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 Succeeding from Prison 

Picture of Michael Santos

Michael Santos

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Ricky Higgins is serving a sentence inside the Maine State Prison. He connected with us through Linked In, a professional networking site. With the right attitude, a person can use the time inside to prepare for success.

Ricky Higgins Shows his Strategy for Succeeding from Prison

I remember the sense of relief when I got arrested. It was early afternoon February 16th and freezing cold outside. After laying on the ground for what felt like hours while the MDEA searched and arrested me, I was happy to be taken in handcuffs to the warmth of the police cruiser. Extremely tired from my weeklong escapade of constant movement and hiding from authorities, I wasn’t entirely upset when I finally arrived at Cumberland County Jail. Sleep came quickly in the holding cell on the cold hard bench. 

Venturing into the cell block was like walking into an extremely overcrowded bar or club. So loud you couldn’t even hear yourself think. This is where indecision, grief, and panic are born and bred. Most everyone in county jail has no idea what’s going to happen to them or when or if they’ll get out. That feeling of insecurity developed from living within the unknowing is the worst feeling in the world. 

I remember how relieved I was when I took my 322-day sentence, ridding myself of anymore probation upon release. I took my sentence with ease and quickly got into the groove of jailhouse living, developing a routine to ensure that my days would pass by as quickly as possible. I secured a job in the kitchen and took every available self-help class in there. Other than a few minor mishaps, my county term passed by with relative ease. 

The day that I was to be released from my confinement at Cumberland County Jail, I was awake early in the morning and awaiting the call on the microphone telling me to head down to intake. As time passed by, I was filling with dread, knowing that something wasn’t right. “Can you call intake and see when I’m supposed to be released?” I asked the unit officer. After some rapid typing on the computer he responds, “It says here you’ve got a 9am release today, let me find out why they haven’t called you yet.” 

While the officer was making the call, I decided to use the inmate phone to call my friend who was supposed to be picking me up, he answered quickly. “Hello?” he answers, “What’s going on? Why are they telling me you have a $25,000 bail?” My heart sank into my stomach. “Don’t mess with me bro that’s not even funny.” I responded. “I’m serious, they said it’s something about a gun but won’t tell me anything else.” He told me. 

After telling him I was going to figure it out and call him back, the officer was waiting for me at the desk. He explained to me that the MDEA waited until 5:43am to put out a warrant for my arrest the day of my intended release. They were building a case on me the whole time I had been incarcerated. I called my friend back and he explained to me to wait until the following Tuesday when I had court so that I could get my bail lowered so he could bail me out. 

I walked into the courtroom that following Tuesday still optimistic, thinking that I could get my bail lowered to $10,000 or $5,000 and get bailed out. Sitting in the cold holding cell in Portland’s courthouse, I was taken aback when the lawyer of the day came in to read me my indictment. My bail was being raised to $50,000 and I was being indicted on 5 felony charges, one class A felony carrying a maximum penalty of 30 years imprisonment, one class B felony carrying a maximum of 10 years imprisonment, and 3 class C felonies each carrying maximum sentences of 5 years imprisonment. Being my first adult charges, I didn’t think I’d ever see the light of day again.

The ultimate charges that I got sentenced to were as follows, A) aggravated furnishing of scheduled drugs resulting in a death, and two C) possession of firearm by a prohibited person. Because I accepted responsibility for my actions and didn’t take my case to trial, I got a four-year sentence for the class A and a one-year concurrent sentence for the class C’s. (Meaning that the two sentences run together.) I chalked this up as a big win, seeing how my sentence could have been much worse. My mother, little sister, and little brother watched in astonishment while I got handed my sentence by the judge. Seeing the tears well up in my mother’s eyes, and the looks of despair that my little siblings wore was heart wrenching to say the least. 

I was nervous to enter into the Maine Department of Corrections. County jail was a breeze, but from what my family members who had been to prison told me, prison was a whole different experience altogether. An experience of rigid politics, confined living arrangements, and strict adherence to policies and procedures. Life in prison is draining for certain, but a sense of calm is provided once you get sentenced and have a projected release date. A calm unrecognized in county jails. 

I arrived at Maine Correctional Center in Windham, Maine around 9am on February 5th 2020. MCC is the reception facility in the state of Maine that everyone goes to first to determine their custody level and whether they will stay there, go up to Maine State Prison, or head to a minimum level prison such as Charleston Correctional Facility or the farm in Bolduc. Walking in through the sallyport in my cuffs and shackles, I was first met by a large metal mesh gate blocking any advancement further into the facility. I stared at this huge gate in awe for what seemed like several minutes before snapping to attention at the order of one of the prison guards. “Take a seat on that bench right there, time to watch the PREA video!” he stated authoritatively. 

While watching the PREA (Prison Rape Elimination Act) video about how to avoid sexual harassment in prison, and how to report it if it happened to you filled me with fear. Watching prisoners from several years ago speak about their experiences of being sexually harassed on this video made me nervous. After all, I was only 23 and many of my acquaintances at county prodded and joked about how I was a pretty boy, and would call me “pretty Ricky” insinuating that I’ll get taken advantage of. I was able to brush the jokes off back then, but watching this video caused me to question my wellbeing. After my strenuous intake process involving an eye retina scan, fingerprinting, countless pictures of my tattoos and other identifying marks, strip search, body scan, and final drug screening test, I was assigned to a restricted movement pod until I was seen by mental health and my new caseworker.

Walking into C-North was very surprising to me. It was a very small pod, with only about twenty cells each with two bunks. It was dead quiet in the pod, and I walked in with my group of 4 other people and got assigned to a cell upstairs with a prisoner that I went through the intake process with. Being bunked up with someone that I had developed something of a relationship with during the intake procedure provided me with a small sense of comfortability. It was during this first week that I began to realize the caliber of people that I was incarcerated with.

I felt as though everyone around me was completely unaware of the detriment caused by their offense. Most of the people that were serving time with me had one goal in mind. How to continue to commit crimes without getting caught. I couldn’t understand why these people had no desire to change their lives, and why they planned to do the same exact crimes that landed them in prison in the first place. I couldn’t relate to anyone around me, and I felt more alone than ever before. Once I moved to general population it was even worse. Walking into A-pod in the MPU section of MCC, I was enveloped by a blanket of loud noise, yelling and screaming. 

A-pod is a reception unit and houses about 100 prisoners. There were only 8 phones available for all of us, and it was far too loud to even enjoy a phone call, so I kept my phone use to a minimum. In March Covid-19 hit the state of Maine and the whole facility got put on restriction. We were confined to our cells for nearly 21 hours each day, and never left our housing units. This forced solitude forced me to find ways to entertain myself. Rather than playing games and watching movies on the tablets that the prison provided, I chose to view the educational programs that were available on them. 

Video Courses to Teach How to Succeed from Prison

Through these tablets, I discovered Michael Santos’ Mastermind and Straight A guide programs. These videos about how he utilized his time incarcerated and conquered 26 years of imprisonment truly inspired me. Before watching these videos, I sincerely thought that my life was destined for restriction due to my felony conviction and that the time I was to serve in prison was to be a waste of life. I decided to take the sage advice given in these videos and started on a path of documentation and progression. 

Finding solace in educating myself makes me stand out here in prison. Very few people have chosen to take a path akin to mine while incarcerated, and most of my peers look down on me for pursuing higher education and deciding not to participate in conventional prison activities. They wonder why I don’t want to hang out and play cards or watch T.V shows with them and think I’m wasting my time getting an education because they personally lack ambition. If I spent my time worrying about what my peers thought of me, these past three years would have been miserable. 

Observing how everyone around me decided to use their time in prison provided me with insight on how I wanted to utilize mine. The absolute despair that makes up life in prison is undoubtedly difficult to overcome, especially when everyone around you radiates negativity. Separating myself from the negativity of my daily prison routine was key in implementing my plan for success. Choosing to spend my time alone studying and learning rather than wasting my time with mindless activities was the best decision I’ve ever made.

I am now pursuing my associate’s degree in business management through Washington County Community College, and plan to have my degree by the time I am released in about a year. I spend all my time doing activities that are beneficial to my future success. I am a certified tutor and help inmates meet their educational goals and am also available as a mentor to help people navigate through their time productively. Through my time here I have recognized the importance of helping to provide resources for those incarcerated. I am in the process of establishing my non-profit organization with a mission statement to revise the U.S justice system by shifting the focus from punishment to rehabilitation, truly capitalizing on the “corrections” aspect of the Department of Corrections. All while concentrating on reducing the recidivism rate to jails/prisons in our country. 

I was 22 years old when I initially got arrested in February 2019 and am scheduled for release in January of 2023 when I’m 26. I will have completed about 46 months of confinement by then. Navigating through my incarceration isn’t easy but keeping success in mind and focusing on ways to ensure that I won’t ever come back is what keeps me going. Waiting until getting released before you implement changes is too late. The realization that change starts from the inside out is imperative in living a successful life once you are liberated from confinement.

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