Self Advocacy in Prison 

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To navigate the prison system successfully, a person must start with a clear understanding. After a federal criminal charge, a series of procedures will take place. First, a person will need to conclude the judicial process. A criminal defense attorney will likely advocate for the person through the sentencing hearing. But after the sentencing hearing, the person goes into the Federal Bureau of Prisons, or a state prison system. At that point, the person may not have counsel. 


The person going into prison should learn how to self advocate. 

No one should go into prison with expectations of a family-friendly, easy environment. It’s better to expect problems and challenges. A person who prepares well will learn how to succeed despite the challenges. When problems surface, the individual must use self-advocacy skills.

My name is Michael Santos and I write from the perspective of a person who served 26 years in federal prison. By reading my timeline, anyone can see that I speak from the perspective of a person who has gone through the journey–the full journey. Had I not developed self-advocacy while serving my term in federal prison, I may not have been as successful upon my return to society.

These articles are not about me. I’ve served the time and now I work to advocate for reforms. To succeed in this endeavor, I must help more people going into the system learn how to self advocate effectively. I must first earn trust, showing authenticity.

  • I would never ask anyone to do anything that I didn’t do
  • I will never lie
  • Anyone can see the timeline for verifying links to show how I learned how to self-advocate while I went through 9,500 days in federal prison.

To self advocate effectively, a person use the same principles it takes to succeed in any other endeavor. A person must:

  • Define success as the best possible outcome
  • Create a plan that will lead to the best outcome
  • Develop tools, tactics, and resources to accelerate progress
  • Measure the daily commitment
  • Execute the plan daily

Before going into the system, I recommend a person take the following steps to prepare for self-advocacy.

Understand Your Rights

The first step in self-advocacy is understanding your rights. This includes access to medical care, legal resources, and fair treatment. Familiarize yourself with the prison’s rules and regulations, and stay informed about any changes. Knowledge is power, and in the context of prison, it’s your first line of defense.

Communicate Effectively

Effective communication is key. When presenting your needs or concerns, be clear, concise, and respectful. Avoid confrontational language and focus on being assertive yet polite. Written requests are often more effective than verbal ones, as they provide a record of your efforts to advocate for yourself.

Build Relationships

Building positive relationships with prison staff can be instrumental. While maintaining professionalism, being respectful and courteous can go a long way in getting your voice heard. Establishing a rapport based on mutual respect can make it easier to address any concerns that arise.

Use Available Resources

At Prison Professors, we publish an abundance of free resources to help people become more fluent with the prison system. At Mitigation Arc Courses, our premium community, we offer self-directed courses and interactive webinars. At Prison Professors Talent, we offer resources to help people memorialize the journey. Those tools can help, but only if a person is willing to use them. No one should work harder than you to prepare for a successful outcome.

Document Everything

Keep detailed records of any requests or communications related to your advocacy efforts. This documentation can be invaluable, especially if you need to escalate an issue or prove that you’ve taken steps to resolve a problem.

Seek Support from Outside

Build a support network that will support your self-advocacy. Do not hesitate to reach out to family, friends, or external advocates who can assist in your efforts. Sometimes, having support from the outside can add weight to your requests and ensure that your concerns are taken seriously.

Be Persistent

Self-advocacy in prison often requires persistence. If your initial request is not addressed, follow up respectfully. Understand that the system may be slow, but consistent and polite persistence can often lead to positive outcomes.

Conclusion

Effective self-advocacy requires a deliberate approach. It’s never too early and it’s never too late to prepare. Always operate from a position of strength, being informed, respectful, and effective. By understanding your rights, communicating effectively, and utilizing available resources, you can navigate the challenges of incarceration with greater confidence and control over your situation. At least that is the strategy that worked for me.

Critical Thinking Question:

  • In what ways are the decisions you’re making today helping you to build coincidence in your ability to self-advocate later?

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