Journal Entry 

  Believe in Yourself 

Picture of Michael Santos

Michael Santos

During my 26 years in federal prison, I encountered a lot of misguided advice. Whether I was in a high-security U.S. penitentiary, a medium-security prison, a low-security prison, or a minimum-security camp, many people emphasized the importance of forgetting about the outside world and focusing solely on doing time inside.

In my view, this was bad advice. It didn’t prepare people for the challenges they would face upon reentry into society. I’ll offer a better strategy and explain how my recommendations worked for me. This isn’t about patting myself on the back, but about helping others inside understand the importance of preparation.

The strategy begins with defining success. Figure out what you want to do in life. There’s an old saying that goes, “If you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life.”

My recommendation is to think about how you want to earn a living once you’re released. If you can answer that question, you can set clear goals. These goals should be achievable, regardless of what the prison system does. For example, each person can work on the following: 1) building a more robust vocabulary, 2) improving writing skills, 3) developing public speaking skills, 4) learning critical-thinking skills, and 5) becoming self-directed.

It’s easy to fall into the same routines that many prisoners recommend, like wasting time playing table games or becoming a television fanatic. But those activities don’t pay the bills. Instead, I encourage you to learn from the people around you.

No matter which prison I was in, I always found people who were far smarter and more experienced than I was. From these people, I could learn. By walking around the track with others, I could listen and learn. I could ask questions and gain insights into topics I didn’t understand.

By listening and learning from others, I began to develop a plan for how I would succeed.

I considered myself unemployable. Who would want to hire someone who served 26 years in prison? Instead, I had to think about how I could create income streams.

How did I do it? I started by implementing the five points I mentioned earlier. First, I had to learn to write with confidence. If I could write better, I believed I could persuade people to see me as more than just a person in prison. I documented all the steps I took while in prison to develop new skills. By recording my journey in journals, I persuaded people to see me for how I responded to my situation, not just for the bad decisions that led me to prison. I never made excuses or judged anyone else.

This strategy empowered me to buy my first house within a week of getting to the halfway house. I purchased the property with no money down—just the words I learned to string together in sentences. Those words, and the record I built of preparing while in prison, persuaded a developer to finance the purchase of a $400,000 property. This relationship led to millions of dollars worth of transactions during my first few years of freedom.

I share this story with you because I want you to believe. If you believe in yourself, you’ll find others who believe in you. And if you can persuade others to believe in you, you can change the world.

I’m trying to change the world now, and I need your help. I need you to invest time and energy into developing skills that will help you become law-abiding, tax-paying citizens—able to build your future, regardless of the obstacles you face in prison.

I will work hard to push for reforms that will open more opportunities for people in prison to work toward earning freedom. But I must ask others inside to do the same, which brings me to the question of the day:

Today’s Question:

What makes you an outstanding candidate for a job, a partnership, a loan, or venture capital to start a business?

PS: If you’d like to begin building a profile to memorialize your journey, take the following steps:

Step 1: Send an invite to [email protected]

Step 2: When our team accepts, send an email with the following information:

  • Your name
  • Your number
  • Your location
  • Your sentence length

Step 3: Any time that you feel like responding to one of the questions I present through the newsletter, send a response to the email above.

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