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Michael Santos

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Straight-A Guide: An Overview

The video above offers the members of our community insight into our Straight-A Guide. We began this program with a challenge. While I was in my 22nd year of imprisonment, a mentor came to visit me. We were discussing the career plans to guide my eventual return to society. When I told him that I wanted to build a career teaching lessons that other leaders taught me, and that helped me climb through 26 years in prison, he recommended that I write out a framework.

That framework became our Straight-A Guide. Internally, members of our community refer to it as SAG.

We invite members of our team to learn about SAG, and to share how this system would have influenced their life while they advanced through the journey.

If you’re facing challenges of any kind, please consider this resource as a guide to help you make better decisions. As Suzy Welch wrote in her book, 10-10-10, any person can make better decisions if that person considers how:

  • Decisions will influence life in the next 10 minutes,
  • Decisions will influence life in the next 10 months, and
  • Decisions will influence life in the next 10 years.

Similarly, the Straight-A Guide helps people prepare for success. With values-based, goal-oriented decisions, a person stands a much better chance of conquering adversities of all kinds. The course includes the following modules:

  1. Values:
  2. Goals:
  3. Attitude:
  4. Aspiration
  5. Action
  6. Accountability
  7. Awareness
  8. Authenticity
  9. Achievement
  10. Appreciation

We encourage you to work through the course in chronological order.

The essays below show how other members of our team worked through the program, and offer video commentary of our response.

Values Lesson with Taylor

I’m Taylor Evans, and I recently joined the team at Prison Professors.

In other posts, you can read about my journey through the criminal justice system. Since completing my time in custody, I’ve faced some challenges getting my career on track. After facing many challenges, I’m glad to have this opportunity of joining a team that works to improve outcomes for people going through various stages of the system.

I’ve learned that we predicate all of our work on a product that we call The Straight-A Guide. This guide urges people to make values-based, goal-oriented decisions. To start, a person must define success.

In the video above, Michael and Justin talk about the importance of defining success. Recently, I finished reading Michael’s book, Earning Freedom: Conquering a 45-Year Prison Term. In that book, Michael wrote about what he thought about at the start of his journey. Even though he would remain in prison for decades, he thought about the life he would lead when he got out.

Since he knew what he wanted, he could lay out a plan that would help him succeed.

That concept makes a great deal of sense to me. When people are going into the criminal justice system, they frequently only think about the pain they’re in at the moment. I know that’s what happened to me. Instead, we should aim high. We should ask more existential questions:

  • What is our life going to look like in the future?
  • What steps can we take today to advance our prospects for success?
  • How can I work toward improving the quality of my life today, and ten years from today?

If we can answer those questions, we can start to restore confidence.

After a person defines success, the next step is to create a series of goals. Each of those goals should align with the person’s definition of success.

Creating goals is one of the most important decisions for individuals to make if they want to achieve some level of success. Yet, today more people write down vague lofty goals without any action steps in place. This makes me think of Antoin De Saint-Exupery’s famous quote, “A goal without a plan is just a wish.”

Statistics show twice as many people give up on their goals within the first 30 days of their goals compared to the number of people that accomplish their goals.

Why is this?

Perhaps it’s because people fail to make a connection between the goals they set today and what they want to achieve in the weeks, months, years, and decades ahead.

We compartmentalize goals into many different facets of life. For example, we can set health goals, wealth goals, and spiritual goals. It does not matter if someone has one goal or one hundred.

We enhance our chances of achieving goals when we give attention to detail. We should create a methodical step-by-step plan on how we’re going to succeed. What incremental steps will we have to take to succeed?

The incremental steps we take represent the goals we must accomplish.

Although most of the people using our services want to create a mitigation strategy that will help them get the lowest sentence, they don’t always think about the incremental steps they should take. They don’t recognize how today’s decisions influence tomorrow’s outcomes.

That’s why we need to start by defining success.

Let’s use an example. Many people can relate to a goal of doubling income. People want to earn twice as much as they earned last year. That sounds like a lofty goal. Who doesn’t want to double their income?

If we were going to apply our values-based, goal-oriented strategy, we would start by asking questions:

  • How were you able to achieve x amount of income last year?
  • What stream of revenue can you build upon the most this year?
  • How can you improve upon that stream of revenue?

There isn’t any right answer or wrong answer to the questions. The questions are open ended. We want people to think critically, with both quantifiable and qualifiable data points. This strategy helps a person understand the incremental steps necessary to succeed. Each step should lead a person closer to a chance for success.

Our course help people use this same approach when they engineer a mitigation strategy. Don’t only think about what you want. Think about the incremental steps a person must take to succeed.

If we want a judge to impose a lower sentence, introspect. Think about steps you can take today to influence a better outcome tomorrow.

When facing challenges in life, it’s important to start by considering the best possible outcome. That’s a crucial first step. By defining success, we can more effectively set goals that will help us along the way. We can use this strategy whether we’re striving to work toward a lower sentence, striving to get a higher level of liberty, or striving to build upon our career.

I’m using this strategy now as I work to help more people that are experiencing various stages of the criminal justice system.

Values Lesson with Wayne

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I pleaded guilty to gross negligent vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated. That type of conviction could make others resistant to doing business with me. Despite my crime, I need to persuade my professional peers that I have the moral character and fitness to work in the Silicon Valley startup community despite my criminal conviction. To overcome my hurdle, I need to show the work I put into overcoming my alcoholism. I seek to confirm that there will never be victims of my alcoholism again. Accordingly, I strive to craft a narrative that defines success as overcoming my struggle with addiction.

Upon listening to 10 Steps #1 Values with Justin Paperny and Michael Santos about defining success, I’ve realized the potential for a self-reinforcing loop between my values and my definition of success.

There is a terrible complexity to the process of setting goals that meet my definition of success. That is where identifying and living my values come to the front. To demonstrate the values at the foundation of my life, I must weave into my personal story. Without this foundation, I have little chance of setting goals leading to success.

I’ve created a new narrative for my life by writing my story. That new narrative shows what I value. The narrative also influenced how others would judge or assess me. By revealing this story, other people could see my authenticity. As a result, I hope they will stop judging me for my bad decisions that led to my crime and prison. Instead, they can judge me according to the values-based, goal-oriented life that I live.

The most powerful moment in this video was Santos saying, “I’m humbled to be here. I’ve made a lot of bad decisions to be here. I’ve [had] to look back to discover what was the impulse that got me here….” His retaliation was that once he understood where he started, he could make things better and take a new path toward success.

One of my values displayed by writing is how I explained my crime and the alcoholism that led to it to my young daughter. In the form of an essay, I distributed “Why Daddy? (Explaining Alcoholism to a Young Child) via several different publications.

  • Medium (a digital platform for hundreds of publications)
  • Plan B (OptionB.Org offers a rich and growing collection of personal reflections from people dealing with life-changing challenges of all kinds.)
  • Mount Tamalpais College (Alumni Spotlight: Wayne Boatwright on Fatherhood)

I have also presented this story at live events.

  • Alcoholics Anonymous
  • New Canaan Society (NCS is a National Movement of over 24,000 men who gather together to encourage each other in friendship and faith and support each other to be better husbands, fathers, and leaders in the marketplace and our communities.)
  • Business/church roundtables discussions
  • Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office

“Why Daddy? (Explaining Alcoholism to a Young Child)

This eternal query of young children has pleased and perplexed parents from time immemorial. I had been preparing to answer this particular’ why question’ since the night of my crime (rightfully called Gross Negligent Vehicular Manslaughter While Intoxicated). Still, I was startled by my girl’s presumptuousness.

As only a Daughter could ask a father, without rancor or guile:


Wife was frustrated that day. In the past, I would have misread her as ANGRY, just as our daughter did now. However, the source of Wife’s short temperedness was more one of frustration-driven disappointment. Wife found her single-parent responsibilities daunting. An amazing mom, it took all her abilities to keep our children in a normal childhood — easily lost given my crime and pending incarceration.

Early on during my recovery and as a family, we discussed how I was drinking and driving that night of my accident. I explained that accidents happen, but drinking and driving was WRONG — a crime. A crime I would have to answer for in court. After all, I was a citizen and had a duty to answer to any crime I might commit against other people. I would be judged by the state and have to pay for my crime.

What was left unasked was WHY I drank in the first place, let alone on that fateful night. Like a hidden splinter under the skin, this gap in understanding was the source of Wife’s festering discontent and Daughter’s question as well.

If you wish to read the rest of this story, go to WHY DADDY? (

Rather than having to hide from my conviction, I seek to use my values-based narrative as a tool to build new businesses, including

My personal narrative now includes my understanding of the source of my addiction.

What I discovered by this deep and challenging process was that my journey was my own, but the path I took was all too common:

  • As children, we all experience pains and traumas of one kind and another, leaving us vulnerable and afraid.
  • To protect ourselves, we develop ’emotional armor’ in the form of psychological defense mechanisms.
  • Even though these defense mechanisms may have been useful at a young age, by the time we reach adulthood, their side effects are seriously sabotaging our lives in the form of broken relationships, addictions, narcissism, and even violence.
  • These unhelpful behaviors persist and grow because we don’t see them. And so we plod along in a daze of unhappy denial, continuing to make ourselves and the people around us miserable.

Prison is suffering. The only question is whether you do it in the darkness or in the light. While facing up to the bright light of self-awareness isn’t easy, it’s possible for anyone. Fundamentally, self-awareness isn’t a trait you’re born with; it’s a set of habits you can learn to cultivate.

Once you have an idea of who you are and the values you live by, next comes self-expression (so that your community may see you)–best is creative self-expression (art, music, writing, storytelling, etc.).

Finally, you must serve, meaning helping others to gain these insights. Consider the list of organizations where I have shared my “WHY DADDY?” story above.

By living a values-based, goal-oriented life, I know that I can achieve the outcome I want. My life is yet another example of:

  • Visualizing a successful outcome.
  • Putting a plan in place.
  • Setting priorities along the way.
  • Executing that plan every single day, as defined by my values and goals.

This is a self-reinforcing process. By setting clear goals that show my commitment to the values by which I live.

  • What are those values that you clearly defined as being consistent with the best possible outcome in your life?
  • What clear goals can you set to show your commitment to those values?
  • Will achieving those clear goals make your commitment to the values self-evident?

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