Times are tough for Silk Road Founder and hitman-hirer Ross Ulbricht. He is serving double-life plus 40 years without the possibility of parole for running a website that sold guns, drugs, and murders for bitcoin. Now he wants the world to see prisoners through his own eyes. It’s not going well.
“I was put in handcuffs for the first time when I was 29 years old. I was labeled a prisoner that day and have since spent 2,096 days and nights in the captivity of the U.S. federal government,” he wrote in a Medium post published Thursday. “I’m still in prison, condemned to die here with a life sentence and no parole. Prison is nothing if not boring, so I’ve had many hours to think about all sorts of things, including who, if anyone, really belongs here.”
Ulbricht is the incarcerated version of someone who talked a big game online and had to deal with the consequences in real life.
Ross tweets regularly in an account believed to be maintained by his mom. The information comes from handwritten letters that he sends to his family. It gives updates on his life in prison (he recently started playing bass in a rock band). They also keep Ross fans updated on his petition for clemency from President Trump. The petition has 55,000 signatures. Well, online signatures.
But Thursday’s Medium post was a new move aimed at humanizing a person who did most of his crimes under a screen name from behind a computer.
“I used to believe that I didn’t care what people thought of me, that my sense of worth was intrinsic and objective, but that was when I was generally liked,” he wrote in the letter posted to Medium. “Suddenly, countless people were meeting a straw man, not me at all, but a dangerous criminal. It’s easier to condemn a villain, so it had to appear that I deserve this. This is punishment after all, and would be unfair otherwise.”
Ulbricht was charged with hiring hitmen to kill six people. He personally personally profited $28.5 million in bitcoin as of his arrest. Bitcoin investor and friend of Modern Consensus Tim Draper later bought those bitcoin at auction for $48 million.
At his trial, Ulbricht maintained that he was just a libertarian running a free exchange website. Cool, man. El Chapo is just a guy who’s really into NAFTA.
We’ve previously referred to Ross’s website as “dirtbag eBay.” But the lack of face-to-face contact doesn’t mean that he wasn’t stuffing the pockets of murderous cartels and trying to have other, poorer people commit murder for him—all because his booming crypto-wealth made him into a man of many options.
Showing remorse or giving a sense of having learned your lesson is key for clemency proceedings. But he gets a little BDSM about it as the post goes on.
“The mind bent on revenge seeks to balance the scales: pain for pain. ‘He deserves what he gets,’ it urges. ‘He must pay.’ Instead of being a check on injustice, it becomes an excuse for it. As someone on the receiving end of this, who has met hundreds of others in the same position, I’m telling you, no one deserves this.”
As far as public relations goes, it’s not a bad move. Certainly not a misstep, but it’s effectiveness is hard to see (who actually read Medium posts outside of their industry?)
It is, however, a stirring look into life on the inside. The United States has the largest prison population in the world. But outside of a few movies and Netflix series, most of us have no idea what goes on in there.
“Many of my fellow prisoners have no support from the outside. Their loved ones have either died during their long stay here, abandoned them or turned on them. All of us are cut-off to some degree. We seek mental escapes of every kind — some constructive, others destructive — to stave off confronting the abject horror of our situation. Violence is common, and the tension it brings is the air we breathe. Forcing someone to spend years or decades continuously like this, waking up to it every single morning, is cruel. If you disagree, I’ll prove it to you.”
(I mentioned this would get a little BDSM so skip the next paragraph if it’s not your thing. Or send it to your partner if it is. We don’t judge.)
“Imagine the worst torture you can think of that doesn’t leave the victim disabled, something you can’t deny is cruel: burning, flogging — take your pick,” Ulbrict wrote, by way of comparison. “If the victims themselves would prefer this torture to imprisonment, the inescapable conclusion is that prison is worse, even more cruel. I, and every prisoner I have asked, would prefer any amount of pain and cruelty, for a limited duration, to the years and decades we’re forced to spend here — spirits crushed, hope abandoned, relegated to irrelevance.”
He does make a terrifying point about prison. As a prisoner waits out their sentence their life slips away from them. Members of their support network die. People who would have helped them get a job years ago are long since retired.
“No one deserves this, even if they have to here for the sake of others’ safety. Certainly, the many non-violent drug offenders growing old in here don’t. Pain does not heal pain. A lost soul is not redeemed in a cage.”
So far there has not been much headway in getting his appeal. Although he does frequently tweet at Kim Kardashian, who has not gotten much of a response.
Through Mike Cernovich, however, his mother was able to meet Donald Trump Jr. at a MAGA rally.
For now, the petition to let Ulbrict go has 179,405 signatures. Only President Trump could pardon him. Ross was convicted mostly on computer fraud charges. If he were to get out of federal prision the states still have the murder-for-hire charges just waiting in a Word doc somewhere.
According to Motherboard, Ulbricht’s judge launched into an unforgiving teardown of his character as she revealed he’d be locked away for life. “You are no better a person than any other drug dealer. Your education doesn’t make you different, and makes this more inexplicable,” Judge Katherine Forrest said. Ulbricht’s request to serve his time in a prison with more relaxed security was also denied during the hearing. He has said he plans to challenge the guilty conviction.
In the United States we need to look at criminal justice reform. Our penal system is expensive, does not produce upstanding reformed citizens and it is full of extra-judicial punishment that is beneath us as a society. But we can put any number of nonviolent marijuana vendors in line ahead of Ross for early release.
The Silk Road was a destructive platform, but it also created the world’s first use-case and market for Bitcoin. It made the early adopters very rich and got us to the point where Facebook is about to start a global cryptocurrency. But it didn’t help Ross Ulbricht or his family sleep at night.