My 25-Year Journey Through Federal Prison…

On August 11, 1987, DEA agents arrested me. I was 23, living in Miami, and facing criminal charges in Seattle for my role in leading a scheme to distribute cocaine. The lawyer who represented me gave assurances that with the right amount of money, I could beat the charges. At the time I wasn’t ready to accept responsibility for the bad decisions I had made and I proceeded through trial, faced even more criminal charges, then sealed my fate when I told lies about my innocence from the witness stand. The jury didn’t buy the perjured testimony and convicted me on all counts. I faced a possible sentence of life without parole.

During that interim period between my conviction and sentence, I came across a wonderful book titled A Treasury of Philosophy. For the first time, my eyes opened to the wisdom of philosophy, especially after I read The Trial of Socrates. After reading about Socrates and his strength of character in responding to trials with dignity, I felt compelled to transform my life. Recognizing that there wouldn’t be anything I could say or do that would influence the sentence my judge was about to impose, I turned my attention inward and questioned how I could grow, even though struggle was sure to come. Rather than dwelling on challenges that would await the rest of my life, I made the commitment to spend my time in prison and beyond, working to reconcile with society.

But what did it mean to reconcile with society? I didn’t know the answer to that question. I was too young, too green, to immature to understand the depths of my troubles. I only understood that somehow I would have to find a way to redeem the bad decisions of my youth. I spoke publicly about that commitment.

Although I didn’t have a history of weapons or violence, my judge sentenced me to a 45-year sentence. Under the sentencing laws that existed at the time, such a sentence would require that I serve 26 years before I would conclude my obligation to the Bureau of Prisons. That was how I began a journey that spanned 9,135 days, taking me through prisons of every security level until my release on August 13, 2012.

My commitment to reconcile with society required that I think about what it would mean to become one with other members of the broader community. I thought about what citizens would expect of me. Those thoughts led to a three-part, principled plan I could follow. It would require that I:

1) educate myself,
2) contribute to society in meaningful, measurable ways, and
3) build a support network that would have a vested interest in my success upon release.

I’m immensely grateful to the inspiration I received from philosophers who educated me during that early stage of my journey. That pursuit of learning set me on a path through prison that empowered me. Rather than dwelling on all that was missing in my life because of my imprisonment, I could focus on steps I could take to advance prospects for a law-abiding, contributing life upon release. That strategy made me feel whole and one with society. My body may have been in prison, but mentally I was able to transcend the walls, creating meaning every day and living a life of relevance. In that way, I wasn’t in prison at all and I enjoyed more liberty than many people who take it for granted.


Michael Santos began serving a federal prison sentence on August 11, 1987.  Authorities released him 9,135 days later, on August 13, 2012.  He spent every day of his sentence in an effort to prepare for a law-abiding, contributing life, working to reconcile with society for the bad decisions of his youth. For more information on Michael and his journey, visit his website, Twitter, Quora, and Facebook.

  • Stephanie C.

    Very inspirational, Michael. Good for you. Wish you all the best on your continued journey.

  • Fempress

    Wow thank you for sharing too.  I couldn’t grasp your experience because I guess I could only see despair.  But I started to get how the mind is powerful but not as powerful as the mind and higher consciousness joined or mind and spirit together.  

  • Eug B

    I wish you peace and lot of love in your heart.

  • Claudia

    You are a powerful role model and I wish you all the best on your journey of inspirational change, for you and those who follow you.

  • Patricia

    I am happy you are here and you tell your story and experiences.
    I am sure a lot of people can learn from this too.
    I hope you help, where you can!
    All the trouble we put ourselves through, before we can see he?
    Hope to hear more from you.

  • Coachpal

    I appreaciate your transparency. Obviously, as with the ancients, you have learned the secret of being content in whatever your situation.

  • Jerry

    Keep up the work and positive path

  • Freedom is a mind game. The opponent: Our mind, of course. Once we’re free in our own mind, no one will ever keep us bound again. This was a very powerful post, Michael. Thank you for sharing your inspiring story here on The Daily Love. 🙂 

  • monica

    All the best Michael and have a blessed 2013! 

  • Jen

    It is always wonderful to read about people learning how to love themselves and others in such a difficult setting. You are such an inspiration and I wish you all the best on your journey.

  • Stephen

    How wonderful that you filled your soul by working through your challenges and pain. I wish you love, health, and happiness. Go forth on your journey and continue inspiring people to look inward!

  • Gwen

    Judges are stupid, dirty skunks who love to hurt ppl. The system is corrupt and needs to be overthrown.