MY STORY

MICHAEL SANTOS

My Story

MICHAEL SANTOS

Start Here

I am 100% transparent and authentic. Throughout this website, you can read about my journey and determine whether I can bring value to your life or business.

My name is Michael Santos.

I’m an investor, a speaker, and an entrepreneur. I create learning resources to teach strategies and tactics others can use to become more successful:

  • As investors
  • As business owners, and
  • In life.

I have an unusual, but well-documented path from struggle to success. Click the boxes below to learn more about a journey that led me through 26 years in prison to successful, law-abiding, contributing citizen. Read through all areas of my website for more validation.

Introduction

 

As you’ll see from the story that follows, I made a series of bad decisions during my youth. Those bad decisions led me into the criminal justice system.

For 26 years (from 1987 until 2013) I was a federal prisoner.

During my life as a prisoner, I recalibrated, becoming more mindful of my responsibility to live as a good citizen. I created a disciplined plan with hopes of reconciling with society. Should you choose to read through the expanding boxes below, you’ll see that I adhered to a three-part strategy that included:

1) Working to educate myself;

2) Working to contribute to society; and

3) Working to build a strong support network.

That strategy changed the way that I think. By living deliberately, I created a success mindset.

Now I strive to teach others how they can bring a success mindset into their lives. One hallmark of all my work is that I never ask anyone to do anything that I’m not doing. I pledge to live transparently and to document my continuing pursuit of success. I’ll work to prove worthy of this community I’m building.

Regardless of what bad decisions we’ve made in the past, at any time we can begin sowing seeds for a better, more prosperous life.

By living transparently and documenting my journey, I’m striving to live as the change that I want to see in the world. You can access my content through audio, video, or by reading on the following platforms:

Should you want more details, click on the according boxes below!

Early Life: 1964 through 1987

Before Prison:

My father escaped from Cuba and he initially settled in the Los Angeles area. He married my mother and they had my sister, Julie, on November 23, 1963. I was born a year later, on January 15, 1964.

We moved to the Seattle area when I was a young boy. On June 11, 1967, my parents brought my younger sister, Christina into our life. We grew up as a close family of five.

By trade, my father was an electrician. With my mother’s help, he launched a small electrical contracting company. That company supported us in the North Seattle community of Lake Forest Park. Like many immigrants, my father was a tradesman with an intense work ethic and he tried to instill that work ethic in me. As a young boy, I reluctantly accompanied my father to job sites.

During my early teen years, my father’s company began to transition. I grew from wiring residential properties to commercial properties. By the time I started high school, the company specialized in public works projects—with an emphasis on highway illumination, traffic signals, and street lighting.

Despite the many advantages my parents provided, I made a series of bad decisions as an adolescent. School didn’t interest me and I was driven by money rather than building good character.

In 1982, I graduated from Shorecrest High School. Although I went to work for my father, I chased a faster life. I chose friends who had a bad influence on my thinking. By the time I turned 20, a friend’s scheme to sell cocaine attracted me and I joined him. On August 11, 1987, authorities arrested me for the leadership role I created in selling cocaine.

Prison Years 1 through 5: 1987 through 1992-Starting the Journey

Starting a New Mindset

On the day of my arrest, August 11, 1987, I wasn’t ready to accept responsibility. All I wanted was to get out of jail. Somehow, I wanted others to release me from the problems that I created. I hired counsel and prepared for trial. During the trial, I took the witness stand and lied, testifying that I didn’t have anything to do with selling cocaine.

The jury saw through my lies and convicted me of every count. I faced a sentence of life without the possibility of parole.

During that awkward transition between my conviction and my sentencing date, I prayed for guidance. I asked God for strength to make it through my sentence, with my dignity intact. I didn’t know how much time I would serve, where authorities would send me, or what would follow.

Following those prayers I found a philosophy book and I read about Socrates. I could identify with the story because Socrates was in jail. That story changed the way I think and it made me more mindful, transforming my life. Rather than dwelling on the problems I created, by reading Socrates (and later other philosophers) I learned how to think differently about my role in society.

As many people know, Socrates is the father of Socratic questioning. We can find awareness and become more mindful by asking better questions. As I lay in that jail cell, awaiting my sentencing hearing, I began to introspect, thinking about the bad decisions I made as a boy and adolescent. Those bad decisions led me into the problems and struggle I would go through for decades.

To make the most of the journey, I began to contemplate what I could do during my imprisonment to reconcile with society.

Those thoughts led me to think about the people I would meet in the future. What would they expect from me? By reflecting and asking a series of questions, I could pursue thoughts in many directions and explore complex ideas, opening my mind to new ideas.

I came up with a three-pronged strategy that follows:

 

  1. To reconcile with society, I would work to educate myself. By working to educate myself, I would show others that I do not want to live as a criminal.
  2. To reconcile with society, I would strive to contribute to the lives of others, in meaningful, measurable ways.
  3. To reconcile with society, I would work to build a strong support network. With a strong support network, I’d be more likely to create opportunities to grow, contribute, and leave a meaningful life.

 

That strategy, I hoped, would set me on a new path. It would guide my every decision as I moved into the system. I felt strongly that if I adhered to a disciplined, deliberate strategy, I would open opportunities in prison and upon release.

 

That strategy changed the way that I thought.

Later, the federal judge that presided over my trial sentenced me to 45 years. I didn’t know what that meant because I’d never been confined before. I couldn’t even contemplate what it meant. Later, I learned that if I avoided disciplinary problems while in prison, authorities would award me credit for “good behavior.” I could conclude the term in 26 years if I stayed out of problems in prison.

Since I was brought into the prison system when I was 23, I didn’t have a framework to contemplate what it would mean to serve 26 years in prison. But I had a strategy, articulated by the three points above. If I adhered to the strategy, I believed that I could get the best possible outcome—returning to society with my dignity in tact, with opportunities to live as a law-abiding, contributing citizen.

I began to project to the year of August 2013, when the prison system would release me. It would be crucial for me to make the best possible use of the 9,500 days I would live as a prisoner.

  • I could visualize success, as getting out of prison in August of 2013.
  • I could create a plan that would carry me through the journey.
  • I could set priorities that I would need to work through along the way.

I needed tactics to show my commitment to the strategy. The tactics I pursued guided me through the first five years of my imprisonment. I am grateful to have found opportunities to earn an undergraduate degree from Mercer University in June of 1992. I am grateful to Hofstra University for allowing me to begin studying toward a master’s degree. I am grateful to the many mentors that came into my life as I worked through those first five years of imprisonment.

Prison Years 5 through 10: 1992 through 1997-Academic Credentials

 

Making Progress

In the summer of 1992 I began studying toward a master’s degree at Hofstra University. I read extensively and worked to further develop writing skills. By earning another academic credential, I anticipated that I would become more resourceful, capable of opening more opportunities to succeed upon release. By working toward the clear goal of a master’s degree, I felt as though I were building a ladder that could lift me from the pit of problems I created and take me into the light of liberty.

To develop communication skills, I developed habits and patterns. If I didn’t make a conscious effort to learn how to write and speak with more eloquence, I worried that I would become weaker. Decades in prison could leave me with a “prisoner’s voice,” making me more vulnerable to prejudice and discrimination in the job market or business community upon release. I needed to disrupt thoughts others would have about a man who served decades in prison. If I could train myself to communicate well, I anticipated that I would be able to walk into any setting unscathed, without the handicaps that follow for most people with a prison background.

Besides working toward a master’s degree, I incorporated self-directed learning strategies to train myself how to communicate better.

For example:

  1. I engaged in vocabulary-building exercises.
  2. I committed myself to writing a minimum of 1,000 words every day.
  3. I wrote systemic book reports to document what I read, what I learned, and how reading would contribute to my success upon release.
  4. I initiated a public-speaking group so that I could learn how to communicate ideas better.
  5. I began building mentor relationships by sending unsolicited letters to leaders in society.
  6. I created a portfolio of accomplishments to document the journey
  7. I began writing op-ed articles in newspapers.

In 1995, Hofstra University awarded my master’s degree.  I began studying toward a Ph.D. at The University of Connecticut. After my first year of study toward the doctorate, the prison system put a block to my program. To remain productive, I switched my focus to self-study of business and the stock market.

Prison Years 10 through 15: 1997 through 2002-Earning $1 Million

Overcoming obstacles!

Although I didn’t have access to computers, by reading I could learn about the Internet. In 1998, from inside of a prison, I raised $2,000 in capital to begin my career as an investor. I wanted to participate in the new economy, and through my sister, I opened a brokerage account with an online trading company. By using the $2,000 I raised in prison, and margin loans that the brokerage house extended, I began investing in the leading Internet stocks of the day.

Over the next two years, I directed more than $20 million worth of stock trades. Early investments in America Online, Yahoo!, Double Click, Real Networks, and other highly volatile stocks led to my building equity of more than $1 million at the peak of my portfolio’s value, in early 1999. When the Internet bubble burst, the concentrated, heavily leveraged positions I held in volatile stocks resulted in the loss of several hundred thousand dollars in equity.

Still, the money that remained in my account at the start of 2002 changed my life.

  1. Had it not been for my early commitment to education, I would not have been in a position to raise capital.
  2. Had I not invested time to learn about business or the Internet, I would not have known how to invest.
  3. Had I not seized opportunities to invest in Internet stocks, I would not have built experience as an investor. That experience brought the thrill of earning my first $1 million in equity, and the agony of watching hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of equity disappear as the stock market crushed valuations of the equities I owned.

Prison Years 15 through 20: 2002 through 2006-Getting Married

One Door Closes, Another Door Opens

 

Experiences of losing money in the stock market caused me to shift my attention. Rather than continuing to speculate in the market, I turned my attention back to writing. I’d moved into my second decade of imprisonment and I made a more concerted effort to develop skills that I believed would open more earning prospects.

I invested in the effort, creating a personal narrative that detailed accomplishments that I made in prison. Those accomplishments included my academic degrees, courses I created and taught in prison, published writings, and testimonial letters from several distinguished mentors who had come into my life. I began to distribute that portfolio, hoping to expand my support network and create new opportunities. By using resources that I earned from my earlier trading, I bound the portfolio of documents with a plastic binder and I began distributing it to others.

I began publishing writings on a website that others created on my behalf. Through all of those efforts, I opened more publishing opportunities. Leading academic publishing houses issued contracts for me to publish my first books. Through those published writings, my support network grew exponentially. Efforts I made to build a support network led to my connecting with Carole.

Carole and I developed a friendship through correspondence. That correspondence turned into a romance. In 2003, she moved from Oregon to New Jersey so we could begin building our life together. Carole married me inside of a prison visiting room on June 24, 2003.

Carole and I put a plan together. We began making a commitment to use all of my earnings from the work I did in prison to support her. She could rely upon those earnings to support herself while she returned to school with a long-term plan to become a nurse. After completing prerequisite courses, she began nursing school while she simultaneously became the center of my life and my liaison to the world.

Prison Years 20 through 25: 2007 through 2012-Crushing it

 

Almost Out!

While Carole and I continued to build our life together as a married couple, nurturing our relationship through weekly visits in prison visiting rooms. Although she did the work, I brought meaning into my life by creating opportunities to earn money to support her—even while I was moving into my third decade in prison. After passing the pre-requisite courses, Carole started nursing school, earning credentials as a licensed vocational nurse, and then as a registered nurse.

Anticipating that I would conclude my prison journey in 2012, I began making final preparations for the life I wanted to lead. After earning publishing credentials by bringing two books to market with academic publishers, I opened a relationship with a literary agent. I wrote a proposal for a general, non-fiction book and my agent succeeded in selling the idea to St. Martin’s Press, one of the world’s largest publishing houses. Large newspapers from across the United States, including the Los Angeles Times Sunday Book Review and the New York Times Sunday Book Review brought my books to the attention of more readers, building my credibility and boosting my support network.

I leveraged the attention to open new publishing opportunities as a ghostwriter for high net-worth people I met in prison. Earnings from those projects not only supported my wife, but the projects became the start of lifelong friendships with several business leaders. From those leaders, I developed plans to launch my life upon release. I spent those final five years of my imprisonment laying the ground word to build businesses I intended to create upon my release.

Through the work that I had done during the 25 years that I served in prison, I was well prepared to begin my life in society. On August 12, 2012, authorities allowed me to transfer to a halfway house in San Francisco, where I would serve my final year. On the day that I walked, I could rely upon the following credentials:

  1. A bachelor’s degree from Mercer University
  2. A master’s degree from Hofstra University
  3. A long-list of published articles, chapters, and books
  4. A massive support network
  5. A 10-year marriage
  6. Experience of overseeing hundreds of stock trades, with a cumulative value of more than $20 million.
  7. Extensive experience of creating opportunities out of struggle
  8. Approximately $100,000 in a savings account

Since I accumulated those resources from inside of a prison, I felt extremely confident that I could succeed in society. I could rely upon the same deliberate strategies and tactics that powered me through decades in prison to become successful in society.

Halfway House: 2012 through 2013—Completing 9,500 days as a Prisoner

Starting My Career

As Carole drove me from the federal prison to the halfway house in San Francisco, I laid out a plan that we could follow. During that final year that I would have to serve in the halfway house, I pledged to create new opportunities. I would spend that year assessing my environment, but also sowing seeds to start my career. If I did well, within five years of completing my sentence, Carole and I would have our first $1 million in assets. If I succeeded in building that portfolio of assets by 2018, we could leverage them to create prosperity.

The recession had decimated markets across the United States, and many people worried about a lack of opportunity. But I had come out of prison and all I could see were opportunities to grow. Before I left prison, I wrote letters to hundreds of business leaders. Those efforts paid off, as I had multiple opportunities to earn an income.

I arrived at the halfway house on Monday, August 12, 2012. On Thursday, I went to apply for my driver’s license. On Friday, I reported for my first day of work with a real estate developer. I opened that relationship while I was in prison. My work ethic persuaded the CEO to invest in me, and he agreed to finance my first real estate transaction—a $400,000 acquisition.

While serving that time in the halfway house, I used my time to learn more about technology and the world that I left behind in 1987. Prior to my imprisonment, the Internet did not exist, so I had to learn a great deal about computers. I had to learn how to use technology for marketing, for sales, for business. With help from others, I built websites, marketing campaigns, videos and audio courses.

By the time I concluded my year in the halfway house, I created a fully developed digital course with packaging. I felt confident that I was ready to launch my business and my life.

Year 1 of Liberty: 2013 through August 2014

Little Steps Lead to New Opportunities

Within weeks of concluding my sentence, I began teaching as an adjunct professor at San Francisco State University. Prior to the time I visited San Francisco State University, I’d never stepped foot on a university campus—all of my studies had been through correspondence while I served decades in prison. I created a course called The Architecture of Incarceration and taught about the build up to mass incarceration, and the influences it had on our society. Then I opened discussions on steps we could take to improve outcomes of the criminal justice system.

Through national media coverage that I coordinated, I opened national speaking opportunities in academia and business. Together with my business partner, Justin Paperny, I began selling courses that I created. Our initial clients included several government agencies:

  1. The Washington State Department of Corrections
  2. The Orange County Department of Education
  3. The Los Angeles Office of Education
  4. Santa Clara County Jail

I began a speaking career during this timeframe, too, and found opportunities in the following forums:

  1. University of California Berkeley
  2. Stanford University
  3. DePauw University
  4. New York State University
  5. Sacramento State University
  6. University of Washington
  7. TEDx Silicon Valley

National media sources covered my transition back into society. Some of those publications include:

  1. San Francisco Chronicle Front Page Profile
  2. PBS NewsHour
  3. NBC News

I began building a credit score. Together with Carole, I qualified for a mortgage of $460,000. With that mortgage, I was able to pay off the developer. We leased our initial property to a nice family so that Carole and I could pursue opportunities in Southern California.

In May of 2014, I made a transition from the San Francisco Bay area to Southern California. Carole and I lived in Newport Beach when we first moved to Orange County.

Year 2 of Liberty: 2014 through August 2015

Live With Gratitude

Carole and I rented a condominium in a planned Irvine community. My credit score began to improve and I could qualify for additional financing through conventional lenders. Success in my first real estate investment also opened opportunities to begin building a case study and raising capital from unconventional sources.

I continued my career as a real estate investor, acquiring three properties in San Bernardino County. I found tenants that would provide income I could use to service the debt on the additional properties I acquired.

Simultaneously, I continued creating digital content that I would use to inspire and educate other people on the power of a success mindset. New clients included:

  1. Ninth Circuit Court
  2. Federal Bureau of Prisons
  3. Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department

Year 3 of Liberty: 2015 through August 2016

You’ve Got to be The Real Thing!

My real estate career continued to grow with a new acquisition in Irvine. I raised capital for a start-up business that specialized in the cancellation of timeshare contracts. That business currently employs more than 50 people and generates annual revenues in excess of $8 million. I’ve sold my equity stake in that venture to the other founding partners so I could focus more time to develop my real estate career and other ventures.

I acquired my fifth rental property in San Bernardino County. Then I acquired a property in Orange County, which became my sixth rental property.

Simultaneously I worked to market and sell digital products that I created to teach and inspire. New clients included:

  1. The Department of Justice
  2. United States Probation
  3. Federal Courts in Guam and Saipan

Year 4 of Liberty: 2016 through August 2017

Building a New Life

Together with my wife, I decided to launch a new healthcare business. I raised capital through a series of real estate sales, restructurings, and an equity partnership. I used those resources to purchase two properties for $1 million in Riverside County. Then I worked with Carole to launch a residential care facility for the elderly. I hired a contractor and oversaw $100,000 worth of construction modifications to prepare the property for licensing.

My felony background led to licensing complications.

Simultaneously I worked to market and sell digital products that I created to teach and inspire. New clients included:

  • California Department of Corrections
  • New York City Department of Corrections

Carole obtained a license to operate our property as a care center for the elderly.

I co-founded Prison Professors, LLC with two partners, Justin Paperny and Shon Hopwood. I continue to remain active, creating content that will teach and inspire people how to prepare for success—even as they’re going into the prison system.

Year 5 of Liberty: through August 2018

 

Getting Ready for Next Phase!

Market changes convinced me that the time was right to restructure my business ventures. Property in California had grown to such a level that it made sense for me to begin looking in other markets. I traveled to Belize, and then to Costa Rica.

I negotiated new financing for our property in Riverside. I sold our property in Irvine, and acquired a new property closer to the sand in Newport Beach.

After putting together $1.6 million in capital, I formed Alternative Investment Properties. I made a $1.4 million investment to become an equity investor in Rancho Del Mar, Costa Rica. I leveraged that investment to acquire 27 home sites in an oceanfront community in Belize, at The Reserve development.

I launched new platforms at Prison to Paradise and Alternative Investment Seminars.

Simultaneously I worked to market and sell digital products that I created to teach and inspire. New clients included:

 

  1. Federal Bureau of Prisons, ADX Florence
  2. Federal Bureau of Prisons, FCI Victorville

Year 6 of Liberty: 2018 through August 2019

Preparing for Next Five Years

On August 12, I completed my first five years of liberty. With a portfolio of assets valued at more than $5 million, and a net worth well in excess of $1 million, I easily crushed the goals that I set upon my release.

To prepare for the second five-years of my liberty, I set new goals. By August of 2023, I will build my portfolio of assets to more than $10 million, and I will advance my net worth to more than $4 million.

In an effort to document the journey, I’m making an investment of time and resources to build several platforms, including:

  1. Website: MichaelSantos.com
  2. Podcast: Michael Santos Mindset
  3. YouTube: Channel Michael Santos / MichaelSantosMindset
  4. Facebook: Michael Santos / @MichaelSantosMindset
  5. Instagram: Michael Santos Mindset

Through this new effort, I intend to broaden my reach. All of us in life face challenges or struggle at one time or another. By learning how to think differently, we can build a mindset of success. Through the new platforms I’m creating, I will teach the strategies that brought me through struggle and into prosperity.

I’ll show others how they can incorporate these strategies into their daily activities, too.

Through this site, I’ll document the journey ahead!

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Start Here

I am 100% transparent and authentic. Through this website, you can read about my journey and determine whether I can bring value to your life or business.

My name is Michael Santos.

I’m an investor, a speaker, and an entrepreneur. I create learning resources to teach strategies and tactics others can use to become more successful:

  • As investors
  • As business owners, and
  • In life.

I have an unusual, but well-documented path from struggle to success. Click the boxes below to learn more about a journey that led me through 26 years in prison to successful, law-abiding, contributing citizen. Read through all areas of my website for more validation.

Introduction

 

As you’ll see from the story that follows, I made a series of bad decisions during my youth. Those bad decisions led me into the criminal justice system.

For 26 years (from 1987 until 2013) I was a federal prisoner.

During my life as a prisoner, I recalibrated, becoming more mindful of my responsibility to live as a good citizen. I created a disciplined plan with hopes of reconciling with society. Should you choose to read through the expanding boxes below, you’ll see that I adhered to a three-part strategy that included:

1) Working to educate myself;

2) Working to contribute to society; and

3) Working to build a strong support network.

That strategy changed the way that I think. By living deliberately, I created a success mindset.

Now I strive to teach others how they can bring a success mindset into their lives. One hallmark of all my work is that I never ask anyone to do anything that I’m not doing. I pledge to live transparently and to document my continuing pursuit of success.I’ll work to prove worthy of this community I’m building.

Regardless of what bad decisions we’ve made in the past, at any time we can begin sowing seeds for a better, more prosperous life.

By living transparently and documenting my journey, I’m striving to live as the change that I want to see in the world. You can access my content through audio, video, or by reading, on the following platforms:

Should you want more details, click on the according boxes below!

Early Life: 1964 through 1987

Before Prison:

My father escaped from Cuba and he initially settled in the Los Angeles area. He married my mother and they had my sister, Julie, on November 23, 1963. I was born a year later, on January 15, 1964.

We moved to the Seattle area when I was a young boy. On June 11, 1967, my parents brought my younger sister, Christina into our life. We grew up as a close family of five.

By trade, my father was an electrician. With my mother’s help, he launched a small electrical contracting company. That company supported us in the North Seattle community of Lake Forest Park. Like many immigrants, my father was a tradesman with an intense work ethic and he tried to instill that work ethic in me. As a young boy, I reluctantly accompanied my father to job sites.

During my early teen years, my father’s company began to transition. I grew from wiring residential properties to commercial properties. By the time I started high school, the company specialized in public works projects—with an emphasis on highway illumination, traffic signals, and street lighting.

Despite the many advantages my parents provided, I made a series of bad decisions as an adolescent. School didn’t interest me and I was driven by money rather than building good character.

In 1982, I graduated from Shorecrest High School. Although I went to work for my father, I chased a faster life. I chose friends who had a bad influence on me. By the time I turned 20, a friend’s scheme to sell cocaine attracted me and I joined him. On August 11, 1987, authorities arrested me for the leadership role I created in selling cocaine.

Prison Years 1 through 5: 1987 through 1992-Starting the Journey

Starting a New Mindset

On the day of my arrest, August 11, 1987, I wasn’t ready to accept responsibility. All I wanted was to get out of jail. Somehow, I wanted others to release me from the problems that I created. I hired counsel and prepared for trial. During the trial, I took the witness stand and lied, testifying that I didn’t have anything to do with selling cocaine.

 

The jury saw through my lies and convicted me of every count. I faced a sentence of life without the possibility of parole.

 

During that awkward transition between my conviction and my sentencing date, I prayed for guidance. I asked God for strength to make it through my sentence, with my dignity intact. I didn’t know how much time I would serve, where authorities would send me, or what would follow.

 

Following those prayers I found a philosophy book and I read about Socrates. I could identify with the story because Socrates was in jail. That story changed the way I think and it made me more mindful, transforming my life. Rather than dwelling on the problems I created, by reading Socrates (and later other philosophers) I learned how to think differently about my role in society.

 

As many people know, Socrates is the father of Socratic questioning. We can find awareness and become more mindful by asking better questions. As I lay in that jail cell, awaiting my sentencing hearing, I began to introspect, thinking about the bad decisions I made as a boy and adolescent. Those bad decisions led me into the problems and struggle I would go through for decades.

 

To make the most of the journey, I began to contemplate what I could do during my imprisonment to reconcile with society.

 

Those thoughts led me to think about the people I would meet in the future. What would they expect from me? By reflecting and asking a series of questions, I could pursue thoughts in many directions and explore complex ideas, opening my mind to new ideas.

 

I came up with a three-pronged strategy that follows:

 

  1. To reconcile with society, I would work to educate myself. By working to educate myself, I would show others that I do not want to live as a criminal.
  2. To reconcile with society, I would strive to contribute to the lives of others, in meaningful, measurable ways.
  3. To reconcile with society, I would work to build a strong support network. With a strong support network, I’d be more likely to create opportunities to grow, contribute, and leave a meaningful life.

 

That strategy, I hoped, would set me on a new path. It would guide my every decision as I moved into the system. I felt strongly that if I adhered to a disciplined, deliberate strategy, I would open opportunities in prison and upon release.

 

That strategy changed the way that I thought.

Later, the federal judge that presided over my trial sentenced me to 45 years. I didn’t know what that meant because I’d never been confined before. I couldn’t even contemplate what it meant. Later, I learned that if I avoided disciplinary problems while in prison, authorities would award me credit for “good behavior.” I could conclude the term in 26 years if I stayed out of problems in prison.

Since I was brought into the prison system when I was 23, I didn’t have a framework to contemplate what it would mean to serve 26 years in prison. But I had a strategy, articulated by the three points above. If I adhered to the strategy, I believed that I could get the best possible outcome—returning to society with my dignity in tact, with opportunities to live as a law-abiding, contributing citizen.

I began to project to the year of August 2013, when the prison system would release me. It would be crucial for me to make the best possible use of the 9,500 days I would live as a prisoner.

  • I could visualize success, as getting out of prison in August of 2013.
  • I could create a plan that would carry me through the journey.
  • I could set priorities that I would need to work through along the way.

I needed tactics to show my commitment to the strategy. The tactics I pursued guided me through the first five years of my imprisonment. I am grateful to have found opportunities to earn an undergraduate degree from Mercer University in June of 1992. I am grateful to Hofstra University for allowing me to begin studying toward a master’s degree. I am grateful to the many mentors that came into my life as I worked through those first five years of imprisonment.

Prison Years 5 through 10: 1992 through 1997-Academic Credentials

 

Making Progress

In the summer of 1992 I began studying toward a master’s degree at Hofstra University. I read extensively and worked to further develop writing skills. By earning another academic credential, I anticipated that I would become more resourceful, capable of opening more opportunities to succeed upon release. By working toward the clear goal of a master’s degree, I felt as though I were building a ladder that could lift me from the pit of problems I created and take me into the light of liberty.

To develop communication skills, I developed habits and patterns. If I didn’t make a conscious effort to learn how to write and speak with more eloquence, I worried that I would become weaker. Decades in prison could leave me with a “prisoner’s voice,” making me more vulnerable to prejudice and discrimination in the job market or business community upon release. I needed to disrupt thoughts others would have about a man who served decades in prison. If I could train myself to communicate well, I anticipated that I would be able to walk into any setting unscathed, without the handicaps that follow for most people with a prison background.

Besides working toward a master’s degree, I incorporated self-directed learning strategies to train myself how to communicate better.

For example:

  1. I engaged in vocabulary-building exercises.
  2. I committed myself to writing a minimum of 1,000 words every day.
  3. I wrote systemic book reports to document what I read, what I learned, and how reading would contribute to my success upon release.
  4. I initiated a public-speaking group so that I could learn how to communicate ideas better.
  5. I began building mentor relationships by sending unsolicited letters to leaders in society.
  6. I created a portfolio of accomplishments to document the journey
  7. I began writing op-ed articles in newspapers.

In 1995, Hofstra University awarded my master’s degree.  I began studying toward a Ph.D. at The University of Connecticut. After my first year of study toward the doctorate, the prison system put a block to my program. To remain productive, I switched my focus to self-study of business and the stock market.

Prison Years 10 through 15: 1997 through 2002-Earning $1 Million

Overcoming obstacles!

Although I didn’t have access to computers, by reading I could learn about the Internet. In 1998, from inside of a prison, I raised $2,000 in capital to begin my career as an investor. I wanted to participate in the new economy, and through my sister, I opened a brokerage account with an online trading company. By using the $2,000 I raised in prison, and margin loans that the brokerage house extended, I began investing in the leading Internet stocks of the day.

Over the next two years, I directed more than $20 million worth of stock trades. Early investments in America Online, Yahoo!, Double Click, Real Networks, and other highly volatile stocks led to my building equity of more than $1 million at the peak of my portfolio’s value, in early 1999. When the Internet bubble burst, the concentrated, heavily leveraged positions I held in volatile stocks resulted in the loss of several hundred thousand dollars in equity.

Still, the money that remained in my account at the start of 2002 changed my life.

  1. Had it not been for my early commitment to education, I would not have been in a position to raise capital.
  2. Had I not invested time to learn about business or the Internet, I would not have known how to invest.
  3. Had I not seized opportunities to invest in Internet stocks, I would not have built experience as an investor. That experience brought the thrill of earning my first $1 million in equity, and the agony of watching hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of equity disappear as the stock market crushed valuations of the equities I owned.

Prison Years 15 through 20: 2002 through 2006-Getting Married

One Door Closes, Another Door Opens

 

Experiences of losing money in the stock market caused me to shift my attention. Rather than continuing to speculate in the market, I turned my attention back to writing. I’d moved into my second decade of imprisonment and I made a more concerted effort to develop skills that I believed would open more earning prospects.

I invested in the effort, creating a personal narrative that detailed accomplishments that I made in prison. Those accomplishments included my academic degrees, courses I created and taught in prison, published writings, and testimonial letters from several distinguished mentors who had come into my life. I began to distribute that portfolio, hoping to expand my support network and create new opportunities. By using resources that I earned from my earlier trading, I bound the portfolio of documents with a plastic binder and I began distributing it to others.

I began publishing writings on a website that others created on my behalf. Through all of those efforts, I opened more publishing opportunities. Leading academic publishing houses issued contracts for me to publish my first books. Through those published writings, my support network grew exponentially. Efforts I made to build a support network led to my connecting with Carole.

Carole and I developed a friendship through correspondence. That correspondence turned into a romance. In 2003, she moved from Oregon to New Jersey so we could begin building our life together. Carole married me inside of a prison visiting room on June 24, 2003.

Carole and I put a plan together. We began making a commitment to use all of my earnings from the work I did in prison to support her. She could rely upon those earnings to support herself while she returned to school with a long-term plan to become a nurse. After completing prerequisite courses, she began nursing school while she simultaneously became the center of my life and my liaison to the world.

Prison Years 20 through 25: 2007 through 2012-Crushing it

 

Almost Out!

While Carole and I continued to build our life together as a married couple, nurturing our relationship through weekly visits in prison visiting rooms. Although she did the work, I brought meaning into my life by creating opportunities to earn money to support her—even while I was moving into my third decade in prison. After passing the pre-requisite courses, Carole started nursing school, earning credentials as a licensed vocational nurse, and then as a registered nurse.

Anticipating that I would conclude my prison journey in 2012, I began making final preparations for the life I wanted to lead. After earning publishing credentials by bringing two books to market with academic publishers, I opened a relationship with a literary agent. I wrote a proposal for a general, non-fiction book and my agent succeeded in selling the idea to St. Martin’s Press, one of the world’s largest publishing houses. Large newspapers from across the United States, including the Los Angeles Times Sunday Book Review and the New York Times Sunday Book Review brought my books to the attention of more readers, building my credibility and boosting my support network.

I leveraged the attention to open new publishing opportunities as a ghostwriter for high net-worth people I met in prison. Earnings from those projects not only supported my wife, but the projects became the start of lifelong friendships with several business leaders. From those leaders, I developed plans to launch my life upon release. I spent those final five years of my imprisonment laying the ground word to build businesses I intended to create upon my release.

Through the work that I had done during the 25 years that I served in prison, I was well prepared to begin my life in society. On August 12, 2012, authorities allowed me to transfer to a halfway house in San Francisco, where I would serve my final year. On the day that I walked, I could rely upon the following credentials:

  1. A bachelor’s degree from Mercer University
  2. A master’s degree from Hofstra University
  3. A long-list of published articles, chapters, and books
  4. A massive support network
  5. A 10-year marriage
  6. Experience of overseeing hundreds of stock trades, with a cumulative value of more than $20 million.
  7. Extensive experience of creating opportunities out of struggle
  8. Approximately $100,000 in a savings account

Since I accumulated those resources from inside of a prison, I felt extremely confident that I could succeed in society. I could rely upon the same deliberate strategies and tactics that powered me through decades in prison to become successful in society.

Halfway House: 2012 through 2013—Completing 9,500 days as a Prisoner

Starting My Career

As Carole drove me from the federal prison to the halfway house in San Francisco, I laid out a plan that we could follow. During that final year that I would have to serve in the halfway house, I pledged to create new opportunities. I would spend that year assessing my environment, but also sowing seeds to start my career. If I did well, within five years of completing my sentence, Carole and I would have our first $1 million in assets. If I succeeded in building that portfolio of assets by 2018, we could leverage them to create prosperity.

The recession had decimated markets across the United States, and many people worried about a lack of opportunity. But I had come out of prison and all I could see were opportunities to grow. Before I left prison, I wrote letters to hundreds of business leaders. Those efforts paid off, as I had multiple opportunities to earn an income.

I arrived at the halfway house on Monday, August 12, 2012. On Thursday, I went to apply for my driver’s license. On Friday, I reported for my first day of work with a real estate developer. I opened that relationship while I was in prison. My work ethic persuaded the CEO to invest in me, and he agreed to finance my first real estate transaction—a $400,000 acquisition.

While serving that time in the halfway house, I used my time to learn more about technology and the world that I left behind in 1987. Prior to my imprisonment, the Internet did not exist, so I had to learn a great deal about computers. I had to learn how to use technology for marketing, for sales, for business. With help from others, I built websites, marketing campaigns, videos and audio courses.

By the time I concluded my year in the halfway house, I created a fully developed digital course with packaging. I felt confident that I was ready to launch my business and my life.

Year 1 of Liberty: 2013 through August 2014

Little Steps Lead to New Opportunities

Within weeks of concluding my sentence, I began teaching as an adjunct professor at San Francisco State University. Prior to the time I visited San Francisco State University, I’d never stepped foot on a university campus—all of my studies had been through correspondence while I served decades in prison. I created a course called The Architecture of Incarceration and taught about the build up to mass incarceration, and the influences it had on our society. Then I opened discussions on steps we could take to improve outcomes of the criminal justice system.

Through national media coverage that I coordinated, I opened national speaking opportunities in academia and business. Together with my business partner, Justin Paperny, I began selling courses that I created. Our initial clients included several government agencies:

  1. The Washington State Department of Corrections
  2. The Orange County Department of Education
  3. The Los Angeles Office of Education
  4. Santa Clara County Jail

I began a speaking career during this timeframe, too, and found opportunities in the following forums:

  1. University of California Berkeley
  2. Stanford University
  3. DePauw University
  4. New York State University
  5. Sacramento State University
  6. University of Washington
  7. TEDx Silicon Valley

National media sources covered my transition back into society. Some of those publications include:

  1. San Francisco Chronicle Front Page Profile
  2. PBS NewsHour
  3. NBC News

I began building a credit score. Together with Carole, I qualified for a mortgage of $460,000. With that mortgage, I was able to pay off the developer. We leased our initial property to a nice family so that Carole and I could pursue opportunities in Southern California.

In May of 2014, I made a transition from the San Francisco Bay area to Southern California. Carole and I lived in Newport Beach when we first moved to Orange County.

Year 2 of Liberty: 2014 through August 2015

Live With Gratitude

Carole and I rented a condominium in a planned Irvine community. My credit score began to improve and I could qualify for additional financing through conventional lenders. Success in my first real estate investment also opened opportunities to begin building a case study and raising capital from unconventional sources.

I continued my career as a real estate investor, acquiring three properties in San Bernardino County. I found tenants that would provide income I could use to service the debt on the additional properties I acquired.

Simultaneously, I continued creating digital content that I would use to inspire and educate other people on the power of a success mindset. New clients included:

  1. Ninth Circuit Court
  2. Federal Bureau of Prisons
  3. Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department

Year 3 of Liberty: 2015 through August 2016

You’ve Got to be The Real Thing!

My real estate career continued to grow with a new acquisition in Irvine. I raised capital for a start-up business that specialized in the cancellation of timeshare contracts. That business currently employs more than 50 people and generates annual revenues in excess of $8 million. I’ve sold my equity stake in that venture to the other founding partners so I could focus more time to develop my real estate career and other ventures.

I acquired my fifth rental property in San Bernardino County. Then I acquired a property in Orange County, which became my sixth rental property.

Simultaneously I worked to market and sell digital products that I created to teach and inspire. New clients included:

  1. The Department of Justice
  2. United States Probation
  3. Federal Courts in Guam and Saipan

Year 4 of Liberty: 2016 through August 2017

Building a New Life

Together with my wife, I decided to launch a new healthcare business. I raised capital through a series of real estate sales, restructurings, and an equity partnership. I used those resources to purchase two properties for $1 million in Riverside County. Then I worked with Carole to launch a residential care facility for the elderly. I hired a contractor and oversaw $100,000 worth of construction modifications to prepare the property for licensing.

My felony background led to licensing complications.

Simultaneously I worked to market and sell digital products that I created to teach and inspire. New clients included:

  • California Department of Corrections
  • New York City Department of Corrections

Carole obtained a license to operate our property as a care center for the elderly.

I co-founded Prison Professors, LLC with two partners, Justin Paperny and Shon Hopwood. I continue to remain active, creating content that will teach and inspire people how to prepare for success—even as they’re going into the prison system.

Year 5 of Liberty: through August 2018

 

Getting Ready for Next Phase!

Market changes convinced me that the time was right to restructure my business ventures. Property in California had grown to such a level that it made sense for me to begin looking in other markets. I traveled to Belize, and then to Costa Rica.

I negotiated new financing for our property in Riverside. I sold our property in Irvine, and acquired a new property closer to the sand in Newport Beach.

After putting together $1.6 million in capital, I formed Alternative Investment Properties. I made a $1.4 million investment to become an equity investor in Rancho Del Mar, Costa Rica. I leveraged that investment to acquire 27 home sites in an oceanfront community in Belize, at The Reserve development.

I launched new platforms at Prison to Paradise and Alternative Investment Seminars.

Simultaneously I worked to market and sell digital products that I created to teach and inspire. New clients included:

 

  1. Federal Bureau of Prisons, ADX Florence
  2. Federal Bureau of Prisons, FCI Victorville

Year 6 of Liberty: 2018 through August 2019

Preparing for Next Five Years

On August 12, I completed my first five years of liberty. With a portfolio of assets valued at more than $5 million, and a net worth well in excess of $1 million, I easily crushed the goals that I set upon my release.

To prepare for the second five-years of my liberty, I set new goals. By August of 2023, I will build my portfolio of assets to more than $10 million, and I will advance my net worth to more than $4 million.

In an effort to document the journey, I’m making an investment of time and resources to build several platforms, including:

  1. Website: MichaelSantos.com
  2. Podcast: Michael Santos Mindset
  3. YouTube: Channel Michael Santos / MichaelSantosMindset
  4. Facebook: Michael Santos / @MichaelSantosMindset
  5. Instagram: Michael Santos Mindset

Through this new effort, I intend to broaden my reach. All of us in life face challenges or struggle at one time or another. By learning how to think differently, we can build a mindset of success. Through the new platforms I’m creating, I will teach the strategies that brought me through struggle and into prosperity.

I’ll show others how they can incorporate these strategies into their daily activities, too.

Through this site, I’ll document the journey ahead!

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