By Stubbornly Refusing To Live Down To Expectations, Michael Santos Redefines Citizenship And Explodes A Noxious Narrative

Michael and Carole Santos at home in San Francisco. (Photo credit: Russell Yip, SF Chronicle)

By Mark Whitney ~ You’re 48 and for 25 years you do all the right things.

You earn a bachelors from Mercer and a masters from Hofstra. You marry a woman you’ve known since elementary school. Not only that, it’s a partnership. Your stepdaughter completes high school in three years and in June she graduates from Washington State University. Your stepson signs up for Iraq and returns home, original parts intact. Your wife becomes a registered nurse. For reasons out of your control, you are unable to operate a computer. But, you can operate a pencil. She does the word-processing. You become a published author. You blog on Huffington Post. A million words later, one of your seven books is in its seventh printing.

You take care of yourself. On Thursday, July 26th, 2012 – your 1,322nd consecutive day of running — you run 28 miles, boosting your weekly total to 193 miles. That same day you do 500 push-ups, boasting your monthly total to 9,500.

By any objective measure yours is a life defined by consistency, responsibility and discipline; unquestionably a life well-lived. A reporter for a major metropolitan newspaper takes notice and over Thanksgiving, there you are — front-page, full-color, above-the fold — profiled in the San Francisco Chronicle. Stanford Professor Joan Petersilia sings your praises:

“For people who are lacking in hope he has become a messiah.”

In the above photo, Michael Santos is on furlough from the halfway house. He’s been a Federal prisoner since 1987. In August he will be released from custody, only to endure several years under the thumb of U.S. Probation.

Michael Santos has served more than 9,000 days. He is the only citizen to experience life in all six levels of Federal custody. This is not an accomplishment one brags about at parties, but the significance cannot be overstated. Santos is the first and only Federal prisoner in history to gradually earn his way from a maximum security cell block to a fenceless camp.

It doesn’t matter why the judge forced Santos to serve 25 years. It just doesn’t. (OK — fine — at 23 he sold cocaine. It’s not like he was a politician.) What’s truly relevant is that like tens of millions of prisoners before him, Santos is back, having returned from a netherworld where humans literally feast on each other.

Dirt ran to the door’s window, banging on it to catch the guard’s attention. He pleaded, screaming for the guards to move him to another cell. Dirt wanted the guards to separate him from the crazed cousins. They were like two rabid pit bulls. A correctional officer came by to peep into the cell from the outside window. He snickered. “Who’s winning?” he asked. Then the guard walked away with his keys jingling, leaving Dirt to fend for himself.

Dirt pleaded with the guard as he watched him walk away. “No, no. Come back.” He pounded on the door. “Don’t leave me here. They’ll kill me.” Brick fired on him, blasting him with a punch that knocked Dirt’s head into the wall. “Stop your whining, bitch. It’s time to meet your maker. Stand tall, motherfucker.” Brick nailed him with his fists and hooked him with an elbow to the jaw.

Stone reached up and grabbed his razor. “Hold the motherfucker.” Brick reach beneath Dirt’s arm and grabbed him in a full nelson. Stone used the razor to slice through Dirt’s extended neck, cutting through veins and arteries as blood pumped out of his body. “That’s what you get, motherfucker!” the two cousins yelled as Dirt’s corpse collapsed to the ground. They kicked him in the head, stomping him. Then Stone straddled Dirt’s dead body and sliced him open. They used their hands to rip his liver and guts out. The two then started chewing on his insides. ~Inside by Michael Santos, pp. 84-85.

Reckless, undisciplined men in their twenties
are the feeder mice of the Risk Management Industrial Complex.

The law sets you up for failure. It says you’re a man at 18, when it knows that’s not true; especially if you want a beer. Manhood is not “kill or be killed.” It’s a philosophy that takes 30 years to develop and a lifetime to nurture. It didn’t take long for Santos to become a friend to himself. Thereafter, he became a man to his mother and sister, his wife, his stepchildren, his fellow prisoners and to society.

In various ways, millions of men run afoul of prohibition laws in their twenties, are never caught and yet somehow, in the absence of the Scarlet Letter that defines a felony conviction, magically go on to lead meaningful lives. Santos was caught and caged. And, yet he achieved more from behind the wall than the vast majority of free people do in a lifetime.

Polite society does not roll out the welcome mat for its returning felons because it knows the game is rigged. Society knows it incubates recidivists. Take serial commenter, Big Don:

BIG DON: The best way to survive prison is to not break the law in the first place.

MICHAEL SANTOS: It’s a very insightful comment, Big Don. Adversity unites us all as human beings. It’s something that we all experience. Mine happened to come through the context of a lengthy prison sentence because of the bad decisions I made during the recklessness of youth. I strive to reconcile with society, and in time, I hope that you will find that my efforts will allow you to judge me for the way that I responded to struggle rather than for the bad decisions I made that brought that struggle on. Merry Christmas

Subjected to Santos’ circumstances, Big Don — like all anonymous naysayers — would be the first to assimilate and the first to be eaten alive.

“Big Don, meet Wolf, your new cellmate. Wolf, do you have anything you’d like to say to Big Don?”

“You’re nothing but a cocksucker and my fuck toy. Got that? I tell you what you’re fuckin’ like. You don’t tell me shit. Now put this jelly on your ass and set it down on this big fuckin’ pole.” Inside, supra, p. 101.

Two things are true regardless of what side of the wall you’re on: Wolf, Stone and Brick adjusted perfectly to life behind bars; model prisoners. Michael Santos spent a quarter century stubbornly refusing to adapt. He was — and is — a model citizen.