Preview Mode Links will not work in preview mode

Prison Professors

Dec 28, 2017

Hello, hello. My name is Michael Santos and I welcome you to our new Prison Professors podcast. As stated in the intro, I’m part of a team that includes two co-founders, Shon Hopwood and Justin Paperny.

Every day we’ll publish a new Prison Professors episode. What do we mean by every day? We mean every day.

Why would we do this? Well, we have a lot of reasons. Primarily, we want to teach our audience about America’s prison system, the people it holds, and strategies for growing through prison successfully. 

Over the past few years, we’ve seen a lot more interest in the prison system. The big interest began when Michele Alexander published her amazing book, The New Jim Crow. Ms. Alexander’s book launched an entire movement that brought awareness to mass incarceration. Since then, Netflix dramatized Piper Kernan’s book, Orange is the New Black. At the same time, television networks began publishing all types of shows that sensationalized the prison experience. Recently, Ear Hustle became all the rage by profiling lives of men serving time inside of San Quentin. 

Prisons have become mainstream. But the message of intergenerational failure isn’t something that we want to promote.

At Prison Professors, we offer something different. 

When we prepared to launch Prison Professors, people questioned the graphics we chose. Overall, people didn’t relate to people in suits going to prison. And it’s true. Our prisons incarcerate disenfranchised people of color more than anyone else. Our team does a lot of work to reform prison and sentencing systems across the United States. With our Prison Professors podcast, however, we strive to disrupt the thinking about America’s prison system. Our logo may be one way to start.

Our nation confines more than 2 million people. We incarcerate more people per capita than any nation on earth. At Prison Professors, we don’t complain about these troubling statistics. Nor do we make any judgment on the influences or decisions that led people to prison. We know that anyone can go to prison. 

With our podcast, we strive to show people the best possible outcomes. We strive to disrupt the thinking of taxpayers and anyone going into the prison system. Rather than complaining about how bad our prison system is, or why mass incarceration represents one of the greatest social injustices of our time, we strive to show people pathway to success. Our team has always believed that we need to live in the world as it exists—not as we would like it to be.

The truth is, our government has passed thousands of laws that can lead people to prison. And a felony conviction can result in lifelong complications. Those complications derail prospects for happiness. They can have ancillary consequences that include under employment upon release—or no employment. They can lead to a lack of access to housing, to financing, to social services. Those are realities. At Prison Professors, we want to help people who must content with such struggles. We want to show pathways to success in spite of such struggles.

For that reason, we offer new content every day. 

We will structure our Prison Professors podcast in one of two formats. Either I’ll narrate an episode or I’ll interview a guest. Some episodes will stand-alone. Other episodes will work together as part of a series on a specific subject. For example, you may enjoy our upcoming multi-part series on how to master prison quickly. Or you may want to learn from our series on Scott Tucker, which we title Billionaires Preparing for Prison. 

At Prison Professors, our team helps people master the prison experience. Through our podcast, we’ll bring more awareness. And we’d like to offer suggestions on how people can make it through the journey strong, with their dignity in tact. Our Prison Professors podcast offers daily insight for people who want the best possible outcome. 

My co-founders and I have a great deal of experience with the prison system. Through our website at, we offer an index with notes on all shows. We encourage you to visit Enter your name to become a member of our mailing list, or follow us on social media. Subscribe to our channel on YouTube and you’ll receive a notice each time we feature a new video. If you subscribe to our Prison Professors Facebook page, you’ll learn about efforts we’re making to improve outcomes of our nation’s prison system.

In episodes two and three, I’ll introduce you to my two co-founders. You may be familiar with their work already

In October of 2017, 60-Minutes featured a segment on Shon Hopwood. Shon also describes his story in his best-selling book, Law Man: Memoirs of a Jailhouse Lawyer. Law Man is relevant to listeners of the Prison Professors podcast for many reasons. Shon’s inspiring story shows that regardless of what bad decisions a person has made in the past, an individual can start sowing seeds that lead to success. 

The FBI arrested Shon in 1998 for a series of armed bank robberies. A U.S. District Court Judge sentenced him to a term that would require Shon to spend more than 10 years in federal prison. Yet Shon found a way to prosper inside. He studied case law. He wrote briefs that brought victories for people in district courts, in circuit courts, and in the U.S. Supreme Court. After his release, Shon earned his undergraduate degree and he earned a law degree. He clerked for two federal judges. Now Shon serves as a tenure-track professor at Georgetown Law School. 

Without a doubt, Shon Hopwood is a success story. He is also a co-founder with Justin and me at and the Prison Professors podcast. 

Justin Paperny is our other co-founder. His skills as a young baseball player led to Justin’s scholarship at the University of Southern California. After earning an undergraduate degree, Justin went on to a career as a stockbroker. He managed assets for professional athletes and hedge funds. As a result of his failure to report a Ponzi scheme, authorities charged Justin with the crime of violating securities laws. 

I met Justin at the Taft Federal Prison Camp, in California. We became friends soon after he arrived, in 2008. We began to engineer a strategy that would lead to Prison Professors and other business opportunities while we were still serving time. Justin and I understood that many people face challenges with the criminal justice system. A lack of understanding can make matters worse. In some cases, the wrong decisions can bring disastrous results. 

While serving time in the Taft camp, Justin and I worked together. We crafted plans that would lead to the best possible outcome for anyone who has concerns about the criminal justice system. Upon Justin’s release, he began building the properties we would need to bring our products and services to market. We now have several platforms that include: 

  •, as well as our Prison Professors YouTube channel, Facebook page, and Twitter feed. We encourage you to follow us everywhere.

You’ll learn all about Shon and Justin in episodes two and three. I’ll share my story with listeners during the remainder of this episode.

As I said at the start, my name is Michael Santos. My journey through the criminal justice system followed some bad decisions I began making when I was a young man. In 1984, I was 20 years old and I started selling cocaine. When I was 23, in 1987, authorities arrested me. After a lengthy trial, a jury convicted me of operating a Continuing Criminal Enterprise. 

We were at the dawn of our nation’s war on drugs and I faced a possible sentence of life in prison. I’d never been incarcerated before, and I didn’t know what to expect. 

Like many people who go into the criminal justice system for the first time, I only wanted one thing. That was to get out! My ignorance of the system led to some bad decisions, and those bad decisions resulted in my serving much longer than I should have served. 

During an awkward transition between the conviction and my sentencing date, I decided to begin preparing for a better outcome. Rather than worrying about what was going to happen to me, I started thinking about ways that I could prepare for a brighter future. We reveal this story in our book: Earning Freedom: Conquering a 45-Year Prison Term

Earning Freedom, along with our other books, are available through our website at Readers of Earning Freedom will learn that leaders like Socrates, Viktor Frankl, Nelson Mandela, and others inspired me. Leaders like Steve Jobs and Bill gates taught me to think differently, Instead of dwelling on the problems, I needed to focus on solutions. 

From those leaders, I learned to chart my own path from struggle to prosperity. That path through prison included a three-pronged focus. I would work to: 

  1. Earn academic credentials. 2. I would work to
  2. Contribute to society in meaningful, measurable ways, and 3, I would work to
  3. Build a support network.

That three-pronged path led me through 9,500 days as federal prisoner, number 16377-004. I concluded my prison term on August 12, 2013. 

When I went into the prison system, I didn’t know what to expect. My judge sentenced me to serve a 45-year sentence. I learned that if I avoided disciplinary infractions, I could conclude that sentence in 26 years. But that was a long time for me to contemplate. I was only 23 when I started, so I hadn’t yet been alive as long as the system would expect me to serve. 

What was the best possible outcome? 

I didn’t know at the time. But I started to think. Instead of dwelling on the time that I had to serve, I began thinking about the life I would lead when I got out of prison. How would society judge me? Would I be able to find employment? Would the decades I served in prison anchor me in a cycle of failure? 

To put the length of time into context, take today’s date. Add 26 years. Think of the challenges to maintain a high level of energy and a high level of discipline over that length of time. It’s not easy to maintain a positive attitude while weeks turn into months, months turn into years, and years turn into decades. 

By reading about others, I found a key to keeping a strong mental attitude. It begins with defining success. If we train our mind to see the best possible outcome, we can start engineering a new path. That path can lead us from where we are to where we want to go. To become successful, regardless of where we are, we need to define success. 

I learned that lesson from Socrates. I was still lying in the Pierce County Jail awaiting sentencing when I read a story of The Crito. Socrates lived longer than 2,500 years ago. Back then, laws prohibited people in the elite class from teaching the poor. Yet Socrates believed that every human being had value. He willingly taught everyone. Despite warnings from authorities, Socrates continued to teach. Eventually, he was tried and convicted. Judges sentenced him to death. 

At the time that I found the story on Socrates, I didn’t have much of an education. I never would have read a philosophy book if I were not beginning my life in struggle. Yet when I read Socrates, I learned a great deal. I learned lessons that would frame my adjustment decisions through prison. 

Socrates made principled decisions. Through him, I learned how to make principled decisions. Rather than run away like a coward from problems he created, Socrates said that he would stand and face his punishment. He would die with his dignity intact. 

Socrates taught me to think differently. Instead of whining about problems that my own decisions created, I would need to take the punishment. I would need to figure out how I could get the best possible outcome. 

I especially value Socrates’ lessons on how to ask better questions. Many people have heard about the art of Socratic questioning. As I began to serve my lengthy term in prison, the questions I asked had a monumental influence on how I would adjust inside.

As a young man going into the prison system, I felt as if my world was completely imploding. I was married, but my wife was divorcing me. All of the ill-gotten gains I received from selling cocaine were gone. I was starting a journey that would require decades in prison. I’d spend it alone, without any money.

What would my life be like when I got out? That was a good question. It prompted me to think in terms of how my life would be if I didn’t make some changes. 

I learned to stop dwelling on my own problems. Instead, I began to focus on the best possible outcome. It’s important to remember the qualifiers: “best possible outcome,” with the keyword being “possible.” 

Obviously, I would have liked to get out. But getting out wasn’t a possibility. My conviction carried a mandatory-minimum sentence of 10 years. The statute gave my judge discretion to impose a life sentence. 

Regardless of what decision my judge made, I had to make better decisions. Since the law required my judge to sentence me to a minimum of 10 years, I had to think about that. What would be the best possible outcome in 10 years? 

I began thinking about the people I would meet. The world would move on over a decade. I would be stuck in prison. If I didn’t create a deliberate adjustment plan, after 10 years, I would only know other people who were in prison. And how would those people influence my future? 

I hated being in prison. I mean I really hated it. I wanted out. But I couldn’t get out. What kind of life would I have after 10 years if I adjusted to the ways of the prison? How would I talk? How would the words I chose influence the way that other people perceived me? 

Unless I adjusted well while inside, I would face real problems when I got out. I wouldn’t have any money. I wouldn’t have a support network. I wouldn’t have any work experience. I could get stuck in a cycle of failure unless I created a course of action that would lead to success. 

By reading about Socrates, I learned how to introspect. I learned how to assess influences that led to my troubles. I was in prison because a jury convicted me for crimes related to selling cocaine. Yet in truth, my bad decisions began long before I sold cocaine. If I made better decisions, Socrates convinced me that I could get out of prison as a better man, with more opportunities. 

Better decisions would begin by thinking about the people I would meet in the future. Or rather, thinking about the people I wanted to meet in the future. 

If I were going to persuade employers to believe in me, what would they expect me to accomplish while I was in prison? That was one question I had to answer. 

If I wanted more liberty from a probation officer, what could I do while in prison to influence his decisions? That was another question that I had to answer. 

If I wanted to launch businesses in the future, how could I persuade customers to believe in me even though I’m a convicted felon? I had to overcome challenges for the rest of my life. 

Those questions inspired me. They set me on the three-pronged approach that I described earlier in this introductory episode. I would work to: 

  1. Earn academic credentials. 2. I would work to
  2. Contribute to society in meaningful, measurable ways, and 3, I would work to
  3. Build a support network.

Those three concepts became my compass. I tried to make every decision inside in accordance with those three principles. It’s a strategy that Rick Warren later wrote about in his book The Purpose Filled Life. 

Even from the depths of a prison cell, I could ask questions that would improve my outcome. I wanted the best possible outcome. For me, that meant being able to return to society successfully. Even if I served multiple decades in prison, I wanted to return unscathed. Regardless of how much time I served, I didn’t want others to know by looking at me that I was once a prisoner.

With that guidance from Socrates and others, I began to find my way. The strategy influenced the books I read. Strategy influenced the social network I developed, and every other decision I made while serving my sentence. As a result, I earned university degrees. I became a published author. I built a strong support network. I even got married to the love of my life, Carole. Work that I completed in prison allowed me to earn an income to support Carole. 

When I finished my sentence after 26 years, I returned to society more than $100k in the bank. I could use those funds to launch my life. 

That didn’t happen by accident. It convinced me that success comes with good strategy. And good strategy is what my partners and I teach through the Prison Professors podcast. We teach a pursuit of excellence. And we show that if we could do it, anyone can do it. 

I concluded my obligation to the Bureau of Prisons on August 12, 2013. A few weeks later, I began teaching as an adjunct professor at San Francisco State University. While working there, I began creating products and services to help improve outcomes of our nation’s prison system. Those products and services now contribute to our company at 

Our clients include individuals who are going into the system. We also have contractual relationships with the Bureau of Prisons, the California Department of Corrections, the Washington State Department of Corrections, and many other large groups. Federal judges, federal probation officers, and U.S. Attorneys, as well as many law firms have purchased our products and services. We sell to the corporate sector, to sales organizations, and to anyone who wants to succeed after struggle. 

It’s a big market. Because regardless of where we are today, we all face struggle at one time or another in our lives. 

If you research our team at Prison Professors, you’ll see our authenticity. Both Shon Hopwood and Justin Paperny have my 100% confidence. And I consider it an honor to work with each of them. Each of us will work hard to prove worthy of your trust. 

We look forward to revealing more through our Prison Professors podcast. Expect us to launch new episodes every day. We will publish show notes on our website at When we conduct interview-style podcasts, to the extent possible, we’ll record in both a video format and an audio format. You can watch the videos on our YouTube channel or on our website. 

We’ll ask you to support the Prison Professors podcast by subscribing to us on iTunes. If you choose to subscribe, please rate the show with the number of stars you deem appropriate. Leave us an honest review. Your reviews and subscriptions will persuade iTunes to increase our distribution. The more distribution we have, the more effective we will be at spreading the message on steps we can take to improve outcomes of America’s prison system. 

That is my story. In future episodes, opportunities will open for me to reveal more. Let me tell you what you can expect in the upcoming episodes. As I mentioned, episodes two and three will introduce you to my partners, Shon Hopwood and Justin Paperny. After that, we’re going to present a series on how to master prison. Then we’ll follow with interviews. 

If you’d like to be a guest on our show, please reach out through Prison Check out our podcast link. And connect.