How do you survive 25 years behind bars?
For Michael Santos, the key was staying positive, using the time to educate himself and being useful.
Santos, who works at Golden State Lumber and is about to relocate to Petaluma with his wife, was only 23 years old when he was sentenced to 45 years in prison for participating in a cocaine distribution ring in Miami.
He came from a “good, stable” family, but got caught up in the world of drugs. Once in prison, he picked up a copy of “Treasury of Philosophy” and delved into the teachings of Socrates.
“After reading about Socrates and his strength of character in responding to trials with dignity, I felt compelled to transform my life,” Santos recently wrote in a blog post.
“Rather than dwelling on challenges that would await the rest of my life, I made the commitment to spend my time in prison and beyond, working to reconcile with society.”
Santos was released last August to community confinement and is not allowed to give media interviews at the moment.
He did speak to the San Francisco Chronicle last fall (by special permission), where he explained how his discipline and keeping to himself helped him avoid problems with other prisoners and “make the most of his time.”
He woke up at 6am each morning, ran on the prison track, then worked in an office. He ate his meals apart from other inmates and never watched television. After work, he would volunteer at the prison hospital, then write.
Santos also began compiling other prisoners’ stories and conducting legal research for them. He wrote seven books while behind bars, the latest of which, “Earning Freedom: Conquering a 45-Year Prison Term,” was recently published.
"For people who are lacking in hope he has become a messiah," Joan Petersilia, a professor at Stanford Law School and scholar in prison re-entry, told the SF Chronicle. "There is a dearth of hope in prison, and Michael is trying to give it to them. Through his books he's created this movement, this kind of, 'You can do it, too.' "
Santos is optimistic about his future and about to relocate to Petaluma with his wife, a childhood friend who he married while in prison. He is also now a consultant and speaks to groups about successful reentry into the world and prison reform.