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Inmate shares prison survival strategies
2012-11-26 0:00

By Sam Whiting | SFGate.com

On a break from his desk job in Petaluma, Michael Santos climbs into his Chevy compact and drives to a quiet hillside estate, hands on the wheel at 10 and 2.

His wife, Carole, is living in a newly furnished guesthouse and is at the door as he parks and announces, "Honey, I’m home."

They both laugh because this is her home, not his. His home is in a halfway house in San Francisco, where he is finishing a 45-year sentence for drug trafficking. With credit for good behavior, he spent 25 years and two days, more than half his life, locked up. In that time, he published seven books on incarceration, ranging from the macro, "Inside: Life Behind Bars in America," to the micro, "Prison! My 8,344th Day," and married Carole Goodwin, whom he’s known since grade school.

Santos, 48, was released to community confinement in August, but he is still federal prisoner No. 16377004. There are institutional rules. Plus there are his rules that are strict and unbendable. "If I’m not exercising the same level of discipline that guided me through prison," he says, pondering the pull of recidivism, "I know the statistics."

So after a few minutes admiring the contents of a refrigerator, and a quick hand-holding session with his wife, he is back in the car, hands on the wheel at 10 and 2.

"The entire journey for me has been hyper-deliberate," he says, speaking softly and slowly. "It has all been in preparation for this period of time when I can emerge into society with opportunities to live as a contributing person. Nothing distracts me from what I need to do."

Santos is employed by Golden State Lumber, because its owner, Lee Nobmann, met him in Lompoc, where Nobmann was serving a 13-month sentence for tax evasion. On his way out, Nobmann promised Santos a place to live and a paying job, which has nothing to do with the business of lumber.

"My job is to continue doing what I was doing in prison," he says. "To help the people understand the American prison system, the strategies that I’ve used to get through it."

He has a website, www.michaelsantos.net, which gets thousands of unique visitors a day, and 1,124 daily followers on Facebook. Every day a hundred new inmates are writing to him in desperate need of his help.
’Messiah’ to other prisoners

"For people who are lacking in hope he has become a messiah," says Joan Petersilia, a professor at Stanford Law School and scholar in prison re-entry. "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.’ "

His most widely distributed book, "Inside," published in 2006 by St. Martin’s Press, is in its seventh printing. In it, Santos describes how he got by as just about the only inmate who was not either armed with a deadly weapon at all times and/or affiliated with a gang, or paying for protection against sexual predators and sadists.


Read the full article at: sfgate.com

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