Tuesday, June 7th, 2011
It’s hard to believe that more than two years have passed since I walked out from the Taft Federal Prison Camp and resumed my life as a law-abiding citizen. Those two years have been fulfilling in unexpected ways. I would not say they passed easily. But in many ways, I have to acknowledge, the experiences have led to more meaning in my life. As a consequence of my criminal conviction for securities fraud, I lost my livelihood. The conviction prohibited me from earning a living as a stockbroker or a real estate agent. Besides that, I emerged from federal prison into the worst economic atmosphere of my lifetime. Although I had prepared myself as best I could while I was in prison, I really didn’t know how I would relaunch my life.
I was 34 years old. During my confinement I wrote Lessons From Prison, hoping that I might find a way to sustain myself by helping other white collar offenders find their way as they endured struggles with the criminal justice system. Then I wroteEthics in Motion as a tool to convey the importance of making values based decisions. Although those two projects brought opportunities for a new career as a speaker and prison consultant, where I’m really finding my niche is in leading the Michael G. Santos Foundation. It is a nonprofit that I launched with others to help more prisoners prepare for law-abiding, contributing lives upon release.
Our society suffers because of the extraordinary costs associated with our massive prison system. Every year, more than 750,000 people in prison return to society. Many lack an education, a work history, and values that lead to success. Without a network of support, skills, or resources, many find themselves reverting to behavior that leads them back into the clutches of the criminal justice system. Along with my collaborator Michael Santos, I have worked hard to develop a program that reverses such troubling trends. I am proud to play a part in helping prisoners embrace change and new ideas; without such change too many will continue to advance through their days mindlessly, remaining institutionalized to a system that punishes achievement and rewards apathy. To prove this claim I direct you to Earning Freedom, by Michael Santos.
America’s prison system costs taxpayers $75 billion each year. Those hard costs do not include ancillary costs to families of prisoners, like welfare and other social services. Besides quantitative financial expenditures, immeasurable quantitative expenditures come through the loss of human life.
Through the Michael G. Santos Foundation, I work to produce modules that prepare prisoners to emerge with values, skills, and resources that will lead them to success. It is a proven method, as my friend Michael Santos has relied upon them through the 25 years that he has served in prison. To the extent that other prisoners follow the template that guided him, they too can develop values, skills, and resources that will lead them to successful, contributing lives upon release.
We call our program the Straight-A Guide. I will write about each of the seven attributes in the days to come. They include a focus on attitude, aspirations, actions, accountability, awareness, achievement, and appreciation. I look forward to sharing the work I’m doing with this program. I urge readers to join these efforts I am making to build a safer, more productive society by helping prisoners emerge as law-abiding citizens.