Journal Entry 

 Opportunity Costs 

Picture of Michael Santos

Michael Santos

Every day, we make choices that will influence our prospects for success. It doesn’t matter where we are in life. We will face choices, and those choices will come with opportunity costs. We can make choices that will advance us closer to success, as we define it, or we can make choices that lessen our likelihood of succeeding.

Justice-impacted people should consider this reality about “opportunity costs” daily. The right decision at the wrong time may be a bad decision.

I didn’t understand the importance of opportunity costs at the start of my sentence. When authorities took me into custody and presented me with an indictment, I was 23 years old. I wanted to get out of prison, and my attorney told me what I wanted to hear rather than what I needed to hear. 

Instead of accepting responsibility and moving forward, I put the government to the test and proceeded through trial. I perjured myself on the witness stand. A jury convicted me of every count. And a judge sentenced me to 45 years.

Fortunately, it’s never too early and never too late to make better decisions. We must simply consider the opportunity costs of every decision we make.

Opportunity Costs:

After 26 years, I concluded my obligation with the Bureau of Prisons. At 49, I had to make a choice. 

How would I want to live the rest of my life?

Answering that question requires introspection. We’ve got to think. We’ve got to consider what we want to achieve and then assess whether we’re making decisions that will accelerate our pathway to success.

In my case, after 26 years in prison, success would mean working to “live as the change I wanted to see.”

Other people suggested that I should take time and decompress, perhaps start a family. They defined success differently from me. 

Being a father requires a lifelong commitment. In my view, I forfeited the privilege of fatherhood when I committed crimes that led to my conviction and sentence. I could not provide a child with the love, care, and attention needed while simultaneously working to build a career. Without financial stability or work history, I could project into the future. Without financial resources, I would face a parade of horribles if I chose to father a child. Instead of working to build financial stability, I would be attending athletic events and celebrating birthdays.

Those weren’t the decisions I wanted to make in my 50s.

Every day I consider the decisions that I’m making. These journals help me stay on course. They also become teaching tools, showing others that if we think differently, we open opportunity to reach success as we define it.

We want members of our community to live deliberately. Regardless of what stage of the journey you may be in, think about how the decisions you’re making today will influence your prospects for success in the future. 

In our course, Preparing for Success after Prison, I recommend using the pattern of CEO-thinking:

Consider how every decision you make will influence your life in the next ten minutes, in the next ten months, and in the next ten years.

Suzy Welch, Author of 10-10-10

Our community at Prison Professors serves people at every stage in the journey. Some people contemplate how they will respond to a criminal charge, while others are trying to climb through lengthy sentences. In today’s journal entry, I hope they’ll better understand what I mean when I write about opportunity costs.

I’ll clarify what I meant when I wrote the right decision at the wrong time is the wrong decision. I could not change the fact that I did not make good decisions as a young man. The choices I made led me to prison. Had I chosen to have children after serving 26 years in prison, I would not have been able to devote my life and career to bringing change to the criminal justice system. 

My personal ministry is to work toward improving outcomes for all justice-impacted people. To succeed in that effort, I must consider every decision’s opportunity costs. By memorializing the journey, I am more committed to staying the course.

In what ways are you memorializing your journey?

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