Michael's mom, his wife Carole, Michael Santos and his sister Christina
Let me make clear from the beginning that I am a person who deserved a prison sentence and that I accept full responsibility for my actions and early mistakes. I was a young man who had little character before I was convicted of these serious-but non-violent - charges for which I now am serving time. I went from being a greedy adolescent to a convicted criminal who was driven by passions, bad judgments and selfish values that most citizens appropriately associate with inferior character. I write these thoughts to make clear that I blame no one but myself for the predicament I am in today. I am deeply remorseful for the wrong decisions I made as a young man, and for the ramifications my actions had on society. At the same time, I am hoping that I will be recognized for the growth I have made within the restricting walls of prison, and not only for the poor decisions I made in my early 20s. I recognized my lack of character when I began serving this sentence in 1987, and that is when I began a long struggle to ensure that the Michael Santos who will emerge from prison is far different from the Michael Santos who entered prison.
As far as my prison record is concerned, this is my first offense. But in order to be fair with you, I want to bring to your attention a situation in which I became involved when I was 17-years old. I am asking you to judge me as best you can. In order to do that, you will need as much clear information as I can provide in a few pages. So, although prison documents state that I am a first offender, this is not the only time I was in trouble. Permit me to explain.
When I was 17 and in the eleventh grade, I gambled with another boy from Shorecrest High School, in Seattle, Washington. We were betting on Seattle Sonics basketball games, and I won several bets in a row. The boy with whom I was betting could not pay me in cash, so he instead offered to give me some stereo equipment. I agreed to accept it.
Over a year later, just a few months after I graduated from high school, a police officer called my home. I answered the phone, and he began asking me questions about the stereo equipment. The boy who gave me the stereo equipment was enmeshed in some type of crime. When he was arrested, he told the police everything he had done in the past in order to receive a lighter sentence. He told them that he had stolen some stereo equipment and given it to me.
In an effort to spare my parents the humiliation of knowing their only son was in trouble with the law, I went to the police station and gave an officer my statement of how I came into possession of that stereo equipment. It was stolen when I received it, and I knew that. Because I accepted that stereo equipment, I was given a few months of probation, and I paid $900 for the stolen property that I received. Perhaps the reason that incident is not on my record is because I was a juvenile at the time it occurred, or maybe it is because I was neither arrested nor sent to jail for it. I do not know for certain. All I do know is that it happened, and I want to provide you with full disclosure of my past.
From the time I graduated high school, in 1982, until the time I became involved in the distribution of cocaine in 1985,1 worked for a highway construction firm that my family had operated since 1970. Late in 1985, when I was 21, I made some bad decisions. I was offered an opportunity to participate in a cocaine transaction involving several kilograms, and I accepted. Since then, my life has not been the same.
A close friend of mine, whom I will call Alex, was involved in the distribution of small amounts of cocaine. Because of my position in my family's firm, I had access to large sums of money. I chose to use some of that money--without my parent's knowledge-to join my friend Alex's scheme by financing a large cocaine purchase. We purchased three kilograms of cocaine for the purposes of reselling them to realize a profit. The transaction lasted about twelve hours, and after replacing the money I had inappropriately taken from my family's firm, Alex and I split a profit of $4O,OOO.
Following that initial transaction, my friend Alex and I had the capital to continue in our scheme. We both knew many people who used the drug socially. We began asking these people whether they could connect us with large-scale purchasers of cocaine, and before long we knew several people to whom we could sell the product.
In a futile effort to limit our exposure, we began hiring other people to work for us-paying them to store and transport the cocaine that we were purchasing. I eventually relocated to South Florida, as I was in search of people who could sell cocaine to us at better prices. The scheme moved quickly, and by early 1986 I was living permanently in Key Biscayne. I was buying cocaine from a source I met in Miami, and using another friend whom I knew from high school to transport that cocaine to Seattle so that Alex could oversee its local distribution. The scheme progressed in that manner until June 20, 1986, when DEA agents arrested Alex. When the federal agents put handcuffs on his wrists and seized the kilogram of cocaine that he was carrying at the time, he realized he was in big trouble. That is when he began cooperating with the agents by telling them about the operation and naming me as his partner. He agreed to cooperate and testify against me in court in order to receive leniency at sentencing. In exchange for his cooperation, Alex received a four-year prison term, for which he served about 27 months.
I did not know that Alex was cooperating with the government. After meeting with him several times to discuss the options available, we agreed that I would continue operating the scheme, with hopes that I would accumulate enough funds to help him upon his release. For the following year, that is what I proceeded to do. I recruited more people whom I knew so that they could help me manage the distribution of cocaine in Seattle while I continued to live my life as if nothing had happened. Alex and I remained in contact even while he was incarcerated.
There was not much change until August 11, 1987, when I was arrested. By that time I estimate that the illegal organization I was instrumental in forming was responsible for the distribution of approximately 150 kilograms of cocaine, worth somewhere in the vicinity of four million dollars. My best estimate is that I personally made about one million dollars in profits from those sales. All of the money I did not spend before my arrest was wrongfully used for my legal defense or absconded with by people associated with me.
At the time of my arrest, I already had an attorney on retainer. After all, I knew that I was involved in a risky venture that could some day bring me legal problems. The attorney was expensive, but he told me there was a big difference between an indictment and a conviction. With the right amount of money, he told me, I would win. Since he and I had formed a relationship about six months prior to my arrest, he was well aware of all of my assets.
I told my attorney that I would either plead guilty or not guilty and take the case to trial. I wanted to accept responsibility for my bad decisions, and so I relied on my attorney to advise me about what was the best course to take in my case. He said that I was young and because I had no previous record, I would have a good chance of winning. In fact, he again said that with the right amount of money I would win the case. Being young and naive, I agreed to surrender all of my assets to him so that I could walk away from the courtroom and leave this lurid part of my past behind me.
Obviously, I did not walk away from the courtroom. In fact, I was never given a bond, and I have remained in confinement since my initial arrest.
While I was in jail, some of the people who distributed cocaine for me were together with me. They told me of several kilograms of cocaine that remained in one of the storage areas. That cocaine represented tens of thousands dollars, and I agreed to let one of the people who worked with me retrieve that cocaine and distribute it to some of the people who were involved with us in Seattle. That was yet another bad decision, for the people who became involved in that transaction were already under investigation, too. Although it was the same cocaine that was involved in the original indictment, along with the same participants, the government issued a second indictment for that offense rather than superseding the initial one.
I went to trial for the first indictment, and during that trial I took the witness stand to testify in my defense. Since the government had seized no cocaine from me, intercepted no telephone calls, and used only government informants to testify against me, I chose to lie before the Court and jury, testifying that I had nothing to do with the charges lodged against me. My attorney and I even rehearsed my testimony the day before during a conference at the jail. Clearly the members of the jury did not believe me, for they convicted me on every count in that indictment.
It was not until after that conviction that I began to realize the extent of my wrongdoing. I was not initially charged with the distribution of cocaine that took place after my arrest because I was already in jail at the time that it happened. However, other people were being implicated who had nothing to do with it, and so I made a statement to the U.S. attorney accepting full responsibility for that distribution. I also admitted that I perjured myself during the trial that had just concluded. I agreed to plead guilty to charges of perjury and for helping others to distribute the cocaine that was left over from the previous indictment. While I may have provided more details than you might want, that is the extent of my criminal behavior.
The above account is only a synopsis of my involvement in the distribution of cocaine. I did not discuss every transaction, for if I did, this account would be too long for this document. What I did do is let you know the essential details of my criminal behavior. That includes the fact that I played an integral role in the forming of an organization responsible for distributing approximately 150 kilograms of cocaine. As a principal in that organization, I earned a significant amount of money. Much of the money I earned was wasted, although I did invest a considerable amount of that money in real estate-all of which eventually was taken by my defense attorney.
I recognize my responsibility for enticing others to participate with me-I offered them opportunities to make significant amounts of money to store and transport cocaine. Although I am by no means a candidate for sainthood, I must bring to the reader's attention that there was no violence alleged or any violence used in my case. Still, I acknowledge that the drug trade does sometimes breed violence, and the cocaine with which I was involved may have caused tragedy at some point in its distribution process. I deeply regret my participation in the distribution of cocaine. Nevertheless, I did engage in the buying of cocaine and the selling of that same cocaine at higher prices after transporting it to different markets. For all of those crimes, and for my perjury at trial, I was convicted and sentenced to prison, as I deserved to be.
I realize that many readers have had little exposure to people who have been sentenced to prison. It may be helpful for me to provide a sense of proportion, a description of what lengths of time other people are serving in prison.
Through the Bureau of Justice and Statistics I have found the average lengths of time people convicted of the following crimes serve:
* Murderers serve average sentences of eight years, two months.
* Rapists serve average sentences of five years, eight months.
* Armed robbers serve average sentences of less than four years.
* Drug traffickers serve average sentences of one year, nine months.
* The average time that all federal prisoners serve is two years and one month.
Following my convictions, I was sentenced to a cumulative total of 45 years in federal prison. The nature of my sentence leaves me no possibility for parole. In addition to the long time that I must spend in prison, I also am sentenced to pay a $500,000.00 fine which accumulates interest at the rate of 18 percent per annum. The most recent invoice I received states that the fine has grown to over $1,700,000.00.
It would be helpful for me to understand the perspectives of law-abiding and taxpaying citizens on long-term imprisonment. I know that we live in a law-and-order society, but in August I begin my 17th year in prison, and I am sure that I have lost touch with voter sentiments, even though I try to keep current in my readings. I question whether there should be any non-violent crime for which justice would require a 45-year non-paroleable sentence. I realize that I am biased, however, for I long to be free.
I ask whether any first-time prisoner who is convicted of a non-violent crime should be sentenced to 45-years in prison and be required to serve nearly 30 years of that sentence before release. Although I personally am opposed to such Draconian punishments, I recognize that many citizens feel safer in our republic knowing that such sentences exist, and I accept that. But to those citizens, I ask whether they feel that non-violent, first-time prisoners who are unfortunate enough to be handed such punishments should have any opportunity to advance their release dates through their good behavior, positive contributions, and accomplishments made while in prison.
In other words, should there be any circumstances where a non-violent, first-time prisoner can earn his or her way out of prison after serving a significant length of time already? Before you answer that, let me share some of the accomplishments I have made from within the wrong sides of prison walls, gates, and fences during my term of incarceration.
The concept of earning freedom is not possible in federal prisons as laws stand today. A person is required to serve all of the imposed term, less any good time that the individual may receive. In my case, I am required to serve just over 26 years in prison. The many years of good time that I am receiving, however, have no relationship to earning freedom. For I am given that good time automatically and may only lose it by disobeying prison rules. The accomplishments an individual makes inside of prison currently have no impact on the prisoner's release date. That may be why so few prisoners use their time to prepare for release, and why so many return to prison. Instead of developing positive skills and good character, many prisoners use their time to prepare for the long prison terms they expect to serve. I describe those adjustment patterns in About Prison and Profiles from Prison, books I have written which are available through this website.
A few prisoners, on the other hand, thirst for freedom and strive to use every day of their time to prepare themselves as best they can to lead contributing and crime-free lives upon their release. Although the prison system itself has no mechanism in place to recognize these prisoners formally, the prisoners put forth their efforts in order to bring themselves more self-fulfillment and to develop the virtues of character, discipline, and temperance. I am one of those prisoners.
When I began serving my prison sentence in 1987 I had a limited education. I realized that in order to overcome the obstacles that my poor decisions had placed before me, I would need to develop my mind and earn academic credentials that people in society would recognize, accept and respect. I also knew that it would be important for me to avoid any and all problems while in prison. Furthermore, I knew that I would need to initiate programs that would contribute to society both inside and beyond prison walls. During all the years I have served in prison, I remained committed to those goals and have worked hard to achieve them.
I began and successfully completed my undergraduate education while I was a prisoner at USP Atlanta, earning a BA degree, cum laude, from Mercer University in Atlanta. After my studies at Mercer, I pursued graduate studies at Hofstra University through an independent study program, earning an MA degree in 1995. Since then, I persuaded the University of Connecticut to admit me into its graduate program, and I already have completed part of the course work in a program that will lead to a Ph.D. in Political Science. I am proud of this accomplishment because such an admission to pursue a Ph.D. at the University of Connecticut is without precedent there.
Besides my academic work, I am now into my sixteenth year in prison-six years of which were spent in a maximum-security penitentiary-and I have a clean disciplinary record. I also have initiated numerous programs designed to work with people in the community-adolescents who have shown that they may be attracted to criminal lifestyles; adults who may be considering drug sales; university students who are studying ethics, corrections, sociology, political science and law. I also have tutored other inmates ever since my term in prison began. I have helped inmates learn to read, write, type, and understand such computer programs as Word Perfect, Page Maker, Lotus, Excel, and Dbase IV. And through regular prayer, I express my remorse for the bad decisions I have made, and ask God to give me the strength to be a better person. In sum, I have worked every day to emulate the good citizenship and leadership that I am learning from my role models in society. Despite my efforts, and the fact that I have grown considerably since 1987, neither the prison system nor U.S. laws are prepared to distinguish me from the prisoner who did nothing but play cards and watch television for the duration of his sentence.
Some people may take the view that a lawbreaker deserves whatever sentence he or she receives and should complete every day of that sentence. One problem with that position, I think, is that a huge discrepancy exists between sentences. Some people who have severe records of criminal behavior are sentenced to prison for far lesser terms than first-time offenders who are convicted of like or even lesser offenses.
Others might argue that creating mechanisms for individuals to earn their freedom might open a Pandora's box. People with that perspective hold that if a person knows he can earn his way out of prison developing an education and keeping a clean record, then too many prisoners would try to use that strategy to make it to the streets more quickly. But I would think that taxpayers would hope that such a development would occur.
Currently we have an unacceptably high recidivism rate, generally agreed to exceed 50 percent-some studies show that rate to be as high as 80 percent. In other words, at least one out of every two people who go through the correctional system leave prison and commit more crimes against society. Logically, however, if those prisoners developed their minds and character while in prison, the chances would seem to be greater that more people would succeed upon release. Some citizens attribute many of society's problems to drugs, and I wholeheartedly agree that drugs have ruined many lives. But is it just to hold people who make the poor decision of selling drugs accountable for all the crimes that drug addicts commit? Perhaps I am naive, but I do not think such a position would be consistent with our concept of personal accountability. For example, we do not always hold the liquor-store owner accountable for the drunk driver; we do not hold the gun-store owner accountable for the drive-by shooter. In a country where freedom of choice and personal liberties are held in such high regard, it is inappropriate and inconsistent to penalize one individual for the actions that another commits.
Moreover, I believe it is important that we remember the nature of crime and punishment. Citizens will consider some crimes shocking and deserving of harsh punishments during any historical period-murder, robbery, and rape are examples. Those crimes were reprehensible to citizens 500 years ago; and they will be reprehensible 500 years from today. On the other hand, there are other types of laws that legislate behavior and personal choices. Those laws fluctuate with the times and with community's changing code of values. For example, earlier in this century the consumption of alcohol was illegal, but today its consumption is acceptable. Gambling is a crime in some parts of our country, while other parts of our country use gambling as a legitimate source of revenue. Drug use or sales was not a crime 100 years ago, and I question whether it will be a crime 100 years from today.
Differing cultural attitudes and mores do not excuse my behavior, for I was engaged in the sale of drugs while it most certainly was illegal. But will justice be served by my spending nearly 30 years in prison for my conviction of a nonviolent crime, while the Department of justice reports that the average term murderers serve is eight years, while the average time rapists serve is six years, while the average term armed robbers serve is less than four years?
I am as prepared today as I ever will be to be released from prison and to begin living my life as a contributing and taxpaying citizen. I now am 39 and I have earned an undergraduate and graduate degree entirely from within prison walls. I have changed my character, and I have worked diligently and consistently to redeem myself for the poor character of my difficult years between adolescence and young adulthood. Perhaps most importantly, I have served nearly sixteen years in prison already-longer than most murderers, rapists, and armed robbers serve in prison for their crimes. I have been punished for my crimes, and I have paid a heavy price. As things stand today, I will remain in prison until I am 49-for ten more years. If I do remain in prison for that long, I would leave confinement on the verge of senior citizenship, with no assets, no home, no career, no family, and little time left to prepare for my old age. In all likelihood, instead of being a contributing member of society, I would be a burden to taxpayers for the rest of my life.
I am certain that continued incarceration is not warranted or necessary in my case. But then again, I recognize that I am biased. That is why I am asking you, the taxpayers, the law-abiding citizens, the people whom this nation's prison system is supposed to represent, whether continued incarceration is right? Is it just? Is it necessary? Is it appropriate?
In order to help me prepare for the next decade, I ask you to respond to the questions I posed in this report. Please post your message on my message board, and I will respond. I want others to see our dialogue.
Thank you for your time and interest. I welcome your understanding, as well as your potential support and friendship.
Michael has his own web site at: www.MichaelSantos.net