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Michael Santos

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When going through challenging times, we should look to the future. Strive to see what we want to become. Those visions can fuel the commitment we need to continue preparing for success.

Straight-A Guide: 4—Aspiration

It’s really hard to face criminal charges, pre-sentence investigations, sentencing, and prison. Yet all of us must live in the world as it exists, and not as we want it to be. Our course on the Straight-A Guide shows the strategies that leaders teach. They teach us to aim high, and to visualize what we want to become.

I had to learn that lesson very early in my journey. When a federal judge sentenced me to serve a 45-year sentence, I didn’t know what it meant. I made bad decisions when I was 20. Those decisions led to my conviction and sentence. I didn’t like it, but I couldn’t change the past.

On the flip side, I could make progress to build a better future.

What does your future look like?

All of us are on a road to the future. When we use lessons like those we recommend in the Straight-A Guide, a person develops more skills at avoiding detours.

If you’d like to learn how aspirations guided me through 9,500 days in prison, please consider downloading the following book—it’s free.

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.

Aspiration Lesson with Taylor: 4-Aspiration

My name is Taylor Evans and I work on the team with Prison Professors.

The next installment in the Straight-A Guide is all about a person’s aspirations to help achieve the outcomes they desire in their battle against the criminal justice system.

All people who must face criminal charges have the same goal in mind, spending no time or the least amount of time possible in jail or prison. Michael brings up a fantastic nuance that can help separate you from the other 50 people that will see the same judge the same day you do.

Michael acknowledges that every defendant wants the least severe sentencing possible. Then he poses the question of how will you stick out from all the other defendants? He shares with us in the video for you to have the best chance to stick out from the crowd is to create your mitigation strategy based on the perspective of the person who will be judging your case.

It makes perfect sense. A judge hears all day every day how sorry people are and how that person has changed, and how this will never happen again. Judges and attorneys have heard this same story to the point where they become cynical when these words come out of a defendant’s mouth.

Judges, attorneys, probation officers, and other professionals who will judge you are much more interested in you showing them how sorry you are through your actions.

Since you have created what success looks like in your eyes, then made S.M.A.R.T goals and developed an attitude of 100 percent commitment to achieving your success, now it is time to aspire to create a mitigation strategy from the perspective of the person judging you to see your true remorse and feelings demonstrated through your actions.

I can speak from personal experience how my due diligence and efforts before my sentencing led to my best outcome where I was sentenced to one year of incarceration as opposed to the 15 years the judge first offered me.

My offense was related to substance abuse, so I sought out professional substance abuse treatment, attended AA meetings daily, passed regularly scheduled alcohol and drug tests, and spoke in conferences and with groups who spoke about the danger and risks of drugs and alcohol, a stance I still feel very strongly about.

Regardless of the charges you are facing you can aspire to create a mitigation strategy that can work for you. Prison Professors offers videos and additional resources at that can be implemented into your case.

If this is something that is so daunting and unmanageable for you I encourage you to schedule a phone call with one of our partners, Justin Paperny. Justin runs White Collar Advice and we have partnered with thousands of clients to help develop mitigation strategies that align with our client’s desired outcomes.

The worst thing you can do is nothing. In one of our videos Justin sits down with a former FBI agent who shares with Justin that by the time the FBI or whatever agency is knocking on your door to arrest you, they are already 95 percent done with the investigation. The other 5 percent he shares is to see how the defendant reacts.

Our team’s best advice would be to sit down with your legal team, family, and whoever can offer proactive input to create an aspirational mitigation strategy that the people who want to lock you up truly see how remorseful and sorry you are through your actions, not some cheesy prepared apology speech.

Aspiration Lesson with Wayne: 4-Aspiration

Santos gives us his thoughts on aspiration and how it can help someone

  • preparing for sentencing
  • a productive journey through prison
  • getting off probation early
  • starting a business with a felony conviction

Q – How can a team member use aspiration to create a mitigation strategy?

A – In context, we spoke about defining success, setting goals, and having 100 percent commitment to success as defined by the values. But we also have to talk about aspiration, what it means, and why you are doing all of this work to achieve your own best possible outcome.

First, the PP team needs to consider the context of the people that are judging you. It’s very different for somebody, depending on the stage that they’re at in their journey with the criminal justice system.

When entering the criminal justice system, all too often, the only thing you’re thinking about is what’s my sentence going to be. The PP team member must work to shift the client’s perspective to what the judge is thinking when every defendant comes before him saying the same thing–”I want to get out of jail early.” Every judge always starts from that premise; that’s what the person wants. How do you set an aspiration of the best possible outcome for the client?

The judge hears 99 out of 100 people that come to court saying the same thing (I found Jesus, and I’m going to miss my kids, and I shouldn’t be going to jail now).

From the judge’s perspective, he’ll think that the current recidivism rates are 60-70%, and that’s with harsh sentencing.

PP wants anybody using these programs that we create to aspire to what is the best possible outcome for them. If you don’t, you’ll leave yourself at the mercy of a system that is exquisitely designed to perpetuate failure.

Many defendants outsource these decisions to their attorneys or other people around them. All that shows the judge is that you haven’t worked hard enough to figure this out or truly understand your problem’s complexity.

Like many defendants, I had always thought that my attorney wished to present a professional case on the defendant’s behalf. The trust was that my attorney saw me as a wild card in an attempt for me to make a presentation. Further, the attorney would seek to have already done the work to identify what influences and background led to my criminal behavior.

Straight from my supplemental filing at my sentencing hearing:

In both the original and supplemental Reports, the author appears so affected by the tragic nature of the events of this case that no real consideration is given to the facts and circumstances that weigh in Mr. Boatwright’s favor. This is illustrated by the treatment of Mr. Boatwright’s statement of responsibility in the Summary and Conclusion section of the Report (page 5-6). The Report states, “The matter before the Court is tragic in nature and is not a mere accident.” This is true, and Mr. Boatwright has never treated it as a “mere accident.”

I suggest you NOT DO WHAT I DID. Further, my defense attorney provided little/no guidance in preparing this letter or any information on the judge who would be considering it. My attorney did nothing to prepare me for my interview with the parole officer either. Accordingly, my personal statement did not refute anything in the parole officer’s Report.

Finally, by not taking the opportunity to speak before the judge, I reduced any chance for him to see me as a person and not just a defendant.

In Earning Freedom and PP’s Straight-A Guide Mitigation Workbook, we guide you through the hard work that requires a level of introspection you must do. Remember, we write a great deal about the perspective of the stakeholders, the cynicism of a judge, probation officer, and district attorney.

PP team members have been to sentencing hearings where defendants stand up and

Say, “I want to use experience. I aspire to help other people and change the world.”

Some judges will laugh, even mocking the defendant.

We must help participants understand why a judge may be critical of someone saying, “I aspire to change the world.” For the judge, it is like a four-year-old saying she’s going to be an astronaut. The judge wants to know how much thought you have given to the case’s complexities – NOT your problems. Have you considered the cost to the victims and what has happened to their lives?

At the time of my case, I was mentally unable to consider or create a solid mitigation strategy to carry me through the prison term. My attorney never even broached the subject.

In my case, if I could go back into the past and prepare myself for my sentencing hearing, I would add:

  • Read the Pre-Sentencing Report (PSR) and challenge any misstatements by the parole officer.
  • Personal mental health efforts to address my addiction including a psychiatrist, group counselor/meetings, and psychologist.
  • Given my childhood trauma, I would highlight my work at AA, my children’s schools, and church on how I have learned to deal with trauma. The intent here is to demonstrate that I seek to dismantle the defense mechanisms and triggers that led me to use alcohol as self-treatment.
  • That I would be willing to honor any terms of parole/probation that are required to assume public safety (drug tests, home confinement, community service, etc.).
  • My goal is to be a productive member of society by supporting my family and paying taxes.

To get a good outcome at sentencing, you must demonstrate you’ve truly introspected and honestly thought about your crime. For example, you can read Earning Freedom.

According to Santos, he found his aspiration:

I got a 45-year sentence and not the kind of candidate that’s going to get extra good treatment on paper. I had to think about how will I overcome that how do I get an aspiration for the best possible prison that would advance the highest possibility of me getting a master’s degree and then advancing the next stage of my journey.

If you remember reading Earning Freedom (or in the course work), pay attention to those Stories.

  • I’m sitting in a visiting room with Dr. Bruce McPherson from the University of Chicago. He taught me how to write. Yes, based on this solid network relationship, and Dr. McPherson told Dr. Francis (part of McPherson’s network) that this guy got killed. They were willing to strategize with me about a transfer (even though they didn’t understand the prison environment). They listened to me and helped me get a prison transfer.
  • I got married in prison.
  • made more than 1 million dollars in prison

Things like this only happen with systematic planning and aspiration.

Dr. McPherson sent an article we had written together for an academic journal to the Director of Education for the Bureau of Prisons in Washington D.C.then he followed up and met with her as well. She was so impressed that we wrote this article about the importance of finding a mentor and having the mentor help me get through grad school and showing why it’s an advancement of the GED that he could talk with her. She then directed Dr. McPherson to other team members to find a suitable prison for me to get an education.

I got transferred to McKean in Pennsylvania by tapping into the other networks and using my lobbying skills. At the time was called the dream McKean, and it was excellent medium-security prison.

This didn’t happen by accident. I aspired to get what I could. I laid the groundwork to make it happen. If you’re on our team and you’re coaching people through the most challenging stage in their life, you want to ask them what’s the best outcome they want. Then our PP team can help them to be able to articulate the necessary goals to achieve the best possible outcome. Yes, with groundwork have you laid to get there, you want to be doing this from the context of the staff and if you do that, you’ve got a better chance of getting the desired outcome.

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