Part II: A powerful message of hope from two men who walked the walk
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“Now I’m totally free,” says Michael Santos to a group of incarcerated men at the Kyle Correctional Center in Kyle, Texas.
“I get to live this dream that I’ve had when I started in prison. Which is, besides building my own businesses, is to come back, on my own dime and expense, to come back and share this message with my brothers in prison.”
It’s an incredible story…two stories to be precise. First…Michael Santos—a man who spent 26 years in prison for serious drug crimes—and who is now a successful businessman, entrepreneur, author, and prison consultant.
“All of you know that anybody can begin sowing seeds today to begin turning the page of their life. Anybody can do it.”
Michael carved out his own path. He showed the men at the Kyle facility how he would boldly approach business leaders for opportunities after he was released.
“Do you want me to show you? What’s your name? Mike. ‘Mike, I’ve been in prison for 26 years.’ And I’d have a conversation with a business leader. And I would ask him for money. I would ask him to invest in me. And he would laugh, just like that.”
But they did invest in him…big time. Michael says it boils down to hard work and vision.
“You should be able to say: I did this in prison—the hardest environment ever. Frank Sinatra said, ‘If I can make it in New York, I can make it anywhere.’ If you can make it out of here, you can add value anywhere. But your challenge is to persuade the people that are going to judge you that you can bring value. And then they don’t care.”
Then there’s the story of Shon Hopwood who spent 11 years in prison for armed bank robbery. Today, he teaches law at Georgetown University and is a practicing attorney.
“I had several hundred lawyers tell me, ‘You’ll never become a lawyer. You can win all the cases in prison you want. That’s not going to matter on the outside.”
Their stories are uplifting—especially to the men and women they visited with at MTC’s Kyle, Lockhart and Sanders Estes correctional facilities in Texas.
“And sometimes that’s hard to believe that that’s possible—that where you’re sitting right now there are going to be opportunities that open for you,” says Michael to a group of women at the Lockhart Correctional Facility.
Jesse Berry Jr. is incarcerated at the Sanders Estes Unit. He says he was moved by Michael and Shon’s message.
“They are inspiring, because out of everything they went through, they had the right mind frame and knew that the people that they once were, they’re not anymore. And it’s just inspiring to know that you can overcome any obstacle. The only thing you have to do is want it.”
Shon and Michael help incarcerated men and women through their company called Prison Professors.
They recently toured these facilities to learn about MTC’s commitment to rehabilitation. And they were pleasantly surprised.
“The things that have surprised me about MTC prisons are,” said Shon to a group of inmates, “maybe for some of you this is the only prison you’ve ever come to, but I can tell you that I have been to prisons all over the country, and very rarely do I walk into prisons that have the opportunities that you guys are given.”
Michael was impressed to see groups of men working hard toward academic achievements.
“I can tell you, it’s very exciting to see so many guys in here working toward their GED and taking the next step.”
Both men say they never had these types of opportunities in prison.
Shon says, “A lot of my success came through trial and error because I didn’t have people come into the prison that I was at and say this is what you need to do to get on this path. And I can tell you the first couple of years in prison, any success that I had, was largely by accident.”
Michael asked a room full of women at the Lockhart facility, “Some of you have been at other prisons, show of hands. So, when you were in those other prisons, how many of those people would do anything to get to a place where they have opportunities and programs like here? You all know how fortunate you are.”
“I’m really impressed with MTC and their commitment to programming. I think it takes great courage to bring in people like me and Shon into these institutions.”
Michael and Shon saw firsthand how MTC makes a difference in people’s lives through Lockhart’s unique manufacturing programs where women make circuit boards and HVAC parts. They encouraged the women to keep working hard.
“It all started with decisions we made in places just like this,” Michael says. “The skills you learn here are going to translate into business success when you go home.”
“I find that if people see you’ve done the hard work to change,” adds Shon, “you’ll get second chances and opportunities.”
Michael and Shon encouraged another group of women to visualize what they can become.
“I think it’s really important to realize that it’s not going to be easy. You’ve got to go through every program, but if you do…”
One woman spoke up, sharing her experiences at the Lockhart facility.
“The way that the officers treat you here. When they say BIONIC, believe it or not we care, it’s true. When you have someone who actually cares and tells you, not just in the class, but when you’re walking down the hallway, ‘you’re going to make it.’ You believe that you can. And when you believe that you can—you will make it.”
“I want to thank all the staff at MTC that are supporting these types of programs that resulted in the people that we heard speak, speak so highly about how their experience in prison is really putting them on a pathway to success,” says Michael.
During the tour, one man at the Sanders Estes Unit was excited to share how the programs at the facility have helped him.
“These programs help us out a lot. I never thought in my entire life that I would be doing something like this, designing stuff. It’s amazing.”
Michael says companies like MTC can have a positive impact in the lives of so many people and can help be a part of improving the criminal justice system.
“I’m also a big believer in rewarding excellence. So, if an organization, like MTC, is achieving a level of outcome legislators want, the taxpayers want, then I think it’s very important for MTC to spread that message as much as it can.”
CLICK HERE to see Part I.
Michael and Shon wrote an article about their visit to the MTC facilities. The story is posted on their website prisonprofessors.com. Click here to read it and learn more.