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Inside: Life Behind Bars in America Hardcover – August 8, 2006

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In 1987, during the height of the Reagan administration's "Just say no" campaign, 21-year-old Santos received a 45-year sentence for his involvement in the distribution of large amounts of cocaine. Now, after nearly 20 years in jail, Santos has devoted himself to making the best out of his incarceration. Having received a B.A. and M.A. from accredited universities, he spends much of his free time reading and writing about the U.S. criminal system. Here, he uses his insider perspective to provide a blunt, often disturbing look at America's prison system. More anecdotal than personal or analytical, his account illustrates the presence of gangs, drugs, prostitution and rape in prison through a series of dramatized stories. Although the dialogue is at times overwrought, the stories themselves are shocking and illuminating. Together they paint a picture of prison culture and its dehumanizing effects on the people who live within it. The book also functions beyond its role as an exposé, effectively questioning the efficacy of modern prisons. Santos rejects the idea that the "correctional system" does much correcting, and provides repeated examples of the sense of hopelessness inmates suffer during their sentences. (Aug.)
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Praise for Inside: Life Behind Bars in America

"This surprisingly dispassionate account of life in federal prison reads more like a work of advocacy journalism than personal memoir, freshining both the genre and the arguments about the failings of modern U.S. penitentiaries. The tone and his focus on other inmates' experiences rather than his own lend the book weight and authenticity, opening a window onto the corrupt, violent and ultimately counter-productive society of American prisons."
--Edward Humes, Los Angeles Times
"Inside is actually two books. The red meat of the book is a collection of more than 100 prisoners' accounts, including every gruesome detail… But between shocking tales of inmate misbehavior are Santos' convincing theories about what it all means."
--Sean Bosker, New York Post
"Santos deserves a hearing… He provides more than just a seamy look at prison life. A chilling, timely portrayal."
--Tara McKelvey, New York Times Book Review
"Michael Santos has written a book of rare quality and pressing importance. To read this book is to change the way you think about imprisonment."
--Todd R. Clear, Distinguished Professor and Executive Officer, Program of Doctoral Studies in Criminal Justice, John Jay College, The City University of New York
"Inside is not recommended for the faint at heart. Santos eloquently and engagingly captures the subculture of the prisoner. Inside is a must read."
--Sam Torres, Ph.D., Professor of Criminal Justice, California State University, Long Beach, and Senior U.S. Probation Officer (Ret.)
"Michael Santos, a federal prisoner now in his eighteenth year of incarceration, has made an outstanding contribution to our understanding of life inside America's prisons."
--George F. Cole, Professor Emeritus, University of Connecticut
"Michael Santos has done two remarkable things: First, he has provided to the general reading public the perspective and experience of a wide range of his fellow inmates, who rarely if ever have a public voice. The language is often crude, vulgar, and hostile; but so is the culture of which it speaks. Second, he has demonstrated the triumph of the human spirit that refuses to let past mistakes or present circumstances have the final say in defining who he is."
--J. Colin Harris, Professor of Religious Studies, Mercer University
"Disturbing as well as uplifting, Inside sheds light on the darkest corners of the U.S. society. It should be read by all those interested in justice, punishment, and forgiveness."
--Mary Bosworth, Ph.D., Centre for Criminology, University of Oxford

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press; First Edition edition (August 8, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312343493
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312343491
  • Product Dimensions: 5.7 x 1.2 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (116 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #293,878 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Michael Santos writes books, articles, and online MasterMind courses to help people understand America's prison system, the people it holds, and strategies to succeed through prison.

Authorities arrested Michael in 1987, when he was 23 years old, for trafficking in cocaine. Michael served the next 26 years in federal prisons of every security level. While incarcerated, Michael earned a bachelor's degree and a master's degree. He published books and articles to spread awareness about the consequences of mass incarceration.

While serving multiple decades in prisons of every security level, Michael built an extensive support network. Three weeks after concluding his obligation to the Bureau of Prisons, San Francisco State University hired Michael to serve as an adjunct professor. He taught a course called the Architecture of Incarceration. The national media has covered Michael's work extensively. He encourages others to complete do their due diligence with Internet searches to see the value that comes with the depth and breadth of his experience.

Michael continues to write content for and and he hosts the Earning Freedom podcast. He offers coursework and lesson plans to position defendants for the lowest possible prison sentence, to serve the sentence in the best possible environment, and most importantly, to emerge successfully.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

63 of 67 people found the following review helpful By P. Meltzer on July 18, 2007
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I thought that this book was excellent. I have read a number of books on prisons and prison life and I have to say that this is one of the best and most interesting I have ever read. It would also be a difficult book to duplicate because how often is it that a Michael Santos-type (i.e. a highly literate, very good and observant writer) would find himself behind bars for 20 years in virtually every kind of secutity level, from high-security on down? Other books are from those who have never actually lived in prison or who have been in low-level security prisons only or who do not share his eloquence on the page. I really recommend this book.
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44 of 49 people found the following review helpful By Angela on September 18, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Three things that struck me as I read Inside, were these:

1. The rigorous honesty of Mr. Santos.

2. The absolute accuracy of Mr. Santos' 'ear' for jargon, slang and prison profanity

3. The overwhelming sense of clarity I received regarding Mr. Santos' sense of who he was, who he now is, and how he became the man he is today.

Translation: Possibly the best 'prison' book I've ever read next to 'In the Belly of the Beast" by Jack Henry Abbott.

Mr. Santos' doesn't come close to Mr. Abbott's often times overwrought and dense philosophies regarding prison life (Abbott wrote more in essay form, as Santos writes more in narrative form) but then, Abbott's book was compiled from a series of letters written to Norman Mailer, so Abbott was hitting, through his writing, one-way line drives into the catcher's mitt of his audience. Mr. Santos is telling us a story here, and so his writing has the natural ebbs and flows of a story, whereas Abbott's book is simply a red-hot laser of accusation, opinion and deep, dark thought - very deep and dark thought.

What I found validating however, was how Mr. Santos stood to-to-toe with with Mr. Abbott on 'just the facts' of [life in] a penitentiary and how he also stood on even footing with another proven and literary award-winning prison author, Edward Bunker. Even decades after Mr. Bunker's incarcerations at Folsom and San Quentin prisons, and the subsequent books he produced (some of which were turned into films) including, 'No Beast So Fierce," and 'The Animal Factory,' Mr. Santos writes as if he were a contemporary of Mr. Bunker's, proving perhaps his, and Mr.
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20 of 21 people found the following review helpful By C. McPherson on September 24, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Michael Santos has written an important book for all Americans--but especially those who are concerned about the operation of Federal prisons and the lives of the prisoners. He takes us inside prisons at every level of the Federal prison system and tells us of his experiences in them. His information comes from his own journals, which he has kept since the beginning of his incarceration, and from court records of criminal acts which have occurred inside some of the prisons. The picture which emerges is frightening, with prisoners at the mercy, sometimes, of sadistic guards and prison officials, and of their fellow inmates. There is much which is wrong with the operation of our prison system, and it at last is possible to find credible information on which revised policies might be based. By writing this book, Michael Santos has made a valuable contribution to the prison system and to the citizens of this country.
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30 of 35 people found the following review helpful By Michel Bisaillon on March 3, 2007
Format: Hardcover
I have been a CO for about 17 years. Mr. Santos's observances are 100% right. This is a book that should be read by everyone who works in the system. First of all, the fact that our jails and prisons stiffle education among inmates is in my opinion the true message of this work. What we do in our facilities is so archaic it is mind boggling. We take mostly young males from a demographic of 19-27 and throw them into these dungeons; and then make it our main goal to prevent them from being assholes for the shift. Hey now that is lofty! Don't be productive, don't do crime and most of all please don't learn. I witnessed first hand the results when our government cut the school teachers out of the budget. Only the odd inmate will find a way to grow. Why? Well try telling a young person who is probably poor, got an addiction problem and has been programed from the time they are infants that violence solves all problems. "Sit and learn will yha." Geezzz, wonder why we have difficulties? It is assinine. The book left me questioning how many other people like this guy we are allowing to waste away for no other reason than we fail to be progressive in our thinking. Please don't tell me it is a money issue. We would save allot of money if we could develop abilities. It is a time in their lives when they have no where else to go and what do we do? Instead of finding the most productive means of building them as people, we watch most of them play cards, watch tv and talk bullshit.

The other thing that Santos' book shows is that even the toughest, roughest firebreather eventually, gets old, sick and tired (often all three at the same time) and begins to reflect. I have seen this often. What if that same person had the tools that formal education provides?
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