Journal Entry 

 Emotional Resilience 

Picture of Michael Santos

Michael Santos

I’m Michael Santos, and more than 10 years have passed since I completed a lengthy sentence in federal prison. Some readers are familiar with my story, but many more are not. For that reason, through these daily journals, I always provide a tidbit of my background. I want readers to know that I would never ask anyone to do anything that I didn’t do, and that I’ve walked through decades in prison.

These daily articles benefit me, and I hope they benefit you. 

They strengthen the efforts I’m making to change the criminal justice system. To succeed, I must show administrators the value of bringing reforms that incentivize excellence. By building such a record, we may see reforms that include more access to home confinement and work-release programs. If we incentivize excellence, I believe that we improve the culture of confinement and we also reduce the likelihood for intergenerational cycles of recidivism.

I’d like your help. Memorialize the steps you’re taking toward personal development. Show how you’re navigating the turbulent waters of incarceration to prepare for success.

Understanding Emotional Resilience:

When we’re separated from the people we love and the people who love us, we need to develop strength. Otherwise, the walls and rules and structure of confinement can make it impossible for us to move on. While locked in solitary confinement, I felt fortunate to learn from leaders. They taught me how to focus on what I wanted to become rather than the challenges I endured at the present moment.

Learning from Leaders:

From leaders such as Socrates, Mandela, Gandhi, I learned how to think differently. By reading about their lives, I could see parallels to my circumstances. Their stories of endurance and mental fortitude in the face of overwhelming odds served as a blueprint for my journey. Instead of complaining, they figured out how to contribute to the lives of others. I admired them.

The Role of Goal Setting:

In prison, days can blur into one long, unending cycle. To break this cycle, I learned the importance of setting goals. These weren’t just lofty, distant dreams but small, achievable targets. I had to connect with universities and persuade them to admit me. Then I had to work through the lessons. When not studying toward credentials, I looked to develop skills by writing. I wanted to contribute to society. Through those efforts, I set goals of meeting new people.

Each goal reached was a step towards reclaiming a sense of control over my life.

Building Bridges through Positive Relationships:

Isolation can be a crippling aspect of prison life. Recognizing this, I endeavored to forge positive relationships. These bonds became a source of strength and a reminder of the world beyond these walls. They even led to my getting married during my 16th year of imprisonment, and Carole stayed with me through my final decade. We married on 6/24/2003 and I didn’t get out until 8/12/13. We’ve now been married for longer than 20 years.

The Pursuit of Knowledge:

Education became my weapon against stagnation. I immersed myself in books, courses, and any form of learning available. This pursuit wasn’t just about acquiring knowledge; it was about maintaining a sense of purpose and direction.

Prioritizing Health and Wellness:

Physical health and mental well-being are intertwined. Regular exercise, meditation, and healthy eating became non-negotiable aspects of my routine. They were not just about keeping the body fit, but also about keeping the mind sharp and resilient.

These strategies – learning from leaders, setting goals, cultivating relationships, pursuing education, and maintaining health – were my lifelines. They transformed my incarceration from a tale of survival to a story of growth and resilience. My hope is that by sharing these insights, I can inspire others in similar situations to find their strength and build their own paths to resilience.

Critical Thinking Exercise:

  • Describe how strategies of building resilience would influence your future.
  • Write about the parallels between your challenges and the challenges that Nelson Mandela faced.
  • In what ways can you use strategies to grow strength and prepare for success upon release?

Our course, “Preparing for Success after Prison,” emphasizes the importance of education as a tool for empowerment. We encourage individuals in prison to seize every learning opportunity, whether formal education, vocational training, or self-study. This course offers guidance and resources to help you navigate and maximize your educational journey behind bars.

We invite you to share your educational achievements and aspirations with us. 

Send an email to [email protected] and include “Request a Book” in the subject line.

Michael Santos
Founder of Prison Professors

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