Blog Article 

 Pathway to Success Series 

Michael Santos

Michael Santos

Need Answers to Your Questions?

Course:  Self-Directed, Self-Help with Journaling 101

URL: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mIGX1qB490w&t=1s

Title: Preparing for Success in Prison with Morrie (2023)

Blurb:

  • After discovering his talent in persuasion, Morrie became a lobbyist, a person dedicated to influencing the actions of government decision-makers. He describes his professional journey, stressing the role of developing keen communication skills and an appreciation for math and critical thinking. Morrie discusses his work for different companies and his later entrepreneurial pursuits and ends the interview by mentioning his newfound career in the wine industry.

Objective:

  • Our students should reflect on Morrie’s investment in his skill set and his emphasis on relationship-building and dedication to continuous learning. Additional lessons include being eager to take on tasks others are unwilling to do, maintaining a solid work ethic, and delayed gratification.

Lesson Requirements:

  • Watch the video that accompanies the lesson
  • Write a definition of each word highlighted in bold and written in italics
  • Use ten of the vocabulary words in a sentence
  • Respond to a minimum of three open-ended questions by following instructions at the end of the lesson.

Lesson Outcome:

  • Participants will increase their vocabulary by at least ten words.
  • Participants will improve writing skills and their ability to contemplate how their responses to open-ended questions relate to their prospects for success upon release.
  • Participants will add to their journal, demonstrating a self-directed, self-improvement pathway to prepare for success upon release.

Our team at Prison Professors sincerely thanks Morrie for sharing his life lessons with our audience. Although he came from a modest upbringing and initially struggled in college, Morrie discovered a knack for writing and used this talent to become a successful lobbyist. In this position, he worked with teams of high-caliber professionals to persuade government decision-makers to change laws in his clients’ favor. After working for several firms, Morrie established an independent business that serviced major land-use developers. He worked as an entrepreneur for 16 years before he changed professions again to engage in his passion: the wine industry.

Throughout our interview, we explore critical lessons about developing communication, critical thinking, and math skills. We also learn about maintaining a solid work ethic and building relationships to prove our value to others. Lastly, we discuss the importance of upholding avid intellectual curiosity to broaden our horizons.

Background:

Morrie hails from a middle-class family in the Los Angeles area. His father worked as a landscaper, and his mother was a public school teacher. During his adolescence, his parents separated. Afterward, Morrie relocated to live with his mother in the San Fernando Valley, where he continued his studies in local public schools. Despite his humble beginnings, Morrie excelled academically in high school. Being intellectually gifted, he easily achieved A’s and B’s.

Yet Morrie later faced academic challenges in college. He struggled with the rigors of his new environment as he pursued majors in biology and pharmacology. He found math, science, and chemistry exceptionally difficult, all prerequisite subjects in his original areas of study. After Morrie sought guidance, a counselor advised him to work for the college newspaper, marking a pivotal moment in his journey. Reporting for the periodical, Morrie discovered his natural talent for effective written communication. Throughout his career, his writing abilities have served him well, and he continues to refine them. I recall him expressing gratitude for the constructive feedback he receives in his current position as a volunteer writer for a mental health organization.

Morrie honed his forte as a writer through his journalism and political science studies. He attended Chapman College, a private research university located near Los Angeles, before transferring to Pepperdine University, a prestigious institution of higher learning in the affluent suburb of Malibu. Despite financial constraints, Morrie persevered and funded his education through student loans and financial assistance programs. These included the Pell Grant, a subsidy provided by the U.S. federal government to assist college students, and the Cal Grant, a similar program funded by the California state government. We can infer that Morrie relied on his strong persuasion skills to gain admission into Pepperdine, one of the most selective institutions in the country.

Pell Grants

Beginning on July 1, 2023, individuals who are currently incarcerated in a federal or state penal facility may qualify for a Federal Pell Grant if they are enrolled in an approved prison education program. It is recommended that individuals check with their correctional facility’s educational director to determine whether the facility will partner with a school to offer a qualifying program in 2023.

As he finished his studies, Morrie began developing his career. While still in college, Morrie completed an internship at a political consulting firm, where he later started his first professional job. This initial position led to Morrie taking on a series of new opportunities, effectively launching his career in lobbying, the practice of attempting to influence the decisions of governments. Skillful lobbyists like Morrie rely on their talents in persuasive communication to attain favorable outcomes in government policymaking. Businesses hire professionals like Morrie to work to change laws and regulations that benefit company operations.

Morrie prospered in his career as a lobbyist through his robust work ethic and skills as a team builder. He stood out among his peers by being eager to take assignments others considered undesirable. His willingness to do low-level tasks led him to build rapport with other professionals in the industry, who admired his grit and dedication to his team’s success.

Morrie also flourished professionally due to his talents in relationship building and self-advocacy. He often served land developers who purchased properties to construct new properties or infrastructure. Developers, in turn, relied on lobbyists like Morrie to help get necessary approvals and permits from government decision-makers. He collaborated with land use attorneys, who provide legal counsel on zoning and development issues. These attorneys, in turn, referred Morrie’s lobbying skills to land developers. By building a reputation as a consummate professional, Morrie grew his employer’s clientele through word-of-mouth, establishing himself as a credible professional who delivered results.

Morrie’s approach to finding opportunities is rooted in taking action. He aptly sums up his philosophy: “You have to go out to kill what you eat.” As a successful lobbyist, Morrie knew the value of building a network of professionals by attending events and actively identifying the needs of potential clients. Through his connections at city hall, Morrie became a go-to liaison for developers seeking to influence government policymakers. His initiative-taking approach to networking and relationship-building was crucial to his professional trajectory.

Perseverance

Our students should reflect on the need to persevere. Morrie shared his perspective on perseverance – never giving up despite our past challenges – based on his phrase, “You have to go out to kill what you eat.”

Finally, Morrie shares his business acumen with our audience, discussing the various pricing techniques one of his former employers used. Depending on the situation, the company used different billing methods, such as hourly, monthly, or flat fees. However, Morrie preferred the monthly retainer model, which allowed for greater predictability and stability in his income.

Pricing also varied depending on the complexity of different projects. Most of Morrie’s clients were developers involved in large-scale construction projects, such as hotels and apartments. Some of their projects required a simple task, such as a site plan review, which assessed compliance with building codes and regulations. Others involved more nuanced activities, such as zoning law changes, which called for multiple levels of government involvement. To ensure he earned a profit that reflected his level of effort, Morrie tailored his fees based on the specific needs of a project.

Takeaways:

As I served three decades in prison, I sought role models to learn success principles that would lead me to thrive upon my release. I learned from leaders like Morrie and studied their personality traits to understand how the most resilient individuals in society succeed in their personal lives and careers.

A critical takeaway from Morrie’s story involves the importance of communication skills, particularly strong writing skills. His talent as a writer has been vital to his professional growth; he acknowledges that being an effective writer requires substantial energy and effort, and even the most talented writers never stop learning. After working for the college newspaper, he fell in love with his new craft and became a journalism major. He then learned to write more effectively and clearly, skills that can significantly advance one’s life.

Alongside communication skills, Morrie’s professional path highlights the significance of math and critical thinking skills. We can infer that basic math skills allowed him to understand the finances of real estate projects, calculate potential returns on investment, and assess project viability. Critical thinking enabled him to build teams and develop stakeholder relationships to support client interests. Appendix A: Developing Math, Critical Thinking, and Communication Skills outlines different strategies people in prison or jail can adopt to improve their skill sets in these three areas.

Why Writing Skills Matter

Developing strong writing skills can have a range of benefits for incarcerated individuals and returning citizens, including:

  • Enhanced job prospects: Many employers require strong writing skills, so developing these skills can increase a person’s employability and earning potential.
  • Networking ahead of release: Writing letters to potential employers or community organizations prior to release can help incarcerated individuals to establish connections and lay the groundwork for a smoother transition back into society.
  • Increased confidence in legal matters: Writing well-researched letters and documents can help incarcerated individuals to better advocate for themselves in legal proceedings.
  • Better communication with family and friends: Writing letters or emails can help incarcerated individuals to maintain relationships with loved ones and stay connected to the outside world.
  • Self-expression: Writing can provide an outlet for incarcerated individuals to express themselves creatively, which can be especially important given the limited opportunities for self-expression in a carceral environment.

Returning citizens with strong writing skills can consider jobs in freelance writing, content writing, technical writing, copy editing, proofreading, grant writing, and scriptwriting.

Organizations such as The Safer Foundation, The Marshall Project, and The National HIRE Network offer support and resources to individuals with criminal records seeking employment in writing and editing fields. Appendix B: Writing Jobs for Returning Citizens, offers more information on careers in the writing industry.

Another takeaway stems from Morrie’s eagerness to take on tasks that didn’t appeal to others. In our interview, we emphasize the meaningfulness of work through the phrase: “The harder you work, the more other people will notice you and want to help you.” All work is meaningful because it gives individuals a sense of purpose, allows them to contribute to society, and helps them develop valuable skills and experience.

Finding employment can be particularly challenging for individuals with criminal records due to the stigma associated with their pasts. As a result, they may have to accept low-paying or entry-level work to rebuild their lives and overcome this obstacle. Entry-level jobs still offer opportunities for individuals with past convictions to gain experience, develop skills, and demonstrate their work ethic and potential to employers. By starting from the bottom and working their way up, they can eventually secure higher-paying and more gratifying opportunities.

Lastly, Morrie’s story underscores the significance of cultivating relationships with achievement-oriented individuals. As a lobbyist, he worked closely with accomplished professionals from distinct industries to attain the desired results for his employers. Incarcerated individuals seeking to earn their freedom should emulate his example by seeking out like-minded individuals who share constructive goals and aspirations.

Effective ways for people in prison or jail to forge positive associations and relationships include participating in educational and vocational programs, joining support groups or clubs, and attending religious services or spiritual gatherings. Additionally, communication with family and friends outside of prison and seeking mentorship from successful individuals can help build positive relationships.

  • How does the idea of having to “go out to kill what you eat” resonate with you, and how does it reflect our lessons on perseverance?
  • How can becoming an effective communicator like Morrie help you attain a favorable outcome as you search for employment and housing upon release?
  • What can we learn from Morrie’s willingness to take on tasks that others found unappealing?
  • How do you believe Morrie persuaded others to admit him to Pepperdine or work with him in business, and how can you apply that lesson in your own life?
  • How can you cultivate positive relationships with achievement-oriented individuals?

Entrepreneurship and Later Activities

After working for multiple consulting firms, Morrie became an entrepreneur, heading an independent government relations & lobbying company from 2004 to 2020. Relying on his previous achievements as a lobbyist, he catered primarily to developers with major land-use projects and representatives of technology companies. Morrie opted to launch his venture after realizing he could retain more earnings as a business owner rather than as a subordinate obligated to share revenue with his employer.

Like all entrepreneurs, he faced inherent risks as he set out independently. No longer working for his old company, Morrie lacked the stability afforded to a conventional employee. This challenge was especially daunting as he had a wife and two children. Nevertheless, Morrie was confident in his decision, having already garnered experience in the public and private sectors before embarking on this new challenge.

Similar to his previous roles, he helped his clients navigate the Los Angeles municipal government bureaucracy. Morrie assisted clients with opening doors, developing proposals, responding to contracts, and streamlining the application process. His goal was to guide projects through final approval by the city council. Notably, he put clients in contact with decision-makers to advance their prospects.

Effective written and verbal communication skills were essential to Morrie’s success. He became proficient at simplifying complex material to convey easy-to-understand messages to a layperson or an elected official. This skill was critical for land use projects, where many stakeholders often had competing interests. Morrie’s job was to help his clients manage these interests and achieve their goals.

Morrie also highlights the importance of visual aids such as illustrations and graphics in complementing written content. He believed that pictures were great for breaking up content and making it more accessible to people. For example, he encouraged developers to create supporting renderings for a project.

In 2020, Morrie left his business to work full-time in the wine industry at the height of the global coronavirus pandemic.  He has two jobs now: one as a sommelier in a wine shop, a specialist who educates customers about wine and suggests food pairings, and the other as a wine educator in the tasting room of a winery.  A lifelong wine enthusiast, Morrie pursued this passion project after attaining prosperity in his lobbying career. Though he held a longstanding interest in wine, he realized that the industry did not generate sufficient profits to sustain himself and his family. He practiced delayed gratification by getting involved in the field only after first accumulating enough funds in his prior careers.

Like all successful leaders, Morrie sought to learn new skills to become erudite in his new vocation. For example, he has studied marketing skills and learned to use apps like Canva and MailChimp to create graphics and send convincing emails to prospective clients. He has also taken basic to advanced courses on wine, including an advanced class on comparative wines to sharpen his abilities. In contrast, Morrie, in his former role as a lobbyist, often outsourced projects outside his expertise area to graphic designers and other professionals to complete.

Takeaway:

Morrie’s story gives us additional insight into the importance of critical thinking and communication skills. Morrie found success by becoming forceful at persuasion. He often faced objections from clients on issues like pricing, yet he routinely convinced them to work with him by demonstrating the value of his products, services, and teams. Likewise, our students must become articulate communicators and develop sound judgment to persuade employers to hire them or property owners to offer them housing. By developing sharp vocabulary skills and adopting a professional demeanor, we can prove our value to others.

Continuous learning and personal development are essential for all our listeners. Like Morrie, who took new courses to become more skilled in his new career, we must seek new knowledge to prepare ourselves for success. The nature of work is constantly evolving, and we must adapt to these changes by continuously updating our knowledge and skills with whatever resources are at our disposal. By becoming perpetual learners, we stand the best odds of success upon release as we seek to earn our freedom.

Lastly, our students should reflect on the concept of delayed gratification. Morrie became involved in the wine industry after spending several years in a lucrative lobbying career, exemplifying the importance of patience and discipline to achieve long-term goals. Rather than immediately indulging in his passion, Morrie exercised restraint and waited until he had accumulated enough wealth to support himself and his family. Likewise, our students honor the habit of delayed gratification to achieve their long-term goals practically. Our students can adopt this practice by investing in education or vocational training, saving and budgeting, and planning for the future to prioritize long-term goals.

  • Other than those stated, what risks do you believe Morrie faced as an entrepreneur?
  • How do you think Morrie’s communication and critical thinking skills made him an effective persuader?
  • How can developing sharp vocabulary skills and adopting a professional demeanor help you prove your value to others?
  • Why are continuous learning and personal development essential for success?
  • How did Morrie practice delayed gratification, and why is this concept important for achieving long-term goals in a practical way?

Career Options

The final part of our conversation brought up viable career options for re-entry.

People leaving prison or jail may find careers in the graphic design or app designing industries. Companies, like Morrie’s old one, may outsource these services to freelancers. Opportunities exist for freelancers of diverse backgrounds and skill sets, including writers, graphic designers, app developers, editors, and photographers. Freelancing can serve as an “outside the box” solution to attaining a viable career, as it typically does not require a background check.

The alcohol industry may also offer viable career options. A felony will typically not prevent someone from obtaining a business or liquor license, according to FelonyHub.com, a website dedicated to helping those seeking re-entry. According to the same site, most bartending schools allow people with criminal records to enroll five years after completion of their sentences, though violent or alcohol-related convictions may prevent enrollment altogether.

Lastly, a related field, hospitality, may hold promise for returning citizens looking for law-abiding careers. Restaurants, lodging, and customer service centers are often inclusive of candidates with a criminal background.

Conclusion:

Morrie’s story should inspire all our students. Although he originates from a humble background and initially struggled in college, he attained prosperity in his lobbying career. His ability to thrive was based on communication, math, and critical thinking skills that we consistently urge our students to invest in. All our students can similarly reach their potential by investing in these areas to increase their odds of reentering society.

Other lessons from his story include the need for us to prioritize positive relationships and always remain open to learning unfamiliar subjects. Morrie built teams based on his niche as a persuasive communicator and self-advocate. Likewise, our students can forge constructive support networks and build rapport with potential employers by demonstrating their value. We should also seek to expand our knowledge as a lifelong pursuit. We stand the best chances of finding a desired job by gaining proficient skills and staying up to date regarding developments in the field.

Morrie’s story reflects all the modules in our coursework, as specified in the table below.

ModuleLesson:
Values: We must define success.Morrie pursued his passion for journalism despite not excelling in pharmacology and biology and sought guidance from mentors to help him achieve his goals. Yet he defined success by looking for mentors who advised him to pursue journalism, where he discovered his knack as a communicator.
Goals: We must set clear goals that align with our definition of success.Morrie stood out by setting specific goals, such as applying to Pepperdine and joining the school newspaper. He attracted the attention of a political consulting company, which offered him an internship and later a job. By pursuing his goals and distinguishing himself, Morrie was able to move closer to his career and gain opportunities.
Attitude: We must make a commitment with the right attitude.Morrie had the right attitude and committed himself to the team by volunteering for projects others considered undesirable. With the right attitude, Morrie could develop a pathway toward fulfilling his dreams.
Aspiration: We must see ourselves as being something more than the challenges we currently face.Morrie always envisioned himself achieving something great. He always saw himself as integral to the teams he participated in. He also developed relationships with clients and people of influence through city hall. Without his investment in relationships and aspirations to be a key player within teams, none of this would have been possible
Action: We must take incremental action steps.Morrie always worked hard to develop relationships and build teams. He realized that success required consistent hard work and commitment. We must show up and work towards our daily goals without making excuses.
Accountability: We must hold ourselves accountable.His story teaches us the importance of accountability to succeed, especially in his position as an entrepreneur. Likewise, we must hold ourselves accountable by reflecting on the truism that we must “kill what we eat.” If we want something, we must strive to get it.
Awareness: We must stay aware of opportunities.Morrie found success by always remaining aware of big projects through his involvement with city hall. By being aware and working hard, he became more visible and was recommended to others, which helped him achieve success. We must follow his example by becoming visible to others and taking on an action-oriented mindset.
Authenticity: We must be authentic.We must value authenticity, planning, setting priorities, and developing tools, tactics, and resources to advance toward success. Using Morrie’s example, we should establish resources to stand out and get noticed by employers and professional associates.
Achievement: We must celebrate small victories.Morrie’s life was filled with little and big achievements as he progressed along his professional trajectory. Whether it was forming a new relationship, earning a degree, or acquiring clients, Morrie always valued his gains in life.
Appreciation: We must show appreciation for the blessings that come our way.Morrie shows appreciation by giving back to his community. Whether in his career as a sommelier or his lifelong pursuit to become a talented writer, he has always given back to his community. None of his successes happened by accident, and he’s shown gratitude at all steps along with way.

Our team at Prison Professors seeks to motivate students to earn their freedom and avoid the pitfalls of recidivism. Our goal is to fight against mass incarceration, one of the biggest social injustices in the country. Through learning from leaders like Morrie and adhering to our success principles, all our students can transform their lives and remain on the pathway to success.

Critical Thinking Questions:

Choose any of three questions below. Write a response for each of the three questions you choose. In your response, please write at least three paragraphs, with a minimum of three sentences each.

This exercise in personal development will help you develop better critical-thinking skills, and better writing skills. There are no right or wrong answers to these questions. We’re striving to learn how to think differently, and how to communicate more efficiently. Try to use some of the vocabulary words from this lesson in your responses.

  1. Why are good leaders like Morrie effective persuaders and communicators, and how can you develop those skills?
  2. What can you learn from Morrie’s willingness to take assignments others were unwilling to do, and how can that mindset help you succeed upon release?
  3. What resources or attitudes could you adopt to become skilled at developing positive relationships?
  4. In what ways do you believe Morrie embodied the concept of perseverance, and how can you apply that trait in your own life?
  5. How can you seek out role models and achievement-oriented individuals to support your personal and professional development?
  6. How can developing persuasive communication and critical thinking skills help you select supportive friends, associates, and environments?
  7. What type of work ethic do you believe Morrie sustained to succeed in various career fields, and what can you learn from that lesson?
  8. Does entrepreneurship appeal to you, and if so, why?
  9. How does this story inspire you to demonstrate your value and overcome stigma?
  10. Other than those listed, in what ways do you believe Morrie reflected our success principles?

APPENDIX A: Developing Math, Critical Thinking, and Communication Skills

Our students can adopt several self-directed activities to improve their math, critical thinking, and communication skills.

Math skills:

  • Work through math workbooks or textbooks that cover topics like algebra, geometry, and trigonometry.
  • Use online resources such as Khan Academy, Mathway, and Wolfram Alpha to learn and practice math concepts.
  • Play math-based games such as Sudoku or chess to sharpen logical and analytical thinking skills.
  • Develop a budget or financial plan to practice math skills in real life.

Critical thinking skills:

  • Read books and articles that challenge your assumptions and offer different perspectives.
  • Engage in debates or discussions with others on topics that require critical thinking.
  • Practice brainstorming and problem-solving activities.
  • Analyze arguments and evaluate the evidence presented in news articles or research studies.

Communication skills:

  • Write daily in a journal to practice expressing thoughts and ideas clearly and effectively.
  • Join a public speaking or debating group to practice compellingly presenting arguments.
  • Read books or articles that offer guidance on effective communication skills.
  • Seek out opportunities to communicate with others, such as volunteering or joining a club

By adopting these self-directed activities, our listeners can improve their math, critical thinking, and communication skills. These skills can help them succeed both while experiencing incarceration and after release, improving their chances of achieving their personal and professional goals.

APPENDIX B: Writing Jobs for Returning Citizens

Our students can gain a lawful income as an editor or writer by exploring different options:

  1. Freelancing: Freelancing is a terrific way to build up a portfolio of work, gain experience, and earn income. Freelance writers and editors can find work through job boards, online marketplaces, social media, and personal networks. Freelancing allows individuals to work on their own schedule and take on projects that align with their interests and skills.
    1. Starting a blog: Starting a blog can be a great way to display writing skills and build an audience. Blogs can be monetized through advertising, sponsorships, and affiliate marketing. Bloggers can also use their platform to attract freelance clients or to promote their own books or courses.
    1. Self-publishing: Self-publishing has become increasingly popular in recent years and can be a way for writers to earn income without relying on traditional publishing routes. Platforms like Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing and Smashwords make publishing and distributing eBooks easy. Self-published authors can earn income through book sales and can also offer courses or coaching services.
    1. Applying for jobs with companies that hire individuals with criminal records: While it may be more challenging to find employment in the publishing industry with a criminal record, some companies have policies that allow them to hire individuals with criminal records. It’s important to be upfront about your criminal record and to highlight your skills and experience.
    1. Starting a writing or editing business: Starting a writing or editing business allows individuals to work independently and set their own rates. Business owners can market their services through social media, their website, and by networking with other professionals in the industry. They can also expand their offerings to include courses, workshops, and other services.

In addition to these options, for our audience members to stay up to date on changes to employment laws and to be aware of their rights as employees. Some states have laws in place that prevent employers from discriminating against individuals with criminal records. It’s also important to seek out resources and support from organizations that work with individuals with criminal records to help with job searching and career development.

Need Answers to Your Questions?