Blog Article 

 Guidance for You 

Michael Santos

Michael Santos

Guidance for You

Investigations / Sentencing / Stages of Prison Journey / Early Release

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Scroll Below: Guidance You Can Use at Various Stages of Your Journey

Our experienced team at Prison Professors has been where you are and we can help. I’m Michael Santos. While serving 26 years in federal prison, I earned a bachelor’s degree, a master’s degree, and published more than a dozen books. Upon release, San Francisco State University hired me to teach about the prison system as an adjunct professor. Check out our credentials and you’ll know why we’re the most experienced team to help you.

Team at Prison Professors
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Resources For the Stage You’re In Now:

Click the link below to go directly to the information you need, regarding guidance to consider (click to go to your section):

  1. During Government Investigations
  2. Why We’re a Credible Resource for You
  3. Guidance Before Sentenced
  4. Before Surrendering to Prison
  5. Prepare for Early Release
  6. Restore Your Reputation and Earning Power
  7. Publishing and Ghostwriting Process

1. Government Investigations

The United States incarcerates more people per capita than any nation on earth. Learn how to avoid going into the system, or to get the best possible outcome, by understanding how the government brings people inside. In many cases, particularly in matters of white-collar crime, a government investigation precedes a criminal prosecution. Government look at people through the following three lenses:

Witness to an Investigation

Our government has numerous agencies. Those agencies strive to bring people into government investigations. Sometimes they identify people of interest—people they believe can advance their investigations.

If authorities believe that a person has knowledge about wrongdoing, investigators may attempt to open a dialogue. They may ask questions in an effort to gather information.

People should remember that a person does not have to speak with a law enforcement or respond to questions. If they do, they put their liberty on the line. If a person speaks with a government investigator, and a person lies, the person may face five years in prison under Title 18 USC Section 1001.

It’s best to have a lawyer present any time a person speaks with a government investigator.

Subject of an Investigation

Government investigators may believe that a person has information that is “material” to the matter that they’re investigating. For example, let’s say that a person works in finance. The person may have had authority over disbursing funds from a transaction that the government believed was nefarious.

The person may have high level of exposure. Rather than being identified as simply a “witness” to a government investigation, authorities may believe this person was complicitous. If so, this person could, potentially, be more vulnerable.

Before speaking with government investigators, a person should learn whether authorities identify the person as a witness or a target. A possibility may exist for the person to qualify for immunity—depending upon the value the person could bring to the investigation.

An attorney may help a person get a better understanding of the person’s vulnerability.

Target of an Investigation

If authorities notify a person that he or she is the target of an investigation, it’s likely that they are close to bringing some kind of charges. Those charges may or may not have criminal implications. Either way, the person should begin thinking about mitigation strategies.

Mitigation strategies would include getting a better understanding of options that may be available. Is it possible to resolve the matter informally? In our experience, we consider it highly unlikely that authorities would notify a person that he or she is a target of an investigation, then resolve the matter informally.

If you’d like to learn more about options to consider, consider working with our team.

If you’re a business owner, or you’re a decision-maker in a business, we encourage you to learn more about steps you can take to avoid government investigations. Our team offers compliance and training programs. With those programs, your business may qualify for a non-prosecution agreement, a deferred-prosecution agreement, or leniency in the event that government investigators target your business or your team.

Contact us today to learn how you can avoid charges for a white-collar crime.

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2. Why We’re a Credible Resource for You:

The Department of Justice Endorsed Us

The video below shows what you can learn from a DOJ press release about our company, Earning Freedom. A United States Attorney, a Federal Judge, and a Federal Probation Office hired us to visit Guam for a one-week seminar to train people on best-practices with regard to criminal charges. Since both federal judges and prosecutors from the Department of Justice hire our team for guidance, you should trust that we can help you.

Click above to watch video, or visit DOJ Press Release
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Federal Judges (and others) Endorsed Us

Since emerging after 26 years in federal prison, I’ve worked as a university professor, an entrepreneur, a speaker/trainer, and an investor. My primary company, Earning Freedom, has clients that include:

  • The Department of Justice
  • The federal judiciary
  • The Federal Bureau of Prisons
  • State prison systems
  • Universities

You can learn more by clicking this link to our testimonials. Or, you can listen to a federal judge give me a testimony while he is sitting on the bench. If a person can serve a 45-year federal prison system, and get testimonials from federal judges, just think what you can do!

The question is how?

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3. Guidance Before Sentencing

The best time to think about preparing for sentencing is before authorities charge a person with a crime. The second best time is today. What steps can you take to change the way people within the system will think about you?

To answer that question, learn as much as possible about how the system operates. To assist you, we’ve got a number of resources that will help you. For example, consider the following podcast episodes:

What if I’m Targeted for an Investigation?

What Should I Know Before I Hire a Lawyer?

How to Find a Lawyer?

What are Criminal Justice Proceedings?

What is a Sentence Mitigation Strategy?

What is a Presentence Investigation Report (PSR)?

What to do with a Problematic PSR?

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Influencing Your Sentencing Proceedings

The sooner you start thinking about your sentencing proceedings, the sooner you’ll start a pathway toward restoring your confidence. Regardless of how much or how little you paid your lawyer, you bear a responsibility to document your own journey. To start, think about the stakeholders you’re going to meet going forward:

  • Federal judge (likely a former prosecutor)
  • Prosecutor (will make you look bad)
  • Probation officer (will present the government’s version of you)
  • Defense attorney (will argue facts)

The sentencing judge will want to hear from you. Don’t take our word for it. We’ve interviewed more than a dozen sentencing judges. Each of those judges told us the same thing: They want to hear from defendants directly. Two judges have participated in interviews with us. The full videos are available on our YouTube channel. Listen to brief clips from two federal judges:

Judge Bennett confirms he wants to hear from defendants
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Judge Bough tells us he values a defendant’s statement more than the lawyer

Three Steps to Influence Sentencing

Sentencing Narratives

Without exception, the judges we’ve interviewed tell us that they want to hear from the people they’re about to sentence. Sadly, few people go to sentencing with a full preparation. They should document a story that will help the judge truly know the person.

Below we offer a few ideas for anyone who wants to write a sentencing narrative that will influence a lower sentence.

  • Identify with the victim of the offense. Think about how the judge and other stakeholders will view the offense. Although a person does not want to face a severe sanction, to get the outcome he wants, he must learn how to put his own feelings aside. The judge will want to know what a person has thought about the victims of the crime.
  • Reveal the influences that led to the crime, the conviction, and the plea. Remember that a judge has extensive experience in listening to people. He will look for sincerity, not platitudes. Strive to humanize your story. Help the judge identify with the challenges you faced.
  • Help the judge understand what you’ve learned from this experience. The judge will want to know how you are working to make amends. Built a record of demonstrable proof that you’ve given extensive thought to the challenge you’re in.
  • Build a story to show the judge why you’re worthy of mercy. To the best of your ability, differentiate yourself from others who have appeared before sentencing.
Character-Reference Letter Campaigns

Your sentencing narrative should give a judge a new perspective. Rather than simply listening from the prosecution’s version of events, your narrative will help him understand more about your life. But the judge is hearing from you—and he may want more information.

For this reason, a person who anticipates a sentencing hearing should bolster his case of leniency by creating a character-reference letter campaign. We call it a campaign because it’s not as easy as you may think. As a criminal defendant, a person must persuade others to write letters that validate the person is worthy of mercy.

An effective character-reference letter will not tell the judge how to do his or her job. Instead, it should reflect that the writer has insight into the person’s character. Below are some points to consider:

  • Offer personal details.
  • Reveals that the defendant has been honest about the purpose of the letter.
  • Shows how long the person has know the person.
  • Expresses why the person feels qualified to write the letter.
  • Show that the person will continue supporting the individual.
Sentence Mitigation Strategies

A comprehensive sentence-mitigation strategy may be extensive, showing that the person has thought seriously about the challenges he or she has faced. Then, the strategy should show the efforts a person has made to make amends, or reconcile with society.

The only limit to an effective mitigation strategy would be the person’s imagination. We have worked with people that architect extensive strategies that include:

  • Volunteering
  • Writing a book
  • Creating courses
  • Building a record to show a commitment to live as a law-abiding citizen
  • Paying toward restitution

A person that faces a sentencing hearing may be about to make the biggest sale of his life. That person should operate as if he is the CEO of his life. As such:

  • Document the strategy, using the three steps identified above.
  • Create the tools, tactics, and resources that will make the best-possible case for leniency.
  • Execute that strategy with a level of commitment to show that the person wants to work toward the lowest possible sentence.
  • Contemplating later stages in the journey, and sow seeds that will lead to the highest level of liberty, at the soonest possible time.
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4. Before Surrendering to Prison

Although facing a sentencing hearing can feel traumatizing, and every person hopes to receive leniency, wise people will go into the system with eyes wide open. What strategies can a person deploy today that will lead to a better outcome?

A person should learn about the options. What would be the best possible outcome from the prison term? If a person doesn’t understand the options, the person may simply wait for calendar pages to turn. Yet waiting or hoping isn’t an effective strategy.

To the extent that a person works to define success, a person can carve out a strategy. Members of our team have worked hard to serve their sentences with their dignity intact. As a result of preparing wisely, they served time effectively, accomplishing many goals, including:

  • Earning university degrees
  • Becoming published authors
  • Building massive support networks
  • Building businesses
  • Earning incomes
  • Getting married
  • Getting out of prison early

Of course, there is another alternative. A person can listen to platitudes and cliches and lose hope. Those who want to prepare for success will take a methodical, deliberate approach.

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5. Prepare for Early Release

Every person in prison wants to get an early release. Sadly, not every person works hard to prepare for an early release. With the passage of several criminal justice reform laws, opportunities exist for those who are willing to sow the seeds. Two significant reforms include:

Second Chance Act

  • The Second-chance Act passed several years ago. For people in prison, it opened opportunities for people to serve up to the final 10 percent of the sentence (up to 12 months) in a Residential Reentry Center (halfway house or home confinement (up to last six months).

First Step Act

  • The First Step Act is the most significant prison-reform legislation in longer than 30 years. It benefits every person in federal prison. The law has two significant components that people should understand, including:
  • Opportunities for people who qualify to earn credits that they can use to advance prospects for a transfer to home confinement. Some people can earn up to 15 days per month in “earned time” that the First Step Act made possible.
  • Opportunities for people to petition the prison warden, or the court for compassionate release. Prior to the First Step Act, only the Bureau of Prisons could pursue an option for compassionate release. This significant legislation (combined with the pandemic) has resulted in thousands of people being transferred from prison to home confinement.

We encourage anyone who anticipates serving a term in federal prison, or people who have loved ones in prison, to learn steps they can take to advocate for themselves. People should work to prepare records that will result in reconsideration. Hint: A person must build a case that is both extraordinary and compelling.

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6. Restore Reputation and Earning Power

If you’re like most people, you don’t want prosecutors and government investigators telling the story of your life.

Invest the time and energy to tell the full story. If you don’t have the confidence to write your story, then contact our team. We’ll collaborate, working through the process with you. Either we’ll show you how to write your story, or we’ll write it for you.

As you consider working with our team, let me tell you how our process began. You’ll also learn a bit more of how we set pricing.

Through our various channels of Prison Professors, you can learn as much as you want about my story and why it’s relevant to you. The thumbnail version follows:

  • I made bad decisions during the recklessness of youth.
  • When I was 23, a judge sentenced me to serve a 45-year sentence.
  • While in prison, I made a commitment to transform my life and reconcile with society.
  • I earned a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree in prison; I published books, I restored my reputation, as is evidenced by a Google search of my name.
  • I began writing articles for publication while in prison.
  • I began writing books for publication while in prison.
  • I began earning living by ghostwriting books for other people in prison.

Anyone can say that they’ve followed the same path. What they can’t do is show you the record. If you’d like to see evidence, click the links below to learn more about the publishing journey that I began while serving a lengthy sentence in federal prisons of every security level.

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7. Publishing and Ghost Writing Process:

Drugs and Money, 1990

While locked inside of a high-security penitentiary, at the start of my journey, I understood the importance of reconciling with society. I came up with the idea of writing a book. I’d been incarcerated for three years, and I wanted to feel as if I were living a life of meaning, relevance, and contribution. My idea was to write a book that would help at-risk youth avoid the bad decisions that led me to prison.

The problem was that I had never written long-form content. Since I didn’t know how to structure the project, I simply started to write. Since my roommate had a university degree, I asked him to help me edit. Then, with my sister’s help, we established a Galleria Publishing to bring the book to market.

Through this process, I learned that writing was hard. That experience convinced me that I needed to focus on earning academic credentials.

About Prison, Wadsworth/Thompson publishers, 2004

While in my 15th year of imprisonment, in 2002, Professor George Cole, one of my mentors, offered to introduce me to his publisher. George led the criminal justice department at the University of Connecticut. He also authored several books about the prison experience.

While studying toward my master’s degree, George invited me to contribute sections, and then chapters to textbooks he wrote about America’s prison system. Then he encouraged me to write a book about my experiences, suggesting that it could be a great companion book to his textbook. That suggestion brought my first publishing credential with an established publishing house, Wadsworth Thompson, one of America’s largest academic publishers. The publication helped to open relationships with many universities across America.

Profiles from Prison, Adjusting to Life Behind Bars, Greenwood Publishing Group, 2003

After writing About Prison, I reached out to other mentors of mine. Dr. Marylyn McShane, a professor at the University of Texas, also served on an advisory board for Greenwood Publishing. When she learned that Wadsworth and published my first book, she recommended that I publish another book with her company.

In Profiles from Prison, I wrote the story of adjustment patterns for other people in prison. University professors and libraries used this book to help students get a better understanding of America’s prison system, and steps we could take to improve outcomes.

Inside: Life Behind Bars in America, St. Martin’s Press, 2006

With publishing credentials from two respected academic publishing houses, I wanted to write a general, nonfiction book about the American prison experience.

The long and arduous process of publishing for the mainstream began with my learning how to find a literary agent. Then I wrote an extensive book proposal and more than 10,000 words of sample chapters.

By reaching out to hundreds of literary agents, I persuaded one to work with me. Soon after signing a representation agreement, the agent got a contract from St. Martin’s Press, one of the world’s largest publishing houses.

The Los Angeles Times Sunday Book Review and the New York Times Sunday Book Review, and more than 50 other newspapers published reviews of Inside.

Publishing books opened many income opportunities. Further, it influenced my reputation, changing the way that the world perceived me. Rather than judging me for the bad decisions I made as a young man, people began to judge based on the way that I responded to my imprisonment. I leveraged those earlier publications to build a massive support network. 

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How Will Google Portray You?

By 2006, the Internet had changed the world, making it easier for people to learn about anything online. Together with my wife, we built a publishing company. Initially, we used our publishing company to produce books that I wrote. I wanted to influence the way that people perceived me. A Google search of my name will show you how that process influenced my reputation. 

Although I served 26 years in prison, the efforts I made to restore my reputation influence the way that others in society perceive me. Rather than prosecutors narrating the story of my life, the publishing work that I’ve done controls the narrative.

I began teaching other people in prison how to influence their reputation through publishing. Through our publishing company, I ghostwrote more than a dozen books for other people who served time. Those clients used those books for a variety of reasons:

  • As part of a comprehensive mitigation strategy for sentencing, commutation, or release from prison for administrative reasons,
  • To launch business opportunities upon release,
  • As legacy projects that would tell their stories, or
  • As reputation-management projects to recalibrate their lives. 
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Books to Teach and Inspire People Experiencing Challenges of the Criminal Justice System

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Setting Prices for Ghostwriting While I was in Prison:

It’s a funny story how I used to set prices for ghostwriting while I was in prison. By the time I earned a series of publishing credentials, I had nearly two decades of prison behind me. Since I’d served time in prisons of every security level, many people perceived me as an authority. They sought advice on steps they could take to prepare for success through prison and upon release.

The people that sought my guidance, ordinarily, were people that understood the importance of a reputation. They had built careers as businesspeople or professionals.

As I worked through a rather extensive questioning process, it became clear that the government’s version of events would wreak havoc on their earning potential upon release. When prospective customers or business partners completed a Google search of their name, allegations of the crime would minimize opportunities for deal flow.

I recommended that they begin writing to change the narrative. They should write a book. 

Their response: “I’m not a writer.” 

My response: “I’m not a writer either, but I’ve written several books.”

Their response: “How much do you charge to write a book?”

My response: “Let’s work through that process. Did you ever employ a secretary?”

Their response: “Of course.”

My response: “How much did you pay your secretary?”

Their response: “I don’t know, but I’d guess around $20 per hour.”

My response: “Do you think your secretary could write your book?”

Their response: “Probably not.” 

My response: “Then we know the price is going to be more than $20 per hour.”

In truth, anyone who retains a ghostwriter should know the commitment. Unlike the digital products that we offer at Prison Professors, ghostwriting is not scalable. A person only has so many hours in a day to write. While writing one project, a person cannot work on other projects.

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Our Ghostwriting Process:

A ghostwriting project requires many steps, and hundreds of hours. If you choose to work with our team, you can expect us to provide you with a detailed process that we will follow. Although all projects are individual, typical ghostwriting project might include the following steps:

Step 1: Initial conversation to discuss the scope and how a writing project can help you achieve your goals.

Step 2: After we learn what you’re trying to accomplish, and the time commitment it would take, we would propose a price to fulfill the project. The price would relate to the amount of time we would have to devote to meet your expectations.

Step 3: You would review our proposal and make a decision on whether you want to sign the agreement and make an initial payment.

Step 4: Our team would schedule an intensive interview. During that interview, we would find themes that we could use to structure the story into chapters.

Step 5: We would create an annotated outline, structuring the book into a series of digestible chapters.

Step 6: You would review the outline. We would have a collaborative discussion to assess whether you’re in agreement. We will make revisions as necessary until you give your approval for the outline.

Step 7: Our team will interview continue the interview process with you as necessary.

Step 8: Our team will work through the project, chapter by chapter, providing you with weekly updates.

Step 9: You will review and approve the chapter-by-chapter project.

Step 10: After we complete the manuscript in accordance with the outline, we will complete the editing process.

Step 11: After you approve the manuscript, we will begin the formatting process for a paperback book and for a digital book.

Step 12: We will propose cover ideas for you to review and approve. After you approve the cover, we will publish the book.

For some projects, we do all of the writing, editing, formatting, and publishing. For other projects, we train the client how to go through the process independently.

If you’d like to review case studies of people that have worked with our team, reach out with a message and we’ll provide introductions.

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Text Message

Client after Sentencing

Stanford Law School

Joan Petersilia
Click link to see testimonial from Stanford Law School

PBS NewsHour

Profile on PBS
Click to watch PBS video profile

NBC News Profile

Profile on NBC
Click to watch NBC video profile

Video Snippet

Jerry Lundergan

Client

Denise Nunley

Client

Branden Coluccio

UC Hastings Law Review

Law Review Article
Click to Read our Law Review Article on Prison and Sentence Reform

UC Berkeley

University Presentation
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