IRVINE – When Michael Santos first watched “Scarface” at age 14, he saw it as more than just an entertaining film about a Cuban drug lord – it was the blueprint for how he wanted to live his life.
By his early 20s, Santos was a cocaine-dealing kingpin in Miami. He had stashed enough cash to buy oceanfront property in Cancun and a speedboat he dubbed The Outlaw.
But drug-enforcement agents caught up to him, and by the age of 23 he found himself standing in front of a judge, sentenced to 45 years in federal prison on drug-trafficking charges.
“I thought my life was over,” Santos said.
He spent the next 25 years behind bars, in 19 different federal prisons. In 2013, he was released with credit for good behavior.
But Santos, now 53, had already begun changing his life, from his prison cell: He earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees through mailed correspondence and authored seven books on the criminal justice system.
Today, the man who has spent more than half of his life in custody runs a successful prison-consulting business in Irvine, coaching newly-convicted criminals how to cope and survive on the inside.
Prison consulting is a little-known business, but it occasionally makes headlines when consultants are hired for famous inmates like Martha Stewart, Bernie Madoff and Mike Tyson.
Santos said his clients are mostly shell-shocked, white-collar criminals who have never seen the inside of a prison. For those who have the money, a prison consultant can help mentally prepare them and ease some of the stress, he said.
The first thing he tells his clients: Take responsibility.
“A lot of people, especially those who commit white-collar crimes, are living in denial,” he said. “They can’t…