Blog Article 

 Prison Transfers 

Picture of Michael Santos

Michael Santos

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Learn the nuances of serving time in prison. For some, it’s crucial to learn about prison transfers.

You will not be able to accomplish your goals behind bars if you do not understand how the federal prison system operates. Whether that takes the form of fighting to move closer to your family, move to lower security prisons, or have the opportunity to take part in a given program, the more you understand the inner workings, the more successful you will find yourself. Most likely, anyone incarcerated will find themselves transferring to several different facilities for a wide array of reasons, so your knowledge of this system could lead to you curating your journey through it.

Michael Santos, the founder of Prison Professors, was incarcerated in 1987, just at the start of the war on drugs and the nation’s commitment to mass incarceration. There were fewer than 30,000 people in federal prisons when he entered the carceral system. That number is now over 130,000. He has had the unique perspective to see the prison system grow and has dedicated himself to sharing the paths he took to find success both behind bars and once he became free with anyone who needs it. 

Michael’s journey in the federal prison system started when he was arrested in Miami. His trial was set to be in the western district of Washington, but to get there, he was held in correctional facilities in Oklahoma, then Arizona, and finally in Washington. In Washington, he started in the Kent County jail, then to Pierce, to Puella, back to Pierce, and finally, he got his sentence and was sent to a maximum-security prison. It has been a long journey, showing that where one starts does not determine where one will end up. Michael understands personally that these transfers interfere with any sense of peace or security of a prisoner. That insecurity, coupled with restricted advocacy power, means that you have to play by the country’s rules to accomplish any goal.

Prison Professors recently got a letter from someone who was moved to a facility away from his family. This move by the prisons disregarded a court order that proclaimed he would be held in a facility close to his family. This man cannot find a case manager because he is not in his designated facility; he needs to move somewhere where he can benefit from family visitations, programming, and an active case manager. 

The disregard by the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) for what would have helped this man the most shows that their work is not guided by empathy. Instead, they move people around to what works best for them. The Bureau of Prisons initially determines sentences at the Grand Prairie Designation Center. It is a decentralized program where people never knew the prisoners as people assess where to put them. Even though it is not their policy to move prisoners around, they still do it regularly. The BOP can ignore these policies that others must follow, demonstrating that their power is so extensive that they can act hypocritically without legal repercussions.

With their power, they can transfer anyone around for a variety of reasons. The first transfer is the Initial Transfer, where, once convicted, a prisoner will move to the location decided by the BOP. Another type of transfer is a Disciplinary Transfer. This is the least ideal type, as it entails moving to a higher security facility with fewer programs and ultimately hurts the chances of an early release. There are also transfers for medical purposes or if the BOP opens a new prison and transfers people to populate it. The ideal reason for a transfer, at least for the man who wrote a letter to Prison Professors, is a Nearer Release Transfer to put prisoners within 500 miles of their homes and families.

Although turbulent, Michael fought throughout his time in prison to get transferred closer and closer to his home. He could feel a weight lifted from his shoulders, with each transfer to a lower security prison, knowing that he was one step closer to freedom. 

However, none of his success would be possible if it were not for his mindset. Once incarcerated, any power to dictate your future independently is lost. What then becomes important is to build a mindset strong enough to weather the unpredictability of transfers and hopelessness of prison. This mindset centers around letting go of the aspects that are not in your control and pursuing actions that are. Once commitment gets combined with a strong base of knowledge, you can effectively advocate for progressively more ideal transfers.

To advocate for these transfers, you or anyone you know behind bars needs to build a record to show that you/they are extraordinary and compelling. Documenting your progress will differentiate you from the rest and provide clear evidence of your road to freedom, evidence that extends beyond verbal affirmations. Michael used his documentation to advocate for transfers to more relaxed facilities and used his knowledge to know which transfers were within his grasp. Through the integration of knowledge and commitment, Michael could reclaim some agency.

It is important to note that even though Michael was responsible for his success, he did not act alone. His voice was muffled while in prison, so people on the outside filled the gap and were loud in their support for him. This took the form of guidance, lobbying, and general support. He now serves as an advocate for people behind bars to amplify the advocacy that the incarcerated are doing for themselves.

Prison Professors has implemented Michael’s tools for success in a variety of materials available on every medium: TikTok, YouTube, podcasts, and articles such as these. We want to help you through your journey in any way possible. We never profess anything here at Prison Professors that is not tried and true. Thus, as you stay committed to the tasks in front of you, know that we are committed to you.

Commitment combined with knowledge to best approach transfers.

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