learn from our daily research.
  • Sample administrative remedy forms and supporting documentation.
  • Copies of the following softcover books:
    • Earning Freedom: Conquering a 45-Year Prison Term
    • Prison! My 8,344th Day
    • Success After Prison: How to Build a Career After Release

We contribute 100% of the revenues from this project to support our nonprofit enterprise, the Prison Professors Charitable Corporation. You may learn more about the mission of our nonprofit through this link:

If this project makes sense, our team will help you enroll. We recommend that all participants join the weekly group calls for our community.

With hopes of proving worthy of the trust participants place in us, our team will work hard to help participants self-advocate effectively through the prison journey.

Sincerely,

Michael Santos

PS. If you’d like to get more information on our Do-it-Yourself Self-Advocacy Workshop, please connect with our partner, Sam Mangel. He can help you understand how self-advocacy strategies led to his early release from a 60-month sentence. You can call or text sam at 561-490-4544.