Journal Entry: Monday, May 6, 2024

Journal Entry

Recalibrate from Prison

How to Make the Most of a Federal Prison Experience

I remember a song that Frank Sinatra used to sing: New York, New York. “If you can make it in New York,” he sang, “you can make it anywhere.”

That song used to motivate me while I served a 45-year sentence in federal prison. The Bureau of Prisons initially sent me to a high-security US Penitentiary, where I remained for the first seven years of my sentence. Over time, the BOP transferred me to medium-security prisons, then low-security prisons, then minimum-security camps. After 26 years inside, I concluded my obligation to the Bureau of Prisons.

During each of the 9,500 days that I lived as Federal Prisoner Number 16377-004, I thought about how I could use time inside to prepare for success outside. 

A journey through federal prison is undeniably challenging. My name is Michael Santos, and for decades, I’ve been working to improve outcomes of America’s criminal justice system. That means I must create an ecosystem to reform sentencing and prison policies on a macro level, but also teach people how to recalibrate from prison, which I call a micro change.

Understanding the Need for Recalibration

To recalibrate in prison, start by assessing life’s direction. In my case, I was making many bad decisions. Once in prison, leaders taught me how to introspect. I considered the many bad decisions that brought me inside. More than the crime, I thought about earlier influences. I went to prison when I was 23, but I started making bad decisions 10 years earlier–when I was 13. The friends I chose, the lack of discipline, the failure to educate myself or find good role models all contributed to my imprisonment., 

I understood the need to change. Fortunately, I found mentors to guide me. From them, I learned some key steps to recalibrate in prison.

Key Steps for Recalibrating Life in Prison

Adopt a Positive Mindset:

The first step in recalibration is adopting a positive and proactive mindset. It’s about seeing your time in prison as an opportunity for growth and self-improvement, rather than just a punishment to endure.

Set Clear and Achievable Goals:

Identify specific, realistic goals that you want to achieve while in prison. These could be educational achievements, vocational skills, physical fitness targets, or personal development milestones.

Engage in Educational and Skill-Building Programs:

Utilize the educational and vocational training opportunities available in the prison system. This not only helps in acquiring new skills but also boosts self-esteem and prepares you for life after release.

Build Constructive Relationships:

Form positive relationships with fellow inmates, prison staff, and mentors. These relationships can provide support, guidance, and opportunities for learning and growth.

Develop a Daily Routine: Establish a structured daily routine that includes time for work, study, exercise, and self-reflection. A consistent routine can provide a sense of normalcy and purpose.

Practice Self-Reflection:

Regular self-reflection is vital for recalibration. Reflect on your past actions, the changes you want to make, and the steps you’re taking to achieve those changes.

Stay Connected with the Outside World:

Maintain communication with family and friends. This helps in staying grounded and reminds you of the life and relationships you are working towards.

Prepare for Reentry from Day One:

Start planning for your reentry into society from the beginning of your sentence. This includes thinking about your career path, housing, rebuilding relationships, and integrating back into the community.

Strategies for Maintaining Focus and Resilience

Find Sources of Inspiration:

Read books, engage in courses, and seek out stories of individuals who have successfully recalibrated their lives. These can serve as sources of inspiration and motivation.

Stay Physically Active:

Regular physical exercise is crucial for mental health and overall well-being. It can also be a constructive way to channel energy and stress.

Avoid Negative Influences:

Stay away from prison politics and individuals who could derail your recalibration efforts. Focus on your goals and avoid distractions.

Recalibrating while in federal prison is an essential process that requires dedication, discipline, and a forward-looking approach. It’s about transforming your time in prison into a period of positive change and preparation for a successful future. My experience has shown that with the right mindset, clear goals, and a commitment to personal growth, anyone can recalibrate their life in prison and emerge ready to make a meaningful contribution to society.

Critical Thinking:

  1. What role does self-reflection have on personal transformation, from your perspective?
  2. In what ways would introspection help find solutions after a crisis?
  3. How would the strategies in the article above influence your confidence?