Michael Santos and the iMac he saved for starting years before his release
In my last entry, I wrote about how my wife packed the necessities I would need to begin my life in society after 25 years of imprisonment.
We had a budget. For clothes, I reserved $10,000. For computer equipment, I reserved another $10,000. For a vehicle and other incidental expenses, I reserved yet another $10,000. Having those financial resources available has made a significant difference in my adjustment. Many, I recognize, would wonder how a man who served 25 years in prison would have access to such resources.
It’s simple. Rather than focusing on living as a model inmate, more than 15 years ago I started thinking about what I would need to emerge as a law-abiding, contributing citizen. Prison conditioned me to expect obstacles and interference, but it also conditioned me to live in a self-reliant manner. I had to understand everything that I could about my environment. I also had to understand the rules that held me and about how I could surmount obstacles to prepare for the challenges I would face upon release.
After a prison warden put an end to my formal education, I shifted focus, making a new commitment to devote every remaining day that I had to serve toward preparing for my release. Since earning financial resources would advance my prospects for success, I began tapping into the support network I had built while studying toward my graduate degree.
Professor George Cole was a prominent scholar and author who worked with me for years. During one of our visits, he suggested that I write a book about my experiences through confinement. I then wrote a proposal and some initial chapters that George submitted on my behalf to Sabra Horne, a senior editor at Wadsworth Publishing. Sabra accepted the proposal and she issued a publishing contract for the manuscript that would become About Prison.
Writing About Prison brought a new sense of meaning to my life. Wadsworth would market the book to university professors who taught courses in criminal justice, corrections, sociology, and related subjects. The project brought new feelings of self-worth, helping me to feel as if I were something more than a prisoner. I assigned royalties from that writing project to family members in order to avoid complications with prison rules that prevented men in prison from running a business; as a prisoner, I had a constitutional right to publish, but I could not personally earn an income from the work.
Professors from across the United States began to assign About Prison as part of their coursework. I then contacted Professor Marilyn McShane, another mentor of mine. In addition to teaching, Marilyn worked with Greenwood/Praeger Publishing as an acquisitions editor. I told her about my work with George and she agreed to help as well, opening an opportunity for me to bring my second book to market. Under Marilyn’s guidance, I published Profiles From Prison with Greenwood/Praeger. Following the same pattern that I used with About Prison, I assigned royalties from that book to family members.
With the publication of two academic books, I decided to try to write for a more mainstream market. That decision spawned a personal research project on how to begin a career as a writer. My research indicated that I would need to find a literary agent first, and doing so would require considerable efforts. Recognizing the importance of such a project, I devoted many hours to crafting a book proposal and to writing sample chapters. In time, I signed a representation agreement with James Schiavone, a literary agent based in Florida and New York. Soon thereafter, James secured a publishing agreement with St. Martin’s Press for my third book, Inside: Life Behind Bars in America. Again, I assigned royalties that would flow from that work to others.
Those writing projects and others led to my building a savings account that would assist my transition into society upon release. I found a sense of meaning and fulfillment in knowing that work I had done with nothing more than a writing pen, blank sheets of paper, and discipline led to my living as a taxpaying citizen, despite my imprisonment. When I walked out of prison, on August 13, 2012, I could tap into the savings account that revenues from my writing made possible to ease my transition into society. Despite having all of the financial resources that I would need to overcome, I still encountered many of the obstacles that I expected. In my next entry, I will write about some of those obstacles.