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 What I Know About Best Federal Prisons in America 

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Michael Santos

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By Seth Ferranti, Associate Prison Professor

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I’m Seth Ferranti. I’m a Prison Professor. I did 21 years in Club Fed prisons and I came out successfully. I want to help you renter society successfully too. This is my story and how I did it. I’m going to show how you can do it too. Part of the strategy is to make your prison the best federal prison in America. Learn how I made that happen, regardless of where prison officials sent me. First, let me tell you the story of my journey.

The principles to succeed in prison are the same as the principles to succeed in the real world. I own and run a business that I started in prison. I am living happily with my wife who I married when I was in federal prison. I am working professionally as a writer, getting professional acting gigs, and writing, directing, and producing films. All skills I developed while a prisoner in the federal Bureau of Prisons. All this after getting a 25 year sentence for a first-time, nonviolent drug conspiracy. I was only 22-years-old at the time and it was hard to see a future for myself, but with hard work, preparation, and setting plus attaining goals I was able to turn my life around in prison and prepare for my eventual release.

I’ve resided in St. Louis, Missouri since my release. In a home with my wife and two dogs in a suburb west of the city that sits on two acres. A long way from the cell I had to inhabit for 21 years. But it was in that cell that I came up with the plan that is benefiting me today. I make my living as a freelance journalist, writing for publications such as VICE, OZY, DAILY BEAST, and PENTHOUSE. A skill that I developed in prison where I started writing for publication. I founded a publishing house, put out 22 books, and wrote articles about prison issues, the criminal justice system, and my descent into the drug trade. I’ve gotten involved in filmmaking shorts, documentaries, and even doing some acting. At the beginning of my sentence I never thought about things like this, but as I got closer to release I started visualizing it, reading about what I was interested in pursuing, and putting my plans into motion.

Get to Best Federal Prison to Make Progress

By being proactive, assertive, disciplined, and looking toward my future I was able to secure it while in prison. It didn’t matter where authorities sent me. I learned how to make my prison the best federal prison because I had a strategy.

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It was more than about what I did. It was about my attitude and the way I looked at the world. I had to stop thinking like a felon, loose the criminal mentality, and change my outlook. I sold drugs because I wanted fast and easy money. I thought being an outlaw was cool. I wanted to be the man. I romanticized and glorified it, but all that high-school infamy resulted in, was me loosing two decades of my life inside the belly of the beast. And even when I went into prison, it took me a further nine years inside to come to grips with who I am, what I was capable of, and more importantly what I wanted to do with my life. Its my hope that by reading about how I changed and overcame the obstacles in front of me- which included incarceration, drug addiction, criminal activity, peer pressure, rebellious streak, selfishness, and greed- you can make the same transition now, while you’re still inside and be ready to hit the world running like I did.

This journey of self-discovery helped me tremendously while I did my time and stayed away from the negative aspects of prison, which can be overwhelming if you let them consume you. As soon as I realized that I had a future I knew it was time to start preparing for it. And that wasn’t going to happen if I was always on the unit playing cards and watching TV or on the yard hanging out with my homeboys and bullshitting or in the hole for using drugs, fighting, or just being generally disruptive. To prepare for my future I had to start acting how I would in the world in prison. Not an easy task, but one that anybody can do if they have the determination to change the rest of their life.

Instead of getting involved in gangs, drugs, and the politics that take precedence in prison I decided to work out, play sports, and most importantly take college classes. I jumped into the world of academia right when I got locked up, and it became who I was and defined me. If guys were looking for me on the compound they knew that I would be in the library studying and taking classes. This took me away from the drama that exists in every prison and all the intrigues of shifting alliances on the compound. I was doing my own thing and looking toward the future. A future that I would make from the penitentiary. Earning my Associates, Bachelors, and Masters degrees through correspondence courses. These accomplishments helped me become goal orientated. I focused on my classes and earning degrees.

What is Your Life Like Before Going to Federal Prison?

Before I went to prison I was irresponsible, immature, and in reality, didn’t even really like myself. I didn’t care about anyone, especially not myself. Full of drugs and alcohol I made bad decisions while trying to be cool and accepted by my peers. I didn’t care about my family, my friends, my community, and was traveling a road to self-destruction. Life to me was one big party, where I was consumed with taking and selling drugs, making money, and partying. My motto was “Have Drug, Will Travel” and at the age of 17, I was driving around the East Coast and selling drugs at colleges in multiple states. It was only marijuana and LSD I told myself, justifying my actions, but I was breaking the law, and did so knowingly. In truth, I never saw myself getting caught. I thought only stupid people got caught. I was too smart, but these false beliefs ruled my actions and led to my eventual arrest and incarceration.

Faced with a quarter century of time I knew I had to get involved in something positive, so that I didn’t give into the negativity that surrounded me in the prison environment. Enrolling in college courses and immersing myself in that world gave me a sense of doing the right thing and a sense of accomplishment despite my circumstances. The education I was getting led to my self-worth increasing and helped me rebuild my fractured ego, which was based on my outlaw status. A status that didn’t do me any good in life. A false dream I sold myself to justify the life of crime I was living. It took me several years in prison to overcome this mentality and see it for what it is- a one way ticket to prison or death.

Throwing myself into the college classes, getting back in touch with my family and repairing those broken relationships, reading a lot, and nurturing a relationship with my future wife gave a semblance of normalcy to my life inside. It didn’t have to be about the drama that was going down in the prison, it could be about going to school, reconnecting with my family, and staying off drugs. I’m sorry to say that it took that 25-year sentence for me to realize all this, but before that I had refused to take a hard look at myself. But in prison I had to analyze myself. Years of introspection resulted in significant change.

By being humble, openminded, and establishing a network of support I was able to complete the coursework I was enrolled in, earn degrees in prison, write for publication, establish credit, get married, and do things that would benefit me in the future when I was released. The challenges, motivation, and pressures were all there, but I overcame them to become the man that I am today while behind those fences. By applying myself in that negative environment, I focused on doing positive things and it helped me to change my life.

When I was a drug dealer I wanted to be the biggest drug dealer in the world. I used this same ambition and relentlessness in my academic and writing careers. Through pure persistence I was able to finish college and earn degrees and land writing gigs while incarcerated. Setting the stage for my release and insuring a seamless transition to the world. A world that had changed tremendously from when I first got locked up in 1993. There wasn’t even an Internet or world wide web when I went in, but when I got out everyone had smartphones, tablets, and even computerized watches. A totally different world for me, like The Jetsons cartoons I used to watch in the 70s, but one that I read about voraciously in prison. Learning about iPhones, the internet, cellular vs. wifi, and the cloud. Foreign concepts in prison, but ones I would need to master to succeed when I was released.

What Does A Successful Outcome from Federal Prison Look Like For You?

Setting goals, following through, and completing what I set out to do helped me to do my time. It helped to give me confidence and believe in myself. It helped me to realize that I had a wonderful woman by my side who was taking the journey with me. We got married in 2005, 10 years before I got out. My integrity, passion for my work, and ability to accomplish things from prison helped me to get married while still inside. This marriage had a great stabilizing factor on my life and gave me something to look forward to, besides my work, when I got out. For me balance is very important and I try to keep all the elements that make me who I am in balance, so I can stay even keeled and navigate through life.

All these attributes I developed in prison- like being on time, completing work by certain dates, and studying about things that interested me and things I needed to know about, have helped me to succeed as a returning citizen. I set myself up for success. I was a self-starter. I took the initiative. Taking college courses in prison wasn’t the easiest thing in the world, but I was determined to see it through and earn my degrees. Developing a career as a writer from prison was very hard to do, but I did it by staying persistent and writing eevery day I practiced my trade and perfected my skills, so that I could hit the ground running when I was released.

Halfway house was my first big step out of prison. A necessary step. I started working two jobs within the first two weeks of arriving. I had 6 months halfway house but was on home confinement in two months. After one year of probation, and having 4 years left, my Judge and PO cut me loose. They told me I earned that by the behavior I demonstrated during my initial 18 months of release. I was proud to be out of prison and off probation. I was happy to be a functioning and tax payer member of society. I was relieved to be back in the world and out of prison which tries to reinforce the negative stereotypes of criminal and prisoners. When all we really need is a second chance to prove ourselves. Follow the steps that I did and you too can make a successful transition back to the world.

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