When I went to prison, in 1987, Motorola manufactured the large, gray cellphone 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.[jump]
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 synching 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.
This article is based on a post originally published on Quora, written and produced here with kind permission from Michael Santos. You can read about his 25-year journey through prison, from arrest on August 11th 1987 to release on August 13th 2012, in his new book Earning Freedom. You can follow him on Twitter here.