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 Life Sentence to Millions in Grants 

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Michael Santos

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Richard Mireles’ story is inspiring. While serving a life sentence, Richard transformed his life. Within three years of his release, he raised more than $28 million dollars to help other people transition into society successfully.

Richard Mireles: Extraordinary and Compelling

I recently had the pleasure to watch on Prison Professor’s Youtube channel the video of Richard Mireles’ story of grit and redemption. Michael Santos, no slouch when it comes to great stories of success and perseverance himself, interviewed Richard, both of them so inspiring and motivating. Both of them want to better themselves to impact others positively.

Richard Mireles Check

Listening to Richard makes me realize the things I too can accomplish if I fully commit my heart and my mind. Although we have different crimes, I also have to contend with a criminal record. I also struggle from the weight of a felony conviction that will stay with me for the rest of my life. 

But Richard’s story gives me hope. Through Richard, I realize that if I follow the principles of accountability and mindset in the Straight-A Guide, which Richard also learned from Prison Professors, I can achieve my wildest dreams and aspirations, and I can also help others. A prison sentence does not have to be a life sentence. It’s up to me.

In prison, Richard had an epiphany that changed his life. The epiphany came after he found himself lying in prison, almost dead from a heroin overdose. Yes, in prison, he found access to drugs and alcohol. And it nearly killed him. 

His life-changing epiphany did not come after getting a sentence of 25 to life in prison for attempted murder. It came several years later, after realizing that he did not want his family to find out he died in his early 20’s in prison from drugs. He did not want to die as an addict in prison. 

Deciding to live while still facing decades to serve in prison meant Richard would have to walk away from the antisocial way of life that prison offers. He was also going to walk away from relying on drugs and alcohol as a form of escaping reality and pain. Life is easier in prison, especially for lifers, if they associate with the people who run the prison, the gangs, and those who have an influence over what goes on. To get clean and prepare for a law-abiding, productive life as a contributing member of society one day would mean he would have to give up what was familiar and easy and go on the road less traveled. That is not an easy choice. 

But not wanting mom and grandma to find out that he died as an addict in prison changed everything. That became the defining moment of his life. Listening to Richard share, I asked myself what my defining moment in prison was? Did I even have one? 

I did. I remember when my kids came to visit me the first time. I burst into tears at the sight of them in a federal prison visiting room, but said to myself, I never want my children to have to go through this experience again. There and then, I decided to work on the underlying criminal thinking issues that led me to commit a white-collar crime, and I decided I would never again put myself in a position to return to prison.

After his epiphany and 20 years later, Richard never looked back. He began to focus on self-improvement in prison, and he recruited a group of like-minded guys who became a community and support system for one another. They signed up for classes, listened to podcasts, took correspondence college-level classes, made a determination to read hundreds of books, and made other similar goals. (I can relate, having read over 300 books during my incarceration!) Like Michael Santos, Richard reached out to potential mentors on the outside for help.

Everything Richard did in prison pointed in the direction of his new vision, and it inspires me to look at what I do daily to see if it is consistent with my goals. For example, when I say I want to help others through my story, I have to make sure that I take steps towards that every day. Richard’s dream was not just to survive prison but to make something of himself so that he could one day get out and help others. His relentless mindset, work ethic, and willingness to take extreme ownership of his future make all the difference.

Richard dared to dream of a possible future life in the free world, even when he heard politicians say that California lifers like him would never get out of prison except in a pine box. Those were the odds Richard faced, and he won against all odds. By the time he went in to see the parole board to be considered for release, he was ready and suitable. 

I don’t want to spoil the video for people, so please watch for yourself.  Richard’s journey to prepare for facing the parole board, his victims, and others and how that all transpired is incredibly moving. It is a story that restores your faith in humanity and the power of hopes and dreams. It will remind you that hopes and dreams can come true when accompanied by action and a positive mindset. 

Then there is the massive success and influence Richard has had since his release. True to his word, Richard is working on initiatives to help people while incarcerated but also on reentry and beyond. The goal is to help set up for success people formerly incarcerated. Click here to learn more about CROP, one of the projects that Richard discusses in the video: Creating Restorative Opportunities and Program.

Richard believes that through his work now, he can help transform the mindset of people in America about the formerly incarcerated, like him and me. We can influence people by telling our stories and those of other formerly and currently incarcerated people.

For example, many people in society think that following prison, convicted felons should be content with the opportunities that the construction, trucking, and foodservice industries offer. Indeed, those are good industries that traditionally have been welcoming towards the formerly incarcerated. Great.

But. Richard dares to ask why should opportunities be limited to those industries and exclude other industries like big tech? There is so much variety of talent, interests, education, etc., among the formerly incarcerated that we should not be pigeon-holed into just food services or restaurant work.

Richard and his team are working to open up big tech and create technology jobs for formerly incarcerated people upon reentry. His work with the millions of dollars in grants they received is groundbreaking.

Richard comes across as a man on a mission who wakes up every day working to provide one-stop-shop programming for incarcerated and formerly incarcerated people to prepare for working in well-paying  technology jobs.

Among the needs people have for successful reentry are:

  • digital literacy;
  • housing assistance;
  • mental health support;
  • a paycheck and livable wages;
  • leadership skills development;
  • professional workplace tools;
  • financial literacy training, and more. 

The prison system on its own does not do enough to equip people to be able to land good jobs in technology and other fields. Richard is taking concrete steps to change that, and we should all be cheering him on.

Livable wages are a particularly significant issue for people reentering the community. I agree with Richard that people who can make livable wages and become financially independent are less likely to recidivate. Trying to make it without livable wages means that the temptation to go back to a criminal lifestyle won’t disappear for many. 

Richard spends a lot of time talking with legislators and other influential people to explain the issues of livable wages, reentry training for careers in technology, and all the other support people need to be successful after prison.

Richard is daring to dream, and I’m here to cheer him on. He dares to reimagine what preparation for reentry can be, both while people are in prison and after their release to the community. He has a spectacular vision of a comprehensive, holistic campus for formerly incarcerated people to train for jobs in technology, to teach, and give back. He is living his childhood dream to influence people, and he inspires me to reimagine what’s possible in my own life.

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