Creating any new project requires hundreds of hours of thought. Most of my creativity, both in prison and as a free man, comes from running. I love to run. I don’t run fast, nor do I try to impress anyone with my times. Running allows me to separate myself from the ups and downs of life which allows my mind to wander. Once this happens, I become creative and imaginative, and that leads to enhanced productivity.
I had an epiphany a few months ago while running along the beach in the Palisades. I had just returned from San Francisco after participating in a Violence Prevention Conference. I attended the conference so I could share my insights on the justice system. While running, I realized that my journey through prison offered me an opportunity to give back to other prisoners in much the same way they gave back to me. I admired the individuals I met at the conference who had committed their lives to helping others through their various non-profit organizations. After I finished running, I called Carole Santos to tell her that I was going to create The Michael G. Santos Foundation, aimed at reducing recidivism.
Our society reveres professional athletes and celebrities. We lionize young men and women simply because they come from families of distinction. I believe that we should look beyond the celebrity arena to find role models who embody the principles of an ethical life. Those who give themselves generously to the making of a better society, perhaps surprisingly, are those who give without spotlights on their own stardom. I’m talking about people who work to shape good character—teachers, coaches, and the wonderful people I met at the Violence Prevention Conference. I want to be one of those people.
I knew many such community leaders as I was growing up from childhood, through adolescence, and into my early adulthood. From my parents and coaches, I learned about discipline, sportsmanship, integrity. Their primary desire was that I reach my highest potential. The virtues that my parents and coaches instilled in me became an essential part of my life through continuing participation on baseball teams at both Montclair Prep and USC. Yet, at some point I lost my way. After I entered the corporate arena I stopped paying attention to the lessons I had learned as a young man. It began with an incremental abandonment of social responsibility after I left USC, and culminated with my term in federal prison.
When I surrendered to Taft Federal Prison Camp on 28 April 2008 I was broken both mentally and physically. I could not imagine a future without angst, anguish, and despair. What I needed was a role model, a guide that could help me reclaim some dignity and respect. I found that person in Michael Santos. Michael (I didn’t believe him when he told me) has been confined since August 1987. At age 23 he was convicted of a non-violent drug crime and was sentenced to a 45-year prison term. While in prison he has earned an undergraduate and graduate degree, and brought six books to market. Most importantly, he has helped thousands of prisoners. He is one of the mentors and role models that goes unnoticed. He does not need the accolades nor does the justice system reward such efforts. Success as a prisoner, according to our justice system, is measured by the turning of calendar pages, not efforts the prisoner is making to reconcile and give back to society.
For the first few months of my prison term I served my time in mindless pursuits. I really loved having no responsibility. I would spend my mornings running and my afternoons doing pull-ups and pushups. I would visit with my family and friends on Fridays, showing off my fit body and dark tan. Prison was a piece of cake, until I noticed how many of my prison friends were fraught with anxiety as their release dates approached. I heard men—both white-collar and drug offenders—yelling into the telephone, telling their wives to “go get me a job.”
“I’m coming home in two months, we have no money, and I am a felon,” the men moaned, “tell me what to do next.”
Then it hit me. It was only a matter of time before I would be making that phone call.
“Um…Todd, this is your brother Justin. Oh, yeah I’m good thanks. Hey look, I know I have been down at the family hardware store my whole life, and still can’t find a screw, hammer, or nail but can you please give me a job upon my release?”
He would not have hired me. It wasn’t the job that would have troubled me. The position would have been admirable. It was the idea that I would be putting my brother in a very uncomfortable situation. I had already encroached upon my family long enough. I promised myself I would never make that call.
In came Michael Santos. Michael helped me embrace the long odds that all convicted felons face. He reinforced Aesop’s Tortoise and the Hare fable proving that “slow and steady always won the race.” He helped direct me toward tasks that would relate to the challenges I would face upon release. We started slowly. On July 4th 2008 Michael asked me to write a letter explaining what perspective, dignity, and respect meant to me.
“I’ve lost them all Michael. If I do not possess them, how can I write about them?”
Michael recommended I start with Frankl and Socrates. In Frankl’s masterpiece, Man’s Search for Meaning, I learned about coping with difficult situations. I had no idea a human being could overcome such misery, such struggle. Then I read about the Trial of Socrates and learned more about the meaning of character. I learned from Nietzsche, Sartre, and Heidegger who wrote that man could overcome any obstacle, if he just had the courage to prepare, to face obstacles head on. Aristotle’s prescription for introspection helped me understand the motivations that drove me and helped me prepare for a better life ahead. In Homer’s story of Odysseus, I learned the value that could live for centuries through the recording and telling of personal struggle. Reading and studying these books convinced me that I had won my own golden ticket—I could rebuild my life from prison.
Then Michael taught me how to write. “Write for five hours,” he would tell me, “then meet me in the library and I will review your work.”
What should I write, I wondered.
“Tell me how a kid who had every opportunity in the world ended up in the tenebrous world of federal prison.” Michael instructed.
“What the hell does tenebrous mean?” I demanded an answer as he handed me a dictionary.
Then I started to build my vocabulary.
“JP, I put 100 vocabulary words on your bunk. There will be a test in two weeks,” Mike chuckled. “100 words! Are you nuts?” I hoped he was joking. “That’s right, and you’d better be prepared to present them in both their verb and noun form,” he was no longer chuckling. Suddenly I was standing in line waiting to enter the chow hall holding index cards and learning words like lionize, tenebrous, imbued, and so on.
Then with Michael sitting in the crowd, I began teaching classes every Monday at 2 pm in the garage behind the chow hall. I was so nervous to speak immediately before my first presentation that my Bunkie, Jay, asked if I needed to go to medical.
“What if I can’t utter a word, or what happens if nobody cares or likes what I have to say?” I asked Michael.
“JP, for your entire life you have concerned yourself with what other people think. You’re positioning yourself to have a life that is a little unique and uncommon. You are in prison, separated from your family and, as you feel the need to remind me every day, women! Isn’t it time to you stopped worrying about what other people think?”
For one hour, despite my trembling and shaking, I spoke to 40 of my fellow prisoners. I followed a guide that Michael wrote out for me on the chalkboard. Then a few months later, on February 19, 2009, I conducted a video interview with DePaul University from the adjacent fenced in low security prison.
“You’ll be ready for that interview”, Michael told me, “because you spoke and showed courage in that warehouse when nobody thought you would.”
In order to complete my work, I woke earlier. I started waking and studying immediately after the 3 am count cleared. I joined Mike in our dorm’s quiet room. Then we began speaking drills. He would give me a word and ask me to tell a story about that word for three minutes. He gave me five words then hit his stopwatch. 15 minutes later I had shared the following stories:
—Courage- it flowed easily while I discussed my mother’s endless strength and support.
—Responsibility- I discussed the admiration I had for my brother, Todd’s, ability to take care of and support his family.
—Dedication- I spoke of my friend Brad Fullmer’s unwavering support while visiting me twice a month in prison.
—Love- I talked about my father and how he would give his life in an instant if only it would make mine better.
—Loyalty- I talked about my business partner Sam Pompeo who insisted that I join him as a full partner in real estate after UBS fired me.
After discussing these virtues, Mike asked me how I felt. “I have never felt so loved,” I spoke quietly.
“Well it’s time to take your knowledge to the next level, and also use this experience as a tool that can guide others. By doing this, you will conquer all that you fear. You will prove to other prisoners that a prison term does not have to translate into total personal destruction. You will position yourself to earn a living despite your conviction. You will have the courage to ask a woman on a date, despite your time in federal prison. You will have created a new public record that one day you can share with your children. You can prove to those that counted you out that you are no longer the coddled, spoiled kid from Encino.”
That night, October 12, 2008, I wrote my first blog, then with Mike’s help, I wrote Lessons From Prison. I am no different than any other prisoner. With direction and guidance we are capable of anything. Just like the out-of-shape individual can exercise his way back toward improved physical fitness, a person who once made bad decisions that led them to prison can use introspection to begin cultivating traits that, in time, can restore good character. I’m a former prisoner, a convicted felon who has embraced these lessons, and because I have my life is better. My mentor Michael Santos helped me understand the role that I have to my family and community. His support imbued me with a sense of purpose and meaning that I did not have before wearing prisoners’ clothes. If I can do half as much for others, as Michael did for me, our society will be safer and stronger because our nation’s prisoners will be better prepared to overcome the challenges that accompany a criminal conviction.
I am proud to present the second of three programs for The Michael G. Santos Foundation.
Title of Program: Reducing Recidivism Program Brief Description of Reducing Recidivism Program: The Foundation’s Reducing Recidivism Program provides literature, workshop seminars, speeches, and lesson plans that show those in prison steps they may take during confinement to prepare for law-abiding, contributing lives upon release. The Foundation relies upon live presentations by Justin Paperny and the following books to facilitate the Reducing Recidivism Program: Lessons From Prison, by Justin Paperny; Success! The Straight A Guide by Michael G. Santos; My 8,344th Day in Prison by Michael G. Santos.
Recipients of the Reducing Recidivism Program will recognize both Justin Paperny and Michael Santos as authorities on the subject of preparing for successful lives in society because both authors succeeded in overcoming the adversity of imprisonment. People in prison need more than hope; they need direction from people who have triumphed over the struggle of imprisonment. Justin Paperny’s success upon his release from prison, along with the literature he provides, endow him with the unique qualifications necessary to inspire, teach, and mentor a population of prisoners on steps they may take to prepare for law-abiding lives upon release. Through his book, Lessons From Prison, Justin shows audiences how introspection while serving his prison term enabled him to conceptualize steps he could take to succeed upon his release. Those thoughts led to his commitment of using every day available to prepare for the challenges that he anticipated would await him. Because of his choices and adjustment through prison, he emerged from confinement stronger than when he began his term, with a clear focus on how he could contribute to the world in positive ways. Within the first year of his release from prison, Justin has brought the lessons he learned from prison to tens of thousands through his speeches and media appearances. The work he has done, and the success he has achieved, qualifies him to advance the Reducing Recidivism Program.
In addition to distributing Lessons From Prison, Justin Paperny will rely upon Straight-A Guide to Success and My 8,344th Day in Prison both by Michael G. Santos. While serving a 45-year sentence, Michael G. Santos educated himself and took affirmative, deliberate actions to prepare for a law-abiding, contributing life upon release. He earned academic degrees, publishes literature used in universities across America to educate students, built a massive network of community support, and lives as an example of positive leadership from within prison boundaries. His message, articulated in bothMy 8,344th Day in Prison and Straight-A Guide to Success, illustrates strategies prisoners may use to emerge from prison successfully.
For What Purpose is Reducing Recidivism Program?
According to widely published media reports citing the Bureau of Justice Statistics, more than 700,000 people in prison return to American communities from state and federal places of confinement every year. Those statistics show that recidivism rates of people released from prison exceed 60 percent, and such high rates of failure result in costs to communities that measure in the hundreds of millions of dollars. The Foundation’s Reducing Recidivism Program will lower those costs. To lower recidivism rates, The Foundation’s program will lead workshop seminars through which Justin Paperny will distribute literature and lesson plans. He will show audiences how deliberate adjustment patterns can lead to successful participants emerging from places with strong support networks, financial resources, high levels of physical fitness, and employment options secured. By documenting and describing the success that prisoners who have followed programs outlined in the literature Justin distributes, he will lead more prisoners to pursue deliberate strategies, and contribute to safer communities, lower taxpayer expenditures, and lead more offenders to law abiding behavior patterns. When was Reducing Recidivism Program started? Michael Santos was arrested for cocaine trafficking offenses that led to his 45-year prison term in 1987. Since that prison term began, he has worked consistently to prepare for a law-abiding life upon release. During his 23-plus years in continuous confinement he earned an undergraduate degree and graduate degree, built a strong support network that includes leading citizens who have a vested interest in his success upon release, published books that contribute to the education of thousands. His work has generated substantial financial resources. He maintains a high level of physical fitness, and he enjoys a thriving marriage. Michael Santos teaches others the strategies that he follows to prepare for success upon release from prison. The Foundation’s Reducing Recidivism Program has its roots in Michael Santos’s deliberate adjustment strategies that began in 1987. He taught those strategies to thousands of other prisoners, and Justin Paperny memorialized them in his book Lessons From Prison. By using Lessons From Prison, My 8,344th Day in Prison and Straight-A Guide to Success, Justin Paperny spreads the message on how to prepare for success to other prisoners, and his work contributes to lower recidivism rates.
Who will Administer The At-Risk Outreach Program
Justin Paperny is a graduate of the University of Southern California. He served an 18-month sentence in federal prison after pleading guilty to violating one count of securities laws. While serving his sentence, Justin Paperny authored Lessons From Prison and since his release in August 2009, Justin has built a career as a public speaker and teacher. Justin is uniquely qualified to lead seminars for prisoners because of his experience of having served time in federal prison, and because of the lessons he learned from living in that community of felons. As a public speaker and author, Justin excels in presenting information with wit, strength of reasoning, and fluency of language that connect with audiences; his education endows him with the skills to administer the program.