Section 5: Attitude


Our Straight-A Guide approach to job readiness indicates that individuals prepare themselves well for success when they “begin with attitude.” What does that mean? Individuals show that they have the right attitude when they make a 100 percent commitment to success—as they define success.

Since we’re striving to serve as a bridge that the formerly incarcerated can use to transition into the job market, we’d like to share some strategies. To the extent that applicants adhere to the strategy, we believe that they can ease our job in persuading employers that those who proceed through our Straight-A Guide job readiness program have the right attitude.

For this exercise to reveal what employers consider the right attitude, we wanted to provide you with some examples. With that end in mind, we’ve asked Michael Santos to respond to the questions. He had numerous job opportunities awaiting him when he completed 26 years in prison and several new employment opportunities have come his way since he concluded his term. The questions follow. Michael makes his answers public. Perhaps you should do the same. How would you answer the following questions?

Tell me about yourself.

My name is Michael Santos and I am an honest, disciplined, hard-working individual. I learned those virtues while growing through a 26-year prison term. While living in custody I made a commitment to reconcile with society for the bad decisions of my youth. Since I had a vision of returning to society as a law-abiding citizen, I put a plan in place that would ensure I walked out of prison strong, in mind, body, and spirit, with my dignity intact. I executed the plan by following a deliberate path that empowered me through 9,500 days of continuous confinement. As a consequence of the preparations I made over the past 26 years, I am well qualified to make a positive contribution to your team and add value to your organization.

Give me some background on your experience.

While serving a lengthy prison sentence I developed extraordinary critical thinking skills. Those skills helped me triumph over the challenges of my predicament. For example, despite my not having had any financial resources, and having been a poor student through high school, ingenuity enabled me to earn a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree before I completed my first decade of imprisonment. I then leveraged those credentials to open new opportunities, such as publishing and building an extensive support network. I have exceptional communication skills and I’ve spoken to more than 300 audiences, sometimes in front of crowds as large as 1,500 people. My unique background and experience brings a skill set that will allow me to serve your organization well, bringing value that leads to increased efficiencies and productivities.

Help me understand the decisions that led to your criminal conviction.

I am fully responsible for every bad decision I made during the recklessness of youth and I regret that I broke many laws. In the mid 1980s, when I was 20, I saw a popular film that glamorized cocaine trafficking. Wanting to emulate what I perceived as an exciting, fast lifestyle that I saw depicted in the film, a put a plan in place to purchase cocaine in Miami and resell that cocaine in Seattle. I hired several people to transport the cocaine, store the cocaine, and deliver the cocaine to clients. By insulating myself from as much activity as possible, I deluded myself into believing that I wasn’t breaking the law. Those self-delusions led to my being arrested and charged with serious violations of federal drug laws. A judge sentenced me to 45 years. By avoiding disciplinary infractions, I completed that term after serving 26 years. While serving my sentence, I set a disciplined course to reconcile with society and return as a law-abiding citizen. Prison provided the context for me to grow into a man who can add enormous value to your enterprise.


Describe for me what is different in your life today from the day that you made those decisions.

I made the bad decisions that led to my troubles with the law when I was in my early 20s. Since then I’ve grown, matured, and educated myself. I prepared myself well while I served my sentence, earning both an undergraduate and a graduate degree. I published several books, showing my ability to focus. Today I am 50 years old, married, and living a values-based, goal-oriented life. The deliberate adjustment path that I chose allowed me to return to society with resources that brought stability. I am a homeowner, a taxpayer, and a good citizen, eager to serve others and add value.


Tell me about your closest friend.

I am blessed to have many close friends. All of my friends are law-abiding citizens who have achieved extraordinary levels of success in business and life. My closest friend is Lee Nobmann, an extraordinarily successful businessman. He is the founder of Golden State Lumber and several subsidiaries. Lee employs more than 500 people and he has been a great mentor to me. Another close friend is Greg Reyes, the former CEO and Chairman of Brocade Communications Systems. Andris Pukke, a successful real estate entrepreneur,  is a close friend. I have a close friendship with Justin Paperny, executive director of a nonprofit foundation that works to help the formerly incarcerated transition into the job market.


Why are you interested in a job that pays an entry-level wage?

I am eager to begin working for a great organization, and I will accept an entry-level wage because I want to prove worthy. I’m convinced that I will add enormous value to any team, and I look forward to taking incremental steps that will advance my career while I add value to the lives of my colleagues and to the enterprise.


What steps are you willing to take for me to overlook your criminal record and hire you?

I am willing to be punctual on the job and to serve the enterprise honestly. You will find that I eagerly and enthusiastically do more than what is expected of me. I will study your product line, your history, your customer base, and your operations. In summary, I will educate myself so that I can add value every day to help your organization achieving a higher level of success.