Journal Entry: August 19, 2023—Santos—Someday

Journal Entry

Enrique Tarrio faces a lengthy prison term. Newspapers have reported that the Department of Justice recommends that U.S. District Judge Timothy Kelly sentence Tarrio to 33 years for a leadership role in the events that led to the January 6 disturbances.

I don’t know anything about Enrique Tarrio, or the conviction he faces, but I know what it’s like to face a multi-decade term in prison. I remember when prosecutors asked Judge Tanner to sentence me to 45 years. That was back in 1987.

My judge followed that recommendation.

Fortunately, leaders helped me realize that regardless of what bad decisions we may have made, we can always work to make better decisions. To make it through a lengthy sentence, we need to follow the guidance that of leaders. They tell us to:

  1. Define success,
  2. Prioritize the steps we should take,
  3. Develop our tools, tactics, and resources,
  4. Execute our plan every day,
  5. Measure our progress with accountability metrics, and
  6. Adjust as necessary.

Even if we have a lengthy sentence (and any time we spend away from our family is a lengthy sentence), we must feel a sense of urgency. We must work toward making things better. We do not have time to delay or wait for “someday” before we begin.

Many people like to write about what they’re going to do someday. If you’re justice-impacted, you shouldn’t be one of those people waiting for someday. Take action.

Action-oriented strategies made all the difference in my journey through 9,500 days in prison, and they can work for others, too. More than 10 years have passed since I concluded my obligation to the Bureau of Prisons, but I still follow action-oriented strategies today. I’m still working to solve big problems that may outlast my life. Yet even if I do not live long enough to see the result, I know that I must work every day—not someday.

As a former prisoner who strives to change the system, I face a lot of resistance. Sometimes that resistance can like obstructionism. Fortunately, the action-oriented strategies that I learned in prison help me continue moving forward, always working toward the vision that I want to see. I am striving to build our coalition, striving to persuade business leaders and individuals to support these efforts that will open opportunities for prison administrators to incentivize excellence.

Regardless of what sentence a judge imposes, in my view, Congress should empower prison administrators to incentivize the outcomes that will benefit society. If we want to extract a pound of flesh, and foster intergenerational cycles of recidivism, then we should continue the system as it is. On the other hand, if we want people to emerge from prison as law-abiding, contributing citizens, then we need changes. We need programs that will incentivize people to work toward the result we want. Rather than languishing in prison, we need programs that will help people develop skills and resources that translate into success upon release. The incentives that I want to see include:

  • Expansion of the First Step Act for all,
  • Introduction of a federal Work Release Program,
  • Use of social furloughs that enhance family relationships,
  • Reinstatement of the U.S. Parole Commission.

I’ll face a lot of resistance in the pursuit of that advocacy. A mentor reminded me of a quote from Arthur Schopenhauer. In the first half of the 19th Century, Schopenhauer wrote that all truth passes through three stages:

  1. First, it is ridiculed.
  2. Second, it is violently opposed.
  3. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident.

Regardless of what sentence you or anyone faces, work through the challenges. Take action. And don’t wait for “someday” to get started. Start preparing for success, as you define success, today.