What It's Like To Experience New Technology After 25 Years In Jail

When I went to prison, in 1987, Motorola manufactured the large, grey mobile phone that I used. People referred to it as "the brick". It had the capacity to send or receive phone calls, but there wasn't any text messaging back then.

I also had a pager, but it could only transmit digits, as I recall. I had a personal computer manufactured by IBM with a DOS operating system that I didn't really understand and 40 megabytes of memory. I was told that was a big deal. I linked the computer to an Epson dot-matrix printer, and I remember the perforated paper fed through on a track system that easily derailed. It was a hassle.

Technology has changed considerably during the 25 years that I served. I read extensively during my term of incarceration, but reading about technology felt a bit like reading about typing. Regardless of how much I read, I wouldn't grasp the power of technology until I started using it. Forget the power, I don't even understand the language of technology. For example, I never understood what people meant when they spoke of a "browser". In fact, I just asked my wife to define a browser, and when she described it as a program that would allow me to access the Internet, I gave her a blank stare.

"But I thought the browser was the little text box on top of the screen, where I type in what I'm looking to find on Google."

"No honey," she said. "That's the URL bar."

I served more than 25 years in prison, and I haven't yet been free for five full months, so maybe others can understand my ignorance on the subject of technology. I can accept that volumes of basic information are beyond my ability to comprehend right now, but with everything I have to learn, I don't know whether I'll ever grasp all that I need to know. I don't have any idea what a "server" is, and I don't know much about how to make my content available to the people who need it. Truthfully, technology isn't the only area that makes me feel as if I'm living in a time warp, but I'll post a different response for those areas of my ignorance.

With regard to technology, I sense a real handicap because I envision technology as being a central component of the business that I want to build. I consider myself as having a responsibility or duty to help others understand prisons, the people they hold, and strategies for growing through confinement in ways that will help people emerge with values, skills, and resources that translate into success. Technology could really help me succeed, but since I don't understand how to use it effectively, I'm kind of in a lost world.

Prior to my release from prison, I gave considerable thought to a technology strategy. My wife was used to using Microsoft products, but everything I'd read indicated that Apple products offered a much quicker learning curve. On the day she picked me up she handed me an iPhone 4S. During my first week of liberty, we purchased a MacBook Pro and iMac desktop system. I hoped they would all work seamlessly together. But since my wife wasn't as comfortable with the Apple products, she insisted that I load them all up with Microsoft products so she could rescue me when I had problems. I've had a lot of problems coming up to speed with simple tasks like email, or syncing all of my computers together. I've also had a problem remembering all of the passwords she assigned to me. I keep arguing that we should use only one password, but that only brings forth her arguments on the dangers of identity theft. Since I met many men in prison who served time for identity theft, I trust that my wife has a point.

I enjoy the Quora platform because it is rather simple. People ask questions and I respond. But I don't know what all of the features mean. I don't know anything about how to use credits to promote my work, or how to use the platform in ways that will help me strengthen my personal brand or bring more awareness to my domain expertise. Some people who work at Quora have offered to provide insight on best-practice use of Quora, so I'll appreciate that guidance. For now, all I know is that by responding to people's questions I am providing some insight into the obscure world of confinement.

Besides Quora, I use other forms of social media to broaden my reach, and I retained a developer to build a website that I hoped would bring more attention to my work. With such a limited understanding of technology, however, I don't feel as if I'm reaching as many people as I possibly could. Since I'm not reaching as many people as I possibly could, I'm not able to build the traction that I need. I am trying to resolve these problems quickly, but my limited knowledge of how to use the power of technology effectively makes me move cautiously.

I look forward to learning more about technology and social media effectively, but with everything else that I must learn, I don't know what level of progress to expect as being reasonable.

Picture: Cosma/Shutterstock and andersphoto/Shutterstock

This article was republished from Quora with kind permission from Michael Santos. You can read about his 25-year journey through prison, from arrest on August 11, 1987, to release on August 13, 2012, in his new book Earning Freedom. You can follow him on Twitter here.



    Good on him for being persistent and not giving up, must be a huge difference from what it was like for him on the outside 25 years ago, at the rate technology changes I would hate to be thrown into a prison now and in 25 years have to try and learn it all, I would feel like I belong in preschool and probably give up

    This guy gets thrown in prison for his crime, and rehabilitation... He comes out serving his time but now at a huge disadvantage to most people of 25 years ago...
    ..Sure he's rehabilitated .. Just saying, isn't that a little backwards? Shouldn't he have been educated to give him a good chance in starting over ?

      most people cant get over the fact prison is for rehabilitation not punishment

        Well actually the Australian government doesn't believe in rehabilitation once you are an "adult". Sentencing laws change when you are 18 and some are trialed under different laws if they think there is some hope for rehabilitation. They might claim to the public that there is such a thing as rehabilitation for adults, but in the system, this is not the case. Sorry to let you know of this reality in the Australian system. As for the US system I don't know as much, but believe it is the same.

        If that were true, then they would have been providing the right type of opportunities to come out of prison with a chance to survive in the new world after 25 years. To me, he wasn't rehabilitated, he was punished. What opportunities (if any) did they give him in 25 years that he could have taken advantage of? I'd be interested to know.

        If it is a prison, its for punishment (as some crimes deserve a punishment imo). If its a rehabilitation centre, its for progress.

        I would think prison is for punishment not rehabilitation, that's why it's called prison, not rehab....

      I would have thought that he would have been offered computer classes at some point...?

      Also, I'd love to know what he did to get 25 years. (Link to book doesn't reveal that info)

    So hold on a second, you're tell me this guy doesn't even have a Facebook account? OUR PRISONS ARE BARBARIC!

      No, they only have MySpace accounts! OH THE HUMANITY!!!!!!!!

      Seriously though, 25 years is a bloody long time, I wonder what would be the first game you'd play after getting out?

    Hold on... wait.... this guys wife stayed married to him for 25 years in prison? Which one of you gents was feeding the cat while this guy was behind bars?

      no he got married inside. it's all documented in his book "inside, - life behind bars in america"

    Good insight into the world of confinement with that lack of technology, however I feel like this is a push of Quora for some reason. Still an interesting read.

    Must have been a poorly funded prison for him not to have access to a computer room.
    What was his crime?
    I cbf'd finding this out by myself... someone google for me.

      Assuming this was a pretty serious crime in the US, be probably got a half hour for exercise and not much else.

      Seems his crime was a leadership role in a cocaine distribution network. He got 45 years for that, served 25. Pretty god damned harsh penalty for a non-violent crime.

        Yeah, cause theres no violence at all in a cocaine distro network....

        Oh well, his fault for trying to be Pablo Escabar then.
        Thanks guys.

    This whole thing doesn't ring true for some reason. It seems untrue and 'scripted'. Almost like it's a very long ad leading to something else. And what do you know there's a book. I think he has grossly exaggerated his ignorance of technology.

      Agreed... He doesn't know what a server is but he points out that he doesn't know what it is for some kind of reference point for us...

      Funny you mention that. It seems its a push for Quora. He doesnt mention Facebook. He doesn't mention YouTube, iCloud, iPads, Wikipedia, Twitter, and a whole host of other things that have changed in 25 years in computing technology and instead spends two paragraphs on Quora alone.

        Pretty sure that the reason he spends two paragraphs talking about Quora is because the article was originally a post on the Quora site.

    u do the crime, you do the time. sure i feel sorry for the guy, it would be f'n hard re-intergrating into society. but yet, at the same time, i feel as though the legal system did its job. 25 years is usually what they call a life sentence if im not mistaken, so the crime must have been pretty bad. and i feel like justice was served. im caught in the middle still feeling sorry about his re-intergration though. maybe they need a course that he could have done in the last 12 - 18 months of his sentence to help him prepare for leaving. i dunno. great article though and yes, good on him for wanting to make a change - Power to Him!

    I googled the author. He was in prison for cocaine trafficing (150 kg), sentenced to 45 years, he served 25. He married in prison. People who sell cocaine don't get any sympathy from me.

      do you have a problem with people who work in pubs ?

        How does this have anything to do with selling cocaine?
        Failed troll.

          The drug Cocaine is illegal. The drug Alcohol is not.

          There is no *real* (i.e. fact-based) reason why one dangerours drug is illegal and another dangerous drug is not.

          (I had to explain this to you, so you don't get to say that other people failed at anything, ever.)

            Illegal drugs are illegal because they're illegal.
            Legal drugs are legal because they're legal.

            This is pretty much the most I've been able to work out so far.

          who said is was trolling i hate how people dismiss opinions they don't agree with as trolling

        Do you have a problem with all of the people dying directly and indirectly in every step of the cocaine industry - from harvesters of the coca plant to end users.

          if it was legal would they be at as much risk?

          Do you have a problem with all the people who die from alcohol-related incidents?

        Congratulations on posting the dumbest comment of 2013 (so far).

          People who work in pubs might be selling alcohol. Some people think alcohol is as bad as cocaine/drugs in general. There I filled the dots in for you.

            Errr, thanks, but I did understand the implication of the comment to which I replied. Which is why I replied the way I did.

            Alcohol is legal - cocaine is not. Alcohol can be brewed [or even distilled] at home from many types of fruit - cocaine requires access to coca plants. Rival "pub owners" don't tend to shoot each other in turf wars.
            Alcohol produces some drunks and alcoholics, but many a able to limit themselves to social drinking. Cocaine [especially crack cocaine] is far more addictive, and the devestating effects on the human body occur much more rapidly.
            This was no few ounces in a boogie board bag - 150Kg would require FIVE suitcases, each with 30 Kilos.
            It's hard to be sympathetic.

              Just a quick point of reference for those in this thread, a recent British study into the most harmful drugs on both an individual scale and the damage they cause to society came out like this:
              1. Alcohol
              2. Heroin
              3, Cocaine

              Those with further interest should check out the documentary 'Is Alcohol worse than Ecstasy?'

                The long term effects of alcohol are very damaging. However, that doesn't make cocaine any less deadly. Comparatively, cocaine is extremely addictive, whereas it takes a long term of excessive consumption to become addicted to alcohol. Cocaine causes irreparable harm to the body's organs which will never heal. Alcohol however, causes mostly reparable harm (reduced ability of cells to communicate, liver damage - which if you stop drinking before you do too much harm, will heal over time and restore to their original state. The heart, respiratory system and bowels do not regenerate like the liver, cocaine destroys the cells in these organs and renders you with problems for life. Anyone involved in the trade of illicit narcotics is as guilty as someone pulling the trigger on a gun to a person's head.

      He's clearly not asking for your sympathy. The article is more about sharing his bewilderment at how the world has changed in the 25 years he was removed (fairly) from society.

    Hopefully he doesn't what Facebook is, or else he'd wanna go back in!

    My parents know as little about technology as he does!

      Same, I wish my father was as dedicated as he was to learn technology.. Maybe he can have my dad's new iPad lol.

    What an excellent story! Well done to Michael...

    This was something I never thought of before working in a prison. The prisoners all still use floppy disks and much older computers. Partially this is because there isn't a budget to improve them, the other is to prevent attempts at accessing the outside world. The PC's don't have USB for example. (Stops attempts of using 3G modems) I have one guy in my unit who is getting released in the next few weeks after spending 20+ years in prison. He's never seen a ATM, EFTPOS machine, mobile phone before and is quite nervous at being released. There is not a whole lot of support for adjusting to life on the outside.

      what, he's never seen a television show in 20+ years? pretty sure they get to watch current shows, not taped re-runs of shows that were airing at the time they were incarcerated..

        Well by see, I mean use...Its one thing to see an ATM, mobile etc on a TV show, quite another to use it. On a side note, they only get analog TV (Where I am). Even when Digital replaces analog, they are installing a device that will only feed the older analog tv stations. I guess this is to stop them staying in their cell watching TV all day.

        No need to be a smart-arse. You know very well what he meant.

    I found it funny that by running Microsoft products on all of the Apple devices his wife totally negated the whole making it easy, "working together" aspect they had bought them for. Not to mention the usability factor of iDevices for newbies.

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