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 Our Ecosystem 

Picture of Michael Santos

Michael Santos

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Mass Incarceration:

The Problem

Over the past decade, scholars and journalists have brought more attention to mass incarceration. Our team at Earning Freedom believes that mass incarceration represents one of the greatest social injustices of our time. Below we offer some easily sourced statistics:

  • The US contains 5% of the world population.
  • Of all people incarcerated in the world, 25% of the population serve time in American jails and prison.
  • Since the 1970s our prison population has grown by more than 500%.
  • The vast majority of people that populate our nation’s jails and prisons come from at-risk backgrounds, or they endured collateral consequences of institutional racism.
  • Annual spending to support American jails and prisons approximates $100 billion.
  • The longer we expose a person to corrections, statistics show that the person becomes less likely to emerge as a law-abiding, contributing citizen.
  • Generally accepted definitions of recidivism show that recidivism rates exceed 60%.
  • Although people from minority ethnic or racial groups make up the largest level of prison populations, two of the fastest-growing segments of America’s prison population include non-criminogenic people convicted of white-collar crimes and women.

About Earning Freedom

Earning Freedom, a California corporation, operates a series of entities to help improve outcomes of America’s criminal justice system—and to keep people from going into the system at all. Our current entities include:

  • Prison Professors Charitable Corporation
    • Through our registered nonprofit, we create digital courses and books to teach and inspire people in prison. We show those people how decisions they make while serving sentences influence prospects for their success upon release.
    • We also create income opportunities for people that transition from prison or jail into society. Those jobs include: Writing / Editing / Graphic Design / Social Media / Marketing / Sales
  • Prison Professors
    • Through the Prison Professors website and its associated social media channels, we offer digital content to help people prepare at various stages of the journey. People learn:
      • How to prepare mitigation strategies before sentencing.
      • How to self-advocate and prepare for success while serving a sentence.
      • How to recalibrate and rebuild upon release.
  • Compliance Mitigation
    • Through the Compliance Mitigation website and its associated social media channels, we create training programs and messaging systems to protect business owners from the catastrophe that can lead to government investigations or prosecutions for white-collar crime.

Impact Metrics

  • People that access Earning Freedom products and services: 150,000+
  • Prisons and jails that use our digital products: 100+
  • Wages paid to formerly incarcerated people: $500,000+

Theory of Change

Without direction, hope, or inspiration, many people make bad decisions while passing through various stages of the criminal justice system.

We believe that people welcome opportunities to learn from others that emerged successfully after having gone through the criminal justice system. Through our various programs, we’ve created an ecosystem that allows Earning Freedom entities to:

  • Create self-directed learning programs for people in jails and prisons.
  • Offer income opportunities for formerly incarcerated people that develop skills in:
  • Writing
    • Editing
    • Graphic Design
    • Marketing
    • Sales
    • Training / Teaching
    • Social Media
  • Provide paying internships for university students that assist our efforts to improve outcomes for people that go through the criminal justice system.
  • Provide training resources to help people make decisions that lessen their exposure to government investigations or charges for criminal behavior.

We’re Making a Difference!

Our programs serve more than 100,000 people each year, and they focus on four pillars:


  • We convey a message that it’s never too early, and never too late to begin developing new skills
  • GOAL: We produce new digital content every day to teach people how today’s decisions influence prospects for success in weeks, months, years, and decades ahead.


  • We show people how to develop skills in prison, and how to document a pathway to succeed. These tactics assist people in becoming better self-advocates and prepare them for careers upon release.
  • GOAL: We offer work-from-home employment opportunities for formerly incarcerated people that can demonstrate professional communication skills.


  • We broadcast to administrators and leaders in jails and prisons, offering cost-effective programs that lead to safer institutions and communities. Our curriculum and programs help people pursue self-directed pathways to success.
  • GOAL: To build transactional relationships with more administrators of jails, prisons, and schools. Through collaboration, we can offer content to improve outcomes for people that experience our nation’s criminal justice system.


  • We create work-from-home opportunities for people that have developed effective communication skills. If they’ve prepared themselves well, formerly incarcerated people can earn an income working with our team.
  • GOAL: We’re striving to open more transactional relationships with business owners, allowing us to open more paid positions for formerly incarcerated people who have developed appropriate skills.

Mission Statement

We teach people how to recalibrate and rebuild lives of meaning and contribution, as law-abiding, contributing citizens. We did the time, so you won’t have to.

Core Values


We collaborate with all segments of society to create an ecosystem to solve a problem. Our ecosystem requires us to:

  • Create training materials and offer services to help people who face challenges from government investigations or prosecution.
  • Create digital content to teach the importance of developing communication and critical-thinking skills to people in jail and prison.
  • Inspire people to use their time in jail or prison to adjust wisely and prepare for success.
  • Build relationships with administrators in jails, prisons, and other government agencies. We create content to prepare people for success, building safer communities by reducing recidivism.
  • Create income opportunities for formerly incarcerated people who have appropriate skill sets in writing, editing, social media.
  • Provide paid internships to university students. Interns work independently—earning $15 per hour—to assist our efforts of improving outcomes for people that have experienced the criminal justice system.
  • Persuade business leaders to build stronger compliance programs, reducing exposure to government investigations and charges for white-collar crime.
  • Collaborate with law firms, consultancy firms, accounting firms, and other enterprise clients. Together, we help people avoid government investigations or overcome collateral consequences of mass incarceration.

The digital content we create empowers participants. They learn to develop better communication and critical thinking skills, enabling them to advocate for themselves more effectively.

  • Participants identify with the message because it gives them hope, teaching self-directed learning techniques.
  • Staff members in prison appreciate the message because it inspires students to learn.
  • Formerly incarcerated people appreciate the income opportunities they receive
  • University students appreciate an opportunity to develop skills while simultaneously working toward meaningful social-justice issues
  • Business leaders appreciate the lessons that lead to better corporate messaging and compliance.
  • Community members appreciate the training that leads to fewer charges for white-collar crimes.

Every person on our core team at Earning Freedom has gone through a government investigation. We’ve experienced the high costs of legal fees, the high risk of litigation, the challenges of a prosecution, the indignity of imprisonment, and the challenge of recalibrating upon release. We offer roadmaps people can use to improve outcomes from our criminal justice system, and we build safer communities in the process. We bring meaning to the words, “We did the time, so you won’t have to.”

  • We change perspectives for people going through the system.
  • We help people restore confidence and dignity.
  • We help administrators of jails and prisons improve outcomes.
  • We offer income opportunities to interns and people that transition to society after release.
  • We build compliance programs that lessen vulnerabilities to government investigations.
  • We lower instances of charges for white-collar, business-related crime.

Scalable Training:

Our team creates messaging systems that help people going through various stages of the criminal justice system understand how to pursue self-directed strategies to transform their life. We offer tools administrators can use to help people change perspectives and restore confidence. We create bridges that offer meaningful income opportunities. We help citizens understand how the collateral consequences of decisions they make, thereby reducing the number of non-criminogenic people that come into the system.

  • We use technology to create solutions for administrators that have limited resources.
  • By creating daily content, we stay current and flexible to the market.


In 1984, When Michael Santos was 21 years old, he began making a series of bad decisions that included trafficking in cocaine. In 1987, authorities arrested him and charged him with federal crimes. Not understanding the magnitude of trouble his earlier decisions had caused, he continued making bad decisions. Despite knowing of his guilt, he refused to accept responsibility. He went to trial and he perjured himself on the witness stand. A jury convicted him of all counts, exposing him to sanctions that would include multiple decades in prison.

During the awkward transition between conviction and sentencing, a correctional officer passed Michael a philosophy book that taught him a story of Socrates. That story helped Michael develop the art of Socratic questioning and critical thinking. Rather than dwelling on the sanction he faced, he began to think about deliberate strategies he could pursue to reconcile with society. Those introspections inspired him to focus on a three-pronged strategy:

  1. Work toward developing academic credentials and learning,
  2. Work toward making meaningful, measurable contributions to society, and
  3. Work toward building an influential support network.

By adhering to that strategy, Michael adhered to a disciplined timeline while climbing through 9,500 days in prison. Each day, he worked toward emerging successfully, documenting the journey.

While traversing prisons of every security level, Michael learned from leaders. They inspired him to create a model that would convert prison experiences into an asset—a resource that would contribute to building stronger, safer communities. He launched relationships with people who invested in the vision. Together, they collaborated to build businesses that would help others reach their highest potential, regardless of what circumstances or bad decisions complicated their life.

Those efforts led to a series of public-private partnerships and business ventures, generated millions of dollars in revenues, and influenced the lives of more than 100,000 people. The Earning Freedom ecosystem includes the following companies, websites, and collaborative partnerships:

Earning Freedom

  • A for-profit, California corporation that coordinates transactional relationships for various entities related to our mission.

Prison Professors Charitable Corporation

  • A not-for-profit, California Corporation that provides digital learning materials for people in jail and prison, and coordinates income opportunities for university interns and qualified formerly incarcerated individuals.

Prison Professors web properties:

  • A website with social-media channels belonging to Earning Freedom. Prison Professors provides digital content and services to help people understand and prepare for best outcomes if they’re going into the criminal justice system.

Compliance Mitigation web properties:

  • A website with social-media channels belonging to Earning Freedom. Compliance Mitigation offers compliance training and corporate messaging services to business owners, helping them lower risks for government investigations or vulnerability to charges for white-collar crimes.

White Collar Advice web properties:

  • A website with social-media channels belonging to Etika, LLC—a collaborative partner of Earning Freedom. White Collar Advice offers guidance and consulting services to law firms and the people they represent, generally for criminal charges related to business decisions.

Our History

January, 1984

Breaking the Law

Michael Santos is 20 years old and begins trafficking in cocaine. His youthful bad decisions put him a collision course with law enforcement.


DEA agents arrest Michael Santos pursuant to a grand jury indictment. The charges expose him to decades in prison.

August, 1987
February, 1988

Convicted at Trial

A correctional officer passes Michael a philosophy book and, for the first time, Michael reads about Socrates. The story causes Michael to transform his life.

45-Year Sentence

A federal judge sentences Michael to serve a 45-year prison term. Before transferring from jail to prison, Michael makes a commitment to work toward making amends and living by a better philosophy.

April, 1988
August, 1988

United States Penitentiary

Authorities transfer Michael to a high-security penitentiary. He begins to research universities that will allow him to enroll in an undergraduate program.

Bachelor of Arts

Mercer University awards Michael a bachelor of arts degree, with a concentration on human resources management.

May, 1992
May, 1995

Master of Arts

Hofstra University awards Michael a master of arts degree, in interdisciplinary studies, with a concentration on sociology, cultural anthropology, and political science.

Stock Market

Michael begins to deploy earnings from his writing projects to invest in Internet startups, including American Online and Yahoo. Trades generate $1 million in profits from prison.

May, 1998
February, 2002

Investor #1: Dr. Geoffrey Richstone

Michael meets Dr. Geoffrey Richstone while they are both serving time inside the federal prison at Fort Dix, New Jersey. Dr. Richstone becomes a lifelong friend, and an investor in Michael’s work.

Getting Married in Prison

Michael and Carole Santos get married inside of the federal prison’s visiting room, in Fort Dix, New Jersey. Together they begn charting a plan to grow through the journey ahead.

June, 2003
December, 2003

Publishing Profiles from Prison

Greenwood Praeger Publishers bring a book that Michael authored to market. The publisher markets the book to an academic audience, to spread more awareness about America’s growing prison system.

Publishing About Prison

Wadsworth/Thompson publishers bring Michael’s book About Prison to market. The intended audience will be university students that study criminal justice.

January, 2004
July, 2005

Launching Resilient Publishing

Michael and Carole Santos launch a digital publishing enterprise. The purpose of the company is to publish books that Michael ghostwrites on behalf of other people he meets in prison.

Inside: Life Behind Bars in America

Michael secures an agreement with a literary agent. The agent persuades St. Martin’s Press to publish Michael’s third book, Inside: Life Behind Bars in America.

June, 2006
September, 2006

Investor #2: Lee Nobmann

Michael meets Lee Nobmann, founder and CEO of a billion-dollar enterprise. With sponsorship from Lee’s company, Michael creates new digital assets. Lee becomes a lifelong friend, mentor, and capital partner to Michael.

Investor #3: Justin Paperny

Michael meets Justin Paperny at the Taft Federal Prison Camp. They begn to collaborate on a series of writing projects and business development ideas.

April, 2008
June, 2008

Investor #4: Brad Fullmer

Through Justin Paperny, Michael meets Brad Fullmer, a former Major League Baseball player. Brad agrees to invest in building the project that launches the Straight-A Guide courses.

White Collar Advice

Upon Justin’s release from federal prison, he begins to execute on the business plan they collaborated to build while serving time in federal prison. It becomes the first of several businesses that generates seven-figure revenues.

May, 2009
January, 2010

Straight-A Guide Foundation

In collaboration with Justin Paperny, Michael works to launch a nonprofit. Successful grant writing leads to more than $750,000 in resources the foundation uses to begin creating teaching tools for people in jails and prisons across America.

Investor #5: Greg Reyes

While at the Taft Federal Prison Camp, Michael meets legendary Silicon Valley executive, Greg Reyes. Greg becomes a lifelong friend and mentor, investing resources that Michael deploys to advance his mission.

September, 2010
October, 2011

Investor #6: Andris Pukke

Authorities transfer Michael to the federal prison in Atwater, California, where Michael meets Andris Pukke. Andris offers to sponsor Michael’s work upon his release from prison, and provides resources Michael uses to launch Prison Professors.

Halfway House

Michael concludes 9,135 days in federal prison and transfers to a halfway house in the Tenderloin District of San Francisco to serve his final year with the Bureau of Prisons.

August, 2012
August, 2012

Real Estate Investing

Within two weeks of transfering to the halfway house, Michael negotiates his first real estate transaction, with the purchase of what would become his first of several rental properties.

YouTube and Digital Assets

Michael learns about technology. With sponsorship from the Straight-A Guide Foundation, Michael builds a library of digital products to teach and inspire people going through various stages of the criminal justice system.

September, 2012
December, 2012

University Lectures

Michael begins work to spread awareness on steps our nation can take to improve outcomes of America’s criminal justice system, with lectures at UC Berkeley, Stanford, the University of San Francisco, and other universities across the United States.

Concludes Prison Sentence

Michael completes 9,500 days as federal prisoner number 16377-004. He transitions to the Special Parole segment of his sentence, which is scheduled to keep him under community supervision for 19 additional years.

August, 2013
August, 2013

University Professor at SF State

Michael begins teaching as an adjunct staff professor at San Francisco State University. He teaches a course called the Architecture of Incarceration, helping students understand the evolution that led to the world’s largest prison system.

Prison Reform / Teaching

Michael begins visiting jails, prisons, universities, and judicial conferences to speak about mass incarceration. He offers strategies administrators may use to improve outcomes for people that experience any phase of the criminal justice system.

September, 2013
January, 2021

Compliance Mitigation

Begin building infrastructure to launch Compliance Mitigation, a new service to help business leaders develop corporate messaging and compliance training. Striving to increase compliance, lessen vulnerability to government investigations, and lower incidents of white-collar crime.

Where We’re Making an Impact

#Facility / Agency / University / EnterpriseStateYearServing
1.Sunburst AcademyCA2013At-risk youth
2.Santa Clara County JailCA2013At-risk youth
3.Los Angeles County Sheriff’s DepartmentCA2013Men and Women
4.Washington State Department of CorrectionsWA2013Men and Women
5.APDS Tablet ServicesNY2013Men, Women, at-risk youth
6.University California, BerkeleyCA2013University Students
7.Stanford UniversityCA2013University Students
8.University of San Francisco Law SchoolCA2013University Students
9.DePaul UniversityIN2013University Students
10.Ted-xCA2013Ted Organization
11.U.S. District Court, Southern District of CaliforniaCA2013Federal Judges
12.San Francisco State UniversityCA2013University Students
13.Los Angeles County School DistrictCA2013At-risk Youth
14.Orange County School DistrictCA2013At-risk Youth
15.Ventura County School DistrictCA2013At-risk Youth
16.Robina Institute: University of MinnesotaMN2014Policy Makers / Practitioners
17. Maine Department of CorrectionsME2014Men
18.U.S. District Court, ArizonaAZ2015Judiciary / Community
19.U.S. District Court, Ninth CircuitCA2015Judiciary / Practitioners/ Reentry
20.United States Penitentiary, AtwaterCA2016Men
21.United States Department of JusticeCA2017U.S. Attorneys / Practitioners
22.United States District Court, GuamGuam2017Judiciary
23.United States District Court, GuamGuam2017Federal Probation
24.United States District Court, SaipanSaipan2017Judiciary
25.United States Probation, SaipanSaipan2017Federal Probation
26.Federal Correctional Institution, VictorvilleCA2018Men
27.United States Penitentiary, FlorenceCO2018Men
28.New York City Department of CorrectionsNY2018Men and Women
29.University of Southern CaliforniaCA2020University Students
30.California Department of CorrectionsCA2020Men and Women
31.Mecklenburg County JailNC2020Men and Women
32.University of PennsylvaniaPA2021University Students

Our Sponsors / Collaborative Partners

The table below offers insight into organizations that sponsored our efforts to improve outcomes for people that experience government investigations, or challenges with the criminal justice system.

#Organization or EnterpriseCity / State
1.Golden State LumberPetaluma, CA
2.Emergency Disaster ServicesLexington, KY
3.Hopwood & Singhal Law FirmWashington, DC
4.Latham & Watkins Law FirmLos Angeles, CA
5.Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan, Law FirmBoston, MA
6.CPA CrossingsPhiladelphia, PA
7.National Association of Criminal Defense LawyersWashington, DC
8.Savi Collaborative, Private EquityOrange County, CA
9.GR Irrevocable TrustNew York, NY
10.Schlomo Schmuel Family TrustLos Angeles, CA
11.SK LabsAnaheim, CA
12.Pandora MarketingAliso Viejo, CA
13.Brad Fullmer, former Major League baseball playerLos Angeles, CA
14.California Wellness FoundationLos Angeles, CA

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