|Seth Ferranti now|
In the interview that follows, Mob Speak talks with Seth Ferranti, a guy whose life has been radically altered by his time in prison. I borrow from Seth's own website, www.gorillaconvict.com, rather than try to explain where Seth is coming from:
Seth Ferranti is a multi-media writer and journalist who pens amazing true crime and prison related stories for vice.com and thefix.com among others. He started his career in journalism while incarcerated and is now continuing it in the real world. In 1993, after spending two years as a top-15 fugitive on the US Marshal's most wanted list, he was captured and sentenced to 304 months under the federal sentencing guidelines for an LSD Kingpin conviction and committed to the custody of the Attorney General.
A first-time, non-violent offender, Ferranti served 21 years of his 25-year mandatory minimum sentence. His case was widely covered by The Washington Post and Washington Times, and his story was profiled in the pages of Rolling Stone and Don Diva magazine. He is currently working out of St. Louis, Missouri. During his incarceration Ferranti worked to better himself by making preparations for his eventual release back into society. Ferranti earned an AA degree from Penn State, a BA degree from the University of Iowa and an MA from California State University, Dominguez Hills through correspondence courses.
The following comes from an earlier post by Seth on Mob Speak. He explains a lot of the background leading up to his incarceration and beyond. If you wish, you can just scroll down to the Q and A.
What was supposed to be my American dream turned into a real life nightmare? I was from the suburbs and I didn't know anything about the federal drug laws or conspiracy or prison. I wasn't a gang banger or a tough guy or any of that. I didn't see prison as a rite of passage and my idea of prison life came from watching movies like The Shawshank Redemption. I never carried a gun or beat anyone up in my life but for some reason I was branded public enemy number one and made the scapegoat for all of society’s ills, or at least that was how it seemed to me. As I sat facing the reality of doing hard time, I decided to take my chances on the lam and I took off. I was always kind of a rebel at heart and the outlaw life seemed romantic to me. I didn't think I was Tony Montana from Scarface, more like Jeff Spicoli from Fastimes at Ridgemont High, But despite being a stoner I had a little Catch Me If You Can in me and going to federal prison wasn't in my plans.
Eventually I got a clue and stopped smuggling and smoking weed. Around 2002 I decided I had to start working toward my future. I still had a lot of time left to do, with a 2015 release date, but being stuck in the netherworld of corruption and violence, the idea of being a career prison gangster didn't appeal to me. So I made a choice, a choice to do everything I could to prepare myself for my inevitable release. To that end I started taking college correspondence courses and earned an AA degree from Penn State, a BA from the University of Iowa and an MA from California State University. All from prison. I was locked up but that didn't mean I couldn't accomplish something positive. It was hard work getting those degrees from here but I did it, despite the lack of cooperation and accommodation from the Bureau of Prisons. Because rehabilitation isn't their goal, warehousing men is what they do. If you want to do better for yourself, you have to take that into your own hands and that is what I did.
|Diane and Seth Ferranti|
SF: I felt free to a certain extent. At least more free than I had been for a long time. It still amazes me sometime when I am driving around and I am like I am free. No more prison. Prison and being confined and restricted was a part of my life for so long it almost became engrained in me so it is a little like being unleashed but I wouldn’t trade it for the world. I need appreciated life like I do now. Being free is awesome. After all those years of being confined it is hard to believe and I have to almost pinch myself sometimes but it is real and I am free and I am living life and pursuing my goals and ambitions. But I know also it can be taken away in a heart beat, I am still on probation and at the beck and call of the federal probation office but they have been very cooperative so far in letting me pursue my career objectives. But there is still that fear in the back of my mind knowing that they can lock me up again for whatever they want at any time. I don’t let that consume me though I just live my life and work and grind and move forward.
MS: After almost 21 years in prison, what's surprised you more than anything on the outside?
SF: Just the choices. I was kind of overwhelmed just walking into a store like Walmart or even the local 7-11 or gas station. So many choices. What do I want? It took a minute to study everything and remember what I like and to try out new stuff. I had to really redefine myself and who I am. In prison you just take what you are given and your choices are so limited. So I had to decide- I like this soda, I like this food, I like this beer, I like this candy bar, I like this type of fruit, this is what I like to eat. Its almost like I had to retrain myself for everything that life has to offer. And the technology, that is a whole other conversation to say the least.
MS: One of your hallmarks is your ability to detach yourself when talking with and writing about serious criminals serving life sentences. In another piece you said, and I paraphrase, part of the reason these guys would confide in you is because you clearly were after the truth, not the legend. How has that philosophy affected you and what you do?
SF: I think that its just about treating these dudes like people. Ok they are legends and have all this hype about them but at the end of the day they are people. No one can live up to the legend. I would always just let them be people and try to humanize them instead of portraying them as the vicious gangsters that the prosecutors made them out to be. Its one thing to be celebrated and mythologized but quite another to be humanized and I think that is what I do really good. I glorify and I romanticize and I am clearly intrigued by these men and their exploits but at the end of the day I write cautionary tales, more so as I go along. I look at the underlying factors and give conclusions as to why things are the way they are. I think that is why I have gotten a good response. Plus the fact that I was in there with them. I did my time. I stood up. They respect that. I just try to be myself. It is the only person I can be and that comes across in my work and my relationships.
MS: Did you ever feel nervous that your safety might be at risk? I was going to ask some other questions along the same lines, but they might compromise you. So I'll stop there.
SF: I write the truth so if someone wants to come at me for that go ahead. I am a man too at the end of the day and I can handle myself accordingly. I don’t put stuff out there that the feds or prosecutors haven’t already put out there. I am not an investigative journalist or whistle blower. I am not trying to expose anything. I am just trying to make sense of it all. Like why did I have to serve a 25 year sentence for a first time nonviolent offense? That is my underlying premise in everything I write, whether you see it or not, it is there. If you can read between the lines you can see that in everything I write. I feel justified and righteous in what I do and I keep it within the code. If someone doesn’t appreciate that then they can see me whenever and however they want. I don’t walk in fear and I cower from no man. Not to say that I am some tough guy, I’m not. But I’m not a cautious person either. In my youth I was bold and reckless, now I just consider myself confident and determined and that comes across in how I carry myself, how I respond to people and how I conduct my career and writings.
MS: Have you encountered people who don't support your publishing true crime stories about mobsters you met in prison? What's your reaction?
SF: I have and they are entitled to their opinion. Just because your opinion differs from mine doesn’t mean that we are beefing. I can respect your outlook on things and life and my writing. But just respect mine also. I don’t control you and you damn sure don’t control me. At the end of the day I can do what I want. Most of the times I go right to the sources and I get the stories from them. I have even shelved projects that dudes decided they didn’t want to come out for whatever reason. I keep my word but I don’t put up with any BS either. You don’t have to like what I do, I am not sensitive. I do what I do because I like to do it. I have a passion for it. What I write about can be controversial and if someone has something negative to say about it I don’t take it personal. Everyone is entitled to their opinion. I don’t sweat the small stuff and its all small stuff. No harm, no foul. But cross the line and like I said I got that side to me too. I have put that person away since I rejoined society but he is there if I need him.
MS: Aside from sheer entertainment, are there any messages your stories impart to the genereal public?
SF: Cautionary tales- if you get in these big drug organizations that murder and kill people you are getting life in prison if you re not killed yourself in the street. It all sounds good in a rap song or looks enticing in a movie like Scarface or American Gangster but at the end of the day the reality is death or jail. You can’t beat it, you can’t win. I try to show what it is really like. These legends doing life in prison would rather be on the street and working at the post office. Life in prison is not something to glorify. A mans principles or his sacrifices are something to glorify but doing life in prison and being away from your family and causing unnecessary [?] on yourself and your community that is not cool. Its like a gamble, they rolled the dice, came up for a little bit, but ultimately the house always wins.
MS: Okay, Seth. Let's use Mob Speak to talk about your current projects and what you hope to accomplish. You're website www.gorillaconvict.com touches on some of your plans, but I'm sure you'll have more to add.
SF: My new book Crack Rap and Murder: The Cocaine Dreams of Alpo and Rich Porter is out now in digital or print versions. You can order it on gorillaconvict.com or amazon.com. I am working on tons of things. I got a comic book and graphic novel coming out on The Supreme Team. I sent the cover artwork into my dude Supreme and he called me and asked me, ‘Who is that dude supposed to be on the cover?’ And I told him ‘You.’ And he just laughed. He knows me and trusts me. My ultimate goal is to get a move on The Supreme Team made. I am also about to completely revamp my site. We will start posting more content- video, music and writing. I am growing my brand.
MS: Aside from wanting to spend time with your wife, Diane, who supported your publishing and other efforts while you were in prison and continues to do so, what fun things have you done since your exit? Was that pizza wish granted, Seth?SF: The first thing I ate when I got out was a pizza. I have continued to eat pizza and get slurpees and my favorite, the shamrock shake. I went to Puerto Rico. I have been going to the Comic Cons, shooting video and just living life. I workout everyday, I got a mountain bike, and I love to walk my dogs and spend time with my wife, going out to eat, going to movies and even just taking a walk. That is what my life is about. Simple, nothing to fancy. I love to work, I love to create, and I love to take care of my wife and house and dogs.
MS: What have you learned from your experience in prison?
SF: Not to take life for granted. I have learned a lot about people too. Its not about beating the system its about getting in where you fit in. I felt like the dude from The Matrix all those years, just plug me back in. We have a great country, somethings are fucked up, but its still a great country and I am proud to be an American. I buy into the system and I will do what I have to do to succeed legitimately. I am plugged back into The Matrix. I tried the counterculture. I was the outlaw hero. I was off the grid and look what all that got me. Much better this way. Everything can’t be how I want it. I don’t control anything but I do control myself and my own actions and how much effort I put into my work. So I worry about that and let the young men worry about all the revolutionary ideas. I am just going with the flow.
MS: Thanks for delivering a fascinating interview, Seth. Your candor rings out loud and clear.