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Michael Santos

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As human beings, we all go through struggles. At one stage in life, all may be well. At another, we may suffer a setback. Goals help us to create new opportunities from struggle.


In the previous lesson, we spoke about the importance of identifying success. As a long-term prisoner, I remember projecting into the future. I would have to climb through 9,500 days in federal prison before I completed my sentence. When I got out, I wanted to lead a fulfilling life, unscathed by the decades I would serve in prison.

I identified success as being able to walk into any room and knowing that people would accept me as a member of the community. If I succeeded, no one would know that I served a day in prison.

To make that success a reality, I would have to set clear goals. In my case, those goals had to be SMART. They had to be:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Action-oriented
  • Realistic
  • Timebound

With a 45-year sentence, I had to contemplate a series of goals that would open opportunities. With credits for good behavior, I could complete that sentence within 26 years. Yet I didn’t know how to contemplate a quarter-century because I hadn’t yet been alive that long. I thought about what I could accomplish in ten years.

Using the SMART acronym, I set the following goals to guide my adjustment:

  1. Within ten years, I would earn a university degree.
  2. Within ten years, I would become a published author.
  3. Within ten years, I would bring ten people into my support network.

Those goals helped me prepare for success. Anyone can read about the journey by downloading a free copy of Earning Freedom: Conquering a 45- Year Prison Term.

The book shows the strategies that leaders taught me and that our team members use to teach others. Learn how to use these strategies to advance your prospects for success.

Below, we offer responses that some of our team members offered while responding to questions from our course on the Straight-A Guide.

Goals Lesson with Taylor: 2-Goals

My name is Taylor Evans, and I recently joined the team at Prison Professors.

We previously discussed the first step in The Straight-A Guide, how does one define success. The second step in this process is goal setting. Personally, I feel like this is one of if not the most important steps in the Straight-A Guide.

When I was arrested my world was flipped completely upside down. Earlier that day I was accepting awards and accolades at the prestigious Ritz Carlton hotel, one of the top reps in my firm, earning more than a quarter-million dollars at age 25.

Hours later, after poor choices my life changed completely as I was being booked and housed into a jail cell. Reflecting on this experience I can honestly say if I didn’t prioritize goal setting, I would still be in a prison cell, completely hopeless and demoralized with at least another eight years of incarceration.

 When I retained my attorney, I will never forget he shared with me, “Taylor this is not a matter of if you will be incarcerated or not, but rather for how long and where will you be doing your time.” I was grateful and scared for my attorney’s honesty as it helped me jump into action.

I sat down and identified goals and action steps I would need to accomplish to put myself in the best position for the shortest sentence and a more favorable outcome. I am grateful to say by setting goals with proper execution I was able to reduce my sentence by over 10 years of incarceration with the best possible outcome my legal team could ask for.

In this video Michael and Justin discuss how setting S.M.A.R.T. goals can put someone in the best position to succeed. Most of the clients we work with have the same goal as I did, spend no time or as little time in custody as possible. That is a great goal, but without any specific action steps it may feel more like a wish rather than a goal.

Here we will breakdown the S.M.A.R.T goal and how it can be applied to trying to reduce someone’s sentence.

S- Specific

M- Measurable

A- Action Oriented

R- Realistic

T- Time Bound

After understanding what each letter stands for, we have some real context to create a goal that can be achieved. We can now discuss how this can be applied to reducing your sentence. Let’s say your attorney shares with you that your sentence could carry a 5-year sentence. A S.M.A.R.T goal for this person could be to reduce their sentence to serve a maximum of 12 months by gathering at least 10-character references and writing their own personal narrative before trial begins. This goal is specific and measurable data points with realistic numbers and expectations and a specific time deadline.

This is one of the most uncertain scary times of your life, believe me I understand that. But if you sit around and hope for a better outcome you are setting yourself up for failure. Follow these simple steps and create S.M.A.R.T goals that align with whatever outcome you are trying to achieve and do the work! It may be difficult or tedious, but you could be much happier in the end if your outcome is altered due to your work.

Goals Lesson with Wayne: 2-Goals

If I had to express this lesson in one sentence, it would be:

To just say “set goals!” is the same as saying go fishing!

Why are setting and accomplishing goals so essential to be lesson 2?

Just as our Prison Professors team has, we want every participant in this course to create something positive out of their experience with the criminal justice system. We seek to live as contributing members of society and want you to create your own self-directed path. To do this, we’ve found setting goals essential.

Back to fishing!

There are lots of ways to go fishing:

  • Command fish to come into my arms
  • Throw a line out there
  • Bate a hook and cast one line into the water
  • Cast 100 lines with hooks and bait

As Santos said, it is best to know what you are doing and cast 100 lines to have a realistic chance to achieve your best possible outcome.

Just as setting the bait on the hook is critical to fishing, so are setting goals to achieve your best possible outcome. We can learn from the experts who have set up a goal-achieving process.

SMART goals

SMART is an acronym that stands for specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound. Specific – The more defined the goal, the more clarity you will have and the easier it will be to set a direction and stay motivated.

  • Specific (simple, sensible, significant)
  • Measurable (meaningful, motivating)
  • Achievable (agreed, attainable)
  • Relevant (reasonable, realistic and resourced, results-based)
  • Time-bound

This SMART goal process will be a critical tool for achieving your definition of success (best possible outcome).

To reach your personal best possible outcome, you must:

  • Understand yourself and your values (introspect)
  • Put a plan in place (made up of goals)
  • Identify priorities (based on your values)
  • Document your progress (so you can both celebrate success in achieving particular goals on the way and make course corrections when necessary)
  • Execute your plan every single day (how will you go fishing – 100 lines is better than one)

We understand that it sounds daunting. It would be if you had to do it all by yourself. Just as Santos experienced, you don’t have to do it on your own – seek mentors. In his ten-year plan, he had a goal to find “Ten people that I don’t know and they don’t know me and add them to my circle.”

You can do this if you overcome the negative error culture. In prison, people often default to thinking that someone else’s gain—especially someone from a competing group—necessitates a loss to themselves and vice-versa. Zero-sum thinking sits uneasily with the non-zero-sum nature of our society. Zero-sum thinking means that while it might be psychologically satisfying to hoard (sanitizer, toilet paper, soap, etc.) beyond what is necessary, doing so is self-defeating. One of my goals is to innovate and thereby take advantage of an opportunity that will benefit many. I wish to work to make a bigger pie so that everyone has more.

In other words, don’t just think about what you need from someone else. What can you offer them?

Q – How did you decide who to contact?

First, look at this from the perspective of the criminal justice system (represented by Judge, District Attorney, parole officer, etc.). For Santos, early in his case, it was how to make decisions to not be sentenced to 46 years. Once he was convicted, he created a 10-year plan:

  • Earn academic credentials (college degree)
  • Contribute to society (writing books)
  • Build a support network (find those ten people that can become part of your team)
  • Keep his dignity intact.

With these specific goals, Santos sought out mentors that could work with him on one or more of these goals.

Prison Professors is not seeking to tell you your definition of success (best possible outcome). We strive to help you develop the tools you can use to reach your self-directed success. Goal-setting/achieving is critical to this journey.

Prison Professors created this course to help participants develop the tools necessary to recognize and manipulate the foundational elements of authentic self-expression: information, knowledge, and wisdom. At its foundation, participants must gain the ability to express themselves in an informed and articulate manner.

Among the goals I’ve set and consider essential to success outside of the criminal justice system are (note they are not exactly the same as Santos or those of other Prison Professors members):

  • Thinking critically
  • Thinking creatively
  • Communicating effectively
  • Interacting effectively
  • Information literacy

By developing these tools, I could deconstruct and articulate the rationale behind conflicting ideals. We never tell others what their goals should be (conflicting ideas). What Prison Professors does is provide a range of podcasts–freely available online–that participants can use to develop a set of tools to both understand and express the powerful concepts which shape a life.

Every member of the Prison Professors team remembers how difficult it is for anyone coming into the criminal justice system. Personally, I served six years-three months at California’s San Quentin State Prison.

We all know what you are feeling right now. As Santos said, “An old saying says that if you wish to know the road ahead, ask someone who is walking back on the road.” Everyone on our team has done it.

Here is an example of using these goal-setting tools in a real-world setting–how to prepare for the Pre-Sentence Report (PSR). A PSR is a document written by a probation officer following an interview with you. The PSR will suggest the most appropriate sentence for the committed offense and make recommendations to the sentencing court.

If your goal is the best PSR possible:

  • Who is the probation officer?
  • Where do they get their information?
  • How can you frame the situation for the best possible outcome?

For Santos, he gave a powerful example of what to say at the start of any PSR interview by a parole officer.

I knew I would be nervous; therefore, I’ve written about my background and what I’ve learned about my crime and my victims. While I’ve written it for my judge, out of respect for you and your time, I’d like to give it to you as you prepare the report.

I seek to give you a full understanding of my background. Of course, I’m willing to answer any questions you may have.

Our Prison Professors training team aims to help others realize that it is possible to succeed, even during this most difficult of moments.

  • They are getting stronger just by starting this program
  • There is a pathway through
  • They can do it because you have done it.

We don’t ask you to do anything that we haven’t done.

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