Wednesday, March 9, 2011
On March 15 I’ll be traveling to Quantico, Virginia to speak at the FBI Academy. I consider this a huge honor. It validates the hard work I’ve been doing to redeem the bad decisions I made in my 20s that led to a conviction for my violating securities laws when I was a stockbroker at UBS.
In the spring of 2008 I self-surrendered to the Federal Prison Camp in Taft, California as a newly convicted white-collar offender. I wrote about the securities fraud crime that I committed in my book Lessons From Prison. More important than the crime, I think, was what I learned as a consequence of it. I had to serve an 18-month sentence at the Taft Federal Prison Camp as part of my sanction.
My time in the federal prison camp brought an opportunity to recalibrate my life. I felt deeply ashamed for having exposed my family to the disgrace of my criminal proceedings. While in the Federal Prison Camp at Taft, I took affirmative steps to prepare for a better life upon release.
I concluded that a better life would require a new career. But not just any career. My new career, I reasoned, must enable my redemption—it had to foster a passion, a struggle, a challenge I had never known. It would require me to make values-based choices, to ensure that every decision I made going forward would harmonize with the man I wanted to become. Rather than being driven by the pursuit of higher earnings, I concluded that I could bring more meaning to my life if I were to focus on adding value to the lives of others. In so doing, I would also help myself.
As a prisoner, I had to think hard about what kind of value I could bring. Sleeping on a steel rack for 12-months will do that to a man. Undoubtedly, there were moments where I felt as if I had ruined my life. My troubles with the criminal justice system had come with enormous financial costs. I lost my license as a securities broker and as a real estate agent. I had to recreate myself. Every step, every breath I took led me in that direction. And I knew no matter what happened I couldn’t fail. Indeed, had I never sold a book nor been invited to speak—even if I were booed off stage—I still wouldn’t have failed. It’s impossible to fail when one works tirelessly to reach their highest potential.
Upon me release, with the support of so many, including Michael Santos, Carole Santos, and Walt Pavlo, I launched my new career at Etika LLC, my consulting and speaking firm. I wrote my second book, Ethics in Motion. Although my earnings are only a fraction of what they were when I was a stockbroker, I feel a much higher degree of self worth as I work to help my fellow citizens make better decisions and prepare to meet adversity with dignity.
Through consulting and speaking in forums across the nation, I’ve interacted with thousands of people during the 18-months since my release. I’ve also launched The Michael G. Santos Foundation and serve as its executive director. Through that role, I’m working to create programs that will lower recidivism rates, making society safer by preparing at-risk youth and adult offenders for law-abiding lives.
My work has been fulfilling since my release from the Federal Prison Camp in Taft. It has helped me help others. Although I’ve been grateful for the privilege of serving in this role, more than anything, I’m grateful when others tell me that through my work, I’ve prepared them to navigate their own journey. Receiving an invitation to speak at the FBI Academy, however, brings me a real feeling of satisfaction. It suggests that I’m on the way back to becoming a full citizen.
If others anticipate a struggle with the criminal justice system, I make myself available to help. I stand as living proof that it’s possible to triumph over obstacles that seem insurmountable.