An introduction: Michael G. Santos returns to society

150 150 Michael G. Santos

Michael and his wife Carole are all smiles upon his return

My name is Michael G. Santos. On August 13, 2012, authorities authorized my transfer from the federal prison in Atwater, California to a halfway house in San Francisco, California. I served a total of 9,135 consecutive days in prisons of every security level. That amounts to slightly more than 25 full years.   

By my count, that term included 250 federal holidays, so I’m very pleased that Monday, September 3, 2012, was the first federal holiday that I was able to celebrate with my wife, Carole, in society as a quasi-free man.

One intent with this series is to share everything I’ve learned about the challenges of re-entering society after a quarter century of imprisonment. As readers, you may count on me to provide regular updates. I welcome the opportunity to respond honestly and openly to any questions you might have.

I’d like to begin by revealing a bit about who I am, about the bad decisions that I made which led to my imprisonment, about the motivations that drove me to start preparing for a law-abiding life upon release, and about my long journey while in prison. Beyond those challenges, I know that I will also face an entirely different set of challenges as I acclimate to a society that has advanced in so many ways during my imprisonment. I welcome this opportunity to reflect on my past, present, and future.

I grew up in Seattle, Washington. My parents were small business owners, providing my two sisters and me with a stable family life. I graduated from Shorecrest High School in 1982 as a mediocre student with misplaced feelings of entitlement.  Soon thereafter, my parents divorced. The breakup of our family led to a series of bad decisions that made for a reckless transition between my youth and early adulthood.  Although I didn’t have a substance-abuse problem, I began trafficking in cocaine and troubles with the law soon followed.

In 1987, when I was 23, I was arrested and stood trial for leading a scheme to distribute cocaine.  Rather than accepting responsibility for my actions, I denied involvement in the drug crimes I committed. A jury convicted me and my judge imposed an aggregate term of 45 years. The federal law under which I was sentenced allowed me to receive more good time than was available to federal prisoners who were convicted in later years.  As a consequence, I served 25 years in prison and I’m scheduled to serve the final year under conditions of community confinement.

After my conviction, I began to realize the awful magnitude of the decisions I had made.  My grandparents would not speak with me, my mother cried every day, and my father was humiliated. The notoriety of my crimes embarrassed my sisters.  I disappointed my family and community.  While awaiting sentencing, I knew that I had to make changes.  Those introspections led me to the jail’s library, where I came across a two-volume anthology entitled A Treasury of Philosophy.

As I mentioned, I was a mediocre student in high school.  During the five years that passed between my graduation and my arrest, I didn’t read a single book.  During those months between my conviction and sentencing, however, as I was looking for something that would bring meaning to what I already perceived as a wasted life, I gave reading a shot.  I chose essays by philosophers in hopes of understanding more about who I was and what I could become.  Several essays caught my attention, but none influenced me more at that particular time than those describing Socrates and his thoughts while he awaited execution.  The essay on Socrates’ life appealed to me because I identified with his status as a prisoner, and I admired the way he responded to adversity in his life.

Reading about Socrates and many other philosophers convinced me of the colossal disappointment that was the beginning of my life. There wasn’t anything that I could do to change my past, but I wanted to change my future. I made a commitment to devote the rest of my life to reconciling with society. I didn’t quite know back then what it would mean “to reconcile with society,” but I knew that I wanted to advance my prospects for emerging as a law-abiding citizen capable of making a positive contribution to society.

In future posts, I will describe more about that transitional time between my conviction and sentencing date. I will help readers understand more about the values that sustained me throughout the course of my imprisonment. My purpose in sharing this story is to help stakeholders of the criminal justice system. I’ve lived through it and have a unique perspective on steps we can take as a society to persuade more offenders to prepare for law-abiding, contributing lives. Doing so will make our communities safer while simultaneously reducing the extraordinary costs of confinement. We can work together to advance human potential in our enlightened society.

I am committed to living a transparent life, and readers may ask me anything at all about my past, my current status, and my plans for building a career around all that I learned as a long-term federal prisoner.

Readers who want more immediate information about my transition into society may find some value in my public Facebook page, where I’ve been chronicling daily events since my release. Readers who want more specific information about my journey through prison may want to visit, a website to which I have contributed since 1996.


Michael G. Santos

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