Success After Prison highlights experiences and lessons Michael Santos learned while conquering 26 years of imprisonment. He shares strategies that he learned from leaders like Socrates, Nelson Mandela, Mahatma Gandhi, Viktor Frankl, and Martin Luther King. Those leaders taught concepts to overcome struggle and adversity. Michael shows how living in accordance with those strategies opened opportunities for him in prison and prepared him for success upon reentry. He emerged from prison successfully and he explains how others can use these strategies to overcome challenges in their lives.
Episode 30: Success After Prison
Although our growing portfolio of rental properties had become an integral part of our wealth-accumulation strategy, I remained determined to build a digital-products business. With hopes of finding more institutional buyers for the program, I accepted 12 speaking assignments in the fall of 2015, keeping me in different airports every week. I traveled to various cities between Tacoma and Washington DC, striving to create market awareness for Earning Freedom products.
Some of those speaking events provided memorable experiences, and opportunities that I hope to leverage in months to come. Earlier I mentioned that the Washington State Department of Corrections was a client of the Straight-A Guide product that I created. When I made my initial sales call in Washington State, I had an opportunity to build a friendship with Michael Colwell, assistant director of Correctional Industries. He introduced me to his colleagues, including Bernie Warner, Dan Pacholke, and Scott Frakes. At the time, Bernie served as Secretary of the state’s prison system. Since then, he retired and went on to lead a private prison system. Dan took over as Secretary in Washington’s prison system, and Scott Frakes advanced to become Secretary of Nebraska’s prison system.
Those were powerful allies for me, and I hoped to persuade them to use the Earning Freedom programs in their prisons. Through those relationships I’d built in Washington State, I received an invitation to give a keynote presentation at a regional training conference in Spokane. Representatives from correctional industries in 11 Western states would be in attendance. Business entities that served the corrections industry sponsored the event with vendor booths.
Keefe Group and Union Supply were two of the vendors in attendance. I approached the sales representatives and introduced myself. They didn’t know that I’d been incarcerated previously, so I played a hoax.
“I was a loyal customer of yours for more than 25 years,” I said. When the sales representatives smiled, I told them that I’d never buy another one of their products again.
Keefe Group and Union Supply were two of the most influential vendors to prison industries. They not only supplied commissaries and food services, they also were creating devices to deliver digital content. The devices were designed in such a way that they would not compromise security, and inmates could use them to download music or entertainment. After getting to know representatives from Keefe Group and Union Supply, I suggested that they connect me with decision makers. I wanted to make a case that those companies should make Earning Freedom products available to people in prison.
As a consequence of those meetings, I received invitations to visit leaders of Keefe Group at the corporation’s headquarters in St. Louis, and I visited with leaders of Union Supply in Los Angeles. I also received an invitation to visit with leaders from New Mexico Department of Corrections, including Secretary Gregg Mercantel. Through these relationships that I’m developing, I anticipate that I’ll succeed in building interest for digital products I’m creating with Earning Freedom.
Sales Funnels and Webinars:
The more I worked to generate purchase orders from giant corporations or government agencies, the more I realized the time commitment necessary. Complaining about the challenges of selling into this market wouldn’t advance my cause. The market existed, but as Tim advised, I would need to invest significant amounts of time to build the business model. By continuing to create content, make sales calls, and bring awareness to the value of Earning Freedom products, I’d sow seeds that would lead to the multi-million dollar business we aspired to create.
Meanwhile, by learning more about the digital marketplace, I learned techniques that would allow me to offer products and services dir
Episode 29: Multiple Income Streams After Journey in Prison
Eric’s testimonial convinced me that through digital programs like Earning Freedom, more people would find hope they needed to overcome struggle and prepare for success. My challenge was finding more purchase orders, as I would need a revenue stream to build a sustainable business.
Multiple Revenue Streams:
Throughout this book, I’ve tried to share lessons I learned from masterminds. They taught me that I could advance my prospects for success if I lived in the world of reality rather than the world of fantasy. When authorities took me into custody, back in 1987, I had to live with the reality that I had made many bad decisions as a young man. While locked in the Pierce County Jail, prayers led me to the story of Socrates. From that story, I learned to think about the avatars that would influence my prospects in the future.
Instead of dwelling on challenges that my bad decisions created, I had to think about the best possible outcome. With that vision, I could engineer a path that would take me from a jail cell, through multiple decades in prison, and into a life of success upon release.
Certainly, I wish that I had made better decisions as a young man. If I’d made better decisions as a young man, I wouldn’t have been locked in jail. But I couldn’t deal with the world of wishes. No one advanced a station in life by wishing or complaining. Instead, we had to take action, disciplined action.
Reality required that I make new decisions. By thinking about the future, I realized that if I didn’t adjust wisely in prison, I would have a very difficult time finding employment once I concluded my prison sentence. In fact, I accepted that the length of time I expected to serve might make it difficult for me to find any type of meaningful employment.
Throughout the journey, I contemplated what resources I would need to start my life upon release. If I didn’t adjust wisely, I wouldn’t have anything when my term ended. I wouldn’t have clothes to wear, a car to drive, a savings account, or anything. Fortunately, decisions I made inside opened numerous opportunities. Yet when Carole and I began, I anticipated that my prison term and criminal record would always be hanging over my head. If I could create several different streams of income, I anticipated that I would advance our prospects for stability.
Those who read Earning Freedom: Conquering a 45-Year Term or any of my earlier books will know that the stock market had an influence on my adjustment through prison. I wanted to speculate on stocks after my release, but I had priorities. Although trading in stocks opened opportunities to build an additional income stream, there were also inherent risks. I wasn’t prepared to take those risks until Carole and I had more stability.
By early 2015, however, our asset base had grown. The San Francisco real estate market was one of the hottest markets in the United States, and soaring prices lifted our equity. The house we purchased for $390,000 was worth more than $525,000 in the fall of 2015. And with the rental income from our tenants, we paid down our mortgage each month. Our equity in that property grew to more than $200,000 since we moved to Orange County.
In addition to the paper equity we had in real estate, by living frugally and saving income that I received from speaking events, consulting, and ghostwriting, we built a high balance in our savings account. When the account balance grew to exceed $200,000, I decided to open a brokerage account. With a net worth of more than $400,000, the time felt right to speculate with stocks.
That turned out to be a bad decision.
I traded aggressively for several months. But after bad trades in Twitter and Alibaba resulted in more than $40,000 vanishing from our stock portfolio, I decided to stop trading in stocks—at least for the time being.
I’m not implying that the stock market doesn’t off
Episode 28: Podcasting About Prison
The more research I did, the more I realized how podcasting could serve as a wonderful tool to build authenticity. After watching a webinar on Podcaster’s Paradise, I pulled out my credit card and paid $1,000 to enroll in the podcasting course. Through that course, I learned everything I needed to launch Earning Freedom, which would become my new podcast. I purchased microphones and software to get started. Then I retained Scott Houston, an audio engineer to set up my podcasting studio. I retained Brent Boates, a graphic designer to create my logos. I retained Zach Swinehart to redesign MichaelSantos.com so it could more easily accommodate podcasts. And on March 15, 2015, I launched the Earning Freedom podcast on iTunes.
When I began Earning Freedom, I envisioned the podcast as part of my overall strategy to create digital products and services. I set a goal of creating new content for an ongoing show that would follow a coherent structure. Each episode would last roughly 30 minutes and adhere to one of three formats:
I would share strategies that I learned from masterminds who taught me how to overcome struggle.
I would interview formerly incarcerated individuals who emerged successfully, and they would discuss how their adjustments inside contributed to their successful transition into society.
I would interview business and community leaders, asking them about strategies they used to build successful organizations—and also asking them to offer guidance for people who lived in struggle. What steps could they take to transition into lives of relevance, meaning, and contribution?
I considered the podcast as another seed that I would plant to grow my garden of resources, and it would become part of the Earning Freedom mastermind course. If I nurtured this seed every day, the investment of time, energy, and resources would add value to society. People would see how they could use the same strategies that empowered people through prison to achieve a higher potential in their lives. Regardless of what struggles or challenges they faced, strategies would always exist to build and grow and create value. Through Earning Freedom, I would strive to inspire people. If I succeeded, a revenue stream would follow. I especially liked that the Earning Freedom podcast would allow me to transmit ideas around the world, providing inspiration and actionable lessons that anyone could use to enhance prospects for success.
I used an Adobe software program to convert each recording into an MP3 format. Then I would write show notes and social media messages to promote the podcast. I subscribed to Libsyn, an easily accessible Internet cloud-based platform to host the podcast. From Libsyn, I created an automated feed that loaded each new episode of Earning Freedom into iTunes, Stitcher, Soundcloud, and other podcasting hosting services. By creating this production process, I could begin building a library of inspiring content with actionable messages.
After launching, the show rose to reach number two in Apple’s “New and Noteworthy” in the self-help category. As a consequence of the publicity, more people reached out to hire me for ghostwriting services and to assist their preparations for a successful journey through prison.
Although I could supplement my income by providing consulting or writing services, I didn’t want to divert too much attention to one-on-one projects. Creating a business around digital products remained the focus, and I intended to use the Earning Freedom podcast as an integral component of the strategy. By the end of 2015, I recorded more than 200 episodes, featuring guests from every sector of society.
Several guests described their transformation while in prison. They spoke about how their adjustment patterns led to awesome opportunities upon release. Some guests spoke about going into prison with histories of violence and substance abuse. Their transformation ins
Episode 27: Earning Freedom Mastermind Course
Earning Freedom Mastermind Course:
Mike Tausek came across the Straight-A Guide course that I created for Justin’s nonprofit foundation. We had distributed the course to several jails, schools, and prisons. Mike contacted me to learn more about what it would take to bring the Straight-A Guide to Maine’s prison system.
The Straight-A Guide was a comprehensive course, with ten modules of five lessons each. The course included workbooks, videodisks, and softcover books. Further, facilitators needed to proceed through a full day of training to learn the concepts. I created the course with intentions to sell the Straight-A Guide to institutions across the United States, yet as I described earlier, we lacked capital to fully implement our plan.
Since I had accepted the fulltime position with Tim’s organization, I didn’t have liberty to travel to Maine so easily, I told Mike. I explained to him that I was working to create new, digital products, and suggested that he allow me to create something new that we could test inside of the Maine State Prison. If the idea worked in Maine, I would strive to expand into other markets.
Mike asked what I had in mind.
I suggested that I create the Earning Freedom Mastermind Course. Since he was in Maine, I used a Hockey metaphor. To paraphrase Wayne Gretzky, I said that rather than skating to the puck, we needed to skate to where the puck was going. From my perspective, the educational market would expand its use of digital products. They were less expensive than physical products to both create and distribute. With digital products, I told Mike, I could create new content for prisoners in Maine that would be both timely and relevant. Further, the mastermind course could be interactive, giving the men inside opportunities to ask questions and receive answers from people who emerged from prison successfully.
I anticipated that I could create Earning Freedom courses from my desktop computer. I’d need to research how, but since I had Tim’s support, I’d learn how to create webinars and audiobooks. I told him that I would create a 10-part lesson plan and a series of videos that featured interactions with formerly incarcerated individuals. Since I could use technology to film the recordings, I could produce the course in an efficient manner and distribute it through Internet links. Most importantly, participants could ask questions and I’d film responses to their questions. I believed an Earning Freedom course would help build intrinsic motivation for people who lived without hope.
Mike Tausek saw the value that digital courses could offer. He agreed to purchase a one-year license to use the Earning Freedom course in his prison. We settled on a $1,000 price point for the annual license.
Single orders for a $1,000 were not going to build an empire. But as Tim said, businesses took time to build. I budgeted three years to build products and services that would serve institutions like the state of Maine’s prison system. The same course that I created for Maine would be of value to people across the country, not only for people in prison—for anyone. Rather than limiting the course content for people in prison, I intended to create content that would apply to every citizen who aspired to overcome struggle and reach a higher potential
I’d need to build in stages. Those stages would require the following:
I’d need to create an abundance of content that was freely available.
I’d need to create proprietary content that I could sell.
I’d need to ensure that anyone who had access to the content would find a powerful and actionable message of personal empowerment.
With a plan in place, I started scouring the Internet to learn more about how to create digital products.
Before I describe what I learned from researching digital products, I need to give a bit more background. Since emerging from prison, I worked to
Episode 26: Orange County After Prison
After teaching my final class at SFSU in May of 2014, Carole and I loaded our Chevy Aveo to make the seven-hour drive south to Newport Beach. Earnings from books I wrote while in prison provided resources Carole needed to live while she advanced through nursing school. Those earnings also allowed her to purchase the small, four-cylinder Aveo. The car brought a lot of memories for both Carole and me through our journey. From prison yards, I used to wait for her to drive in on visiting days.
When I got out of prison Lee asked what type of car I was going to buy, because Carole would need to drive hers.
The tone of Lee’s question told me a great deal. Although I wanted to buy a nice car, and I had savings in the bank, I knew that wasting money on an impressive car wouldn’t be prudent. For one thing, blowing resources on a high-end car would not have endeared me to Lee. In fact, I’m sure that if I would’ve purchased an expensive car, he would’ve lost all respect for my judgment. Successful people like Lee or Tim were always calculating. Our daily decisions determined whether people like them would want to invest their time, energy, or resources in helping us grow.
We learn many lessons from the ways that successful people think.
Carole and I kept her Chevy Aveo. As soon I got my driver’s license, I purchased a used Ford for $4,000 in cash so we wouldn’t incur any wasted debt like a car payment. That decision, I think, met Lee’s approval. And I suspect that it had a lot to do with Chris and Seth agreeing to finance the first house we purchased.
We left the Ford with a friend to sell on consignment and we drove our little Chevy Aveo south on Interstate 5. The car wasn’t made for long trips, and it wouldn’t blend in too well in the upscale communities of Orange County. Fortunately, Carole shared a vision with me. We both were after long-term stability and we both worked toward those goals each day. In the pages to follow, I’ll describe some of the ways that I supplemented my income and contributed to our stability. When we left the San Francisco Bay area, we had about $100,000 equity in our house and another $100,000 in savings. It wasn’t a bad position to be in, considering that my prison term had ended only 10 months previously. Rather than splurging on luxuries, we chose to focus together on the million-dollar net worth we intended to build by August of 2018.
Tim tasked me to work in the communications division of his well-staffed organization. He owned a number of businesses that cumulatively generated annual revenues in excess of $50 million. Overall, he employed more than 100 people. Initially, I would strive to add value by assisting with marketing and communications. True to his word, Tim gave me considerable liberty to develop new business ideas that we could grow together. When not working with his team, I thought of different markets or businesses we could launch.
His corporate headquarters occupied a full floor of a 10-story office building in the high-rent district of Irvine, California. While visiting one day, Tim asked what I felt passionate about creating.
“I’d like to inspire people, to help them grow and overcome obstacles.”
“You’re certainly the guy who can do it.”
As we spent more time together, I convinced Tim that a market existed. Potentially, the market could even be big enough to attract an investor like him. In truth, if a business didn’t offer the potential to generate revenues in excess of $10 million a year, Tim wouldn’t waste time discussing it. Yet I believed a massive market existed for products I could create.
“If we taught strategies to break limiting beliefs, we’d have a product that would serve every human being on the planet.”
Although prison provided the context of my story, I told Tim, my message wasn’t only about prison. It was about overcoming
Episode 25: Changing Jurisdictions After Prison
Since I was still on Supervised Release, making a move to Newport Beach would not be so easy. I reported to a probation officer in a different judicial district. As a resident of the San Francisco Bay area, authorities required that I report to a probation officer in the Northern Judicial District of California.
Tim’s employment offer required that I relocate to the Central Judicial District of California. Besides convincing my probation officer to support my move, I’d have to persuade a probation officer from the Central District to authorize my transfer. If I could overcome those challenges, I’d have a few additional complications to resolve.
Fortunately, the seeds I began sowing from the start of my journey positioned me well to seize opportunities like the one Tim offered. I felt confidant Carole and I would be able to transition from Northern California to Orange County. But I needed to see what she thought. After Tim made his offer, I called Carole to ask what she would like me to do.
“Take the job.” She didn’t hesitate.
As an experienced registered nurse who was pursuing a graduate degree, Carole expressed confidence that she would find new employment. Carole always supported efforts to build a career around my journey, but she liked the idea of me transitioning away from the prison industry and into other ventures. Tim’s compelling job offer opened a world of opportunity.
With Carole’s support, I consulted with two of my closest friends, Justin and Lee. Both of them were like brothers to me. I’d been working with Justin and the nonprofit foundation he created. We used that foundation as a resource to both fund and distribute products that spread our message of personal growth, accountability, and developing critical thinking skills. If I accepted Tim’s offer, I’d have less time available to work with him. Yet when I told him of the opportunity, Justin saw the value.
“If you become more successful, your story will inspire more people that the lessons we offer really work. Your success could lead to more orders, and it sounds like you’ll still be able to devote time to work on our projects. Take the job. We’ll both have to work harder, but we’ll figure it out along the way.”
Lee and I had spoken about Tim before. Since Tim was an entrepreneur and visionary who built businesses that grew to billions in revenues, he would impress any businessman. Lee liked hearing stories about others who built successful businesses from nothing more than ideas. When I told him that Tim invited me to join his team, Lee encouraged me to accept. “Sounds like an opportunity to learn, contribute, and grow. Take it.”
With encouragement from Justin and Lee, I took the next step of contacting my probation officer. Once I had support from probation, I contacted Jeff at SFSU and told him that I would not return to teach in the fall of 2014. Instead, Carole and I would be moving to Southern California.
Return on Investment:
We had only recently finalized the mortgage to finance our house. The housing market in the San Francisco Bay area was on fire and we likely could’ve sold our house easily for a substantial profit. Yet I felt strongly that housing prices would continue to rise. Carole agreed. Rather than selling our property, we agreed that we would make our first real estate purchase a part of our retirement plan. Instead of selling, we’d find suitable tenants who would rent from us. The rental income we received would allow us to pay the mortgage.
Carole led that initiative to find suitable tenants by running an ad on Craig’s list. More than a dozen applications came to us within days. During the year that we lived in the property, Carole wanted to decorate to make the house more “homey.” Yet I considered the investment as a stepping-stone, something we would eventually rent. Instead of decorating, we kept the hou
An inspirational podcast about overcoming adversity
This podcast shows that an individual can overcome anything. I am fascinated with all of the true crime podcasts. But it’s really inspiring to hear about someone who went through the criminal justice system and came out successfully. These are great episodes because they show the power of the human spirit. It’s not only a story about overcoming prison, but about overcoming any type of adversity.
Anyone who has ever been to prison should listen.
I subscribed to Earning Freedom and felt inspired by the stories presented. Our nation incarcerates far too many people. It’s good to learn more about how the system operates. It’s great to hear stories about people who managed to overcome the challenges of confinement. I use these episodes to inspire my clients who are preparing for time in prison.
I am so impressed with Michael’s journey through prison. Our nation’s commitment to mass incarceration is tragic. By highlighting stories of success through prison, as Michael does, more people will find the inspiration to come out of prison successfully. I love these episodes and look forward to hearing more.