What path would you choose if you were handed a 304 month sentence for selling drugs as a first-time, non-violent offender? Seth Ferranti opted to take the path less chosen. In the fifteen years since his conviction for being a “drug kingpin”, Seth has founded Gorilla Convict Publications, penned articles for the likes of Don Diva, Elemental, Feds, FHM, King, Slam, and Vice, as well as written a realistic fiction book titled Prison Stories. As if that weren’t enough, after earning a BA from Iowa University from behind bars, Ferranti is currently working towards a Masters Degree from California State University.
With a new book titled Street Legends out in stores, an active blog, and several regular writing gigs for magazines, Seth is a candid voice that will continue to have prison administrations shook. Find out more about Seth and his incredible story as he discusses his life, work, and inspirations with TSS’s DJ Sorce-1.
TSS: Tell us how you were able to successfully launch Gorilla Convict Publications.
Seth Ferranti: I got the initial idea for the company in 2004 after getting a lot of interest but no concrete offers for my first book, Prison Stories. I was like, “Fuck it; I’m going to do it myself.” I saw what Teri Woods and Vickie Stringer were doing and thought, “Why can’t I do this?” I had a bigger obstacle with being in prison and all, but I wasn’t going to let that stop me. I had various contacts with editors and writers through the different magazines I had been writing for like Don Diva, Slam, and King. They helped me get publicity for the company when Prison Stories was released. I am blessed with a wonderful team that consists of my wife Diane and my parents. Diane basically did all the legwork. She provided the inspiration, direction, and ideas.
Initially I experienced a lot of problems with the prison administration. They weren’t happy with what I was doing. They tried to intimidate me into not doing it with trips to the hole, transfers, and basic harassment. They tried to make it seem like a prisoner wasn’t allowed to do the things that I was doing in regards to the writing, publishing and marketing of my writing, but I persevered through all their harassment. I studied BOP policy and case law and found that several writers such as prison authors Danny Martin and Mumia Abdul Jamal had taken their plight to the courts and won. Armed with BOP policy and case law, I fought back against the administration and won. They pretty much leave me alone now. They still contend that I am running a business from prison, but since nothing is legally in my name, not even the copyrights for my books and writing, they have no grounds to do anything. The First Amendment guarantees even prisoners the right to write, mail out, and promote their work.
TSS: What do you consider to be your proudest accomplishment as a writer?
Seth Ferranti: My first feature for Don Diva was big. It was a Supreme Team cover story from the fall of 2005. That was right after they took Supreme from the FCI Gilmer compound for the Murder Inc case. I was in the pound with him and he wanted me to write the piece. That was big because so many people were after him for his story and he wanted me to write it for Don Diva. At the time Prison Stories had just come out and I’d been doing little pieces for magazines, but basically all I had written was Prison Stories and some prison basketball pieces for Don Diva, Slam, and the HoopsHype website. That is in retrospect, but I honestly have to say Street Legends is my proudest accomplishment to date. The time and effort put into that and all the help I received from other prisoners, the dudes in the book, their co-defendants, and relatives is amazing and a story in itself.
TSS: What writers have inspired you the most?
Seth Ferranti: George Jackson, who wrote Soledad Brother, and Jack Henry Abbott, who wrote In the Belly of the Beast were my two biggest inspirations to write Prison Stories. I wanted to do what they did but I wanted it to be from my perspective. Edward Bunker, Irvine Welsh, and John King are also big inspirations. Teri Woods and all the other street lit authors have been inspiring. I have watched this thing grow from nothing and seen some close friends like Wahida Clark, Kwame Teague, Eyone Williams, Nikki Turner and Joe Black have tremendous success. Their success has inspired me to step up my game. Kevin and Tiffany Chiles from Don Diva, Ethan Brown, and my man Ben Osborne, the editor in chief at SLAM magazine, have also inspired me tremendously.
TSS: I’ve heard that your first book, Prison Stories, is based heavily on real life experience. Are your accounts of moving weight in jail a realistic representation of what happens at some prisons?
Seth Ferranti: Based on my experiences, I would say very realistic. Everything in Prison Stories is real; I just changed the names to protect the guilty and called it fiction. I took some literary license, but 85% of the book is based on facts. Everything going on in the world drug wise is going on in here, just on a different scale. Some of the dudes I wrote about even read the stories and loved them. Well, maybe not the dudes portrayed in a bad light.
TSS: How has writing changed your experience as a prisoner?
Seth Ferranti: Besides being harassed by the administration, threatened, and thrown in the hole, it has been a blessing. Dudes in here know me because of my writing and are always interested in talking to me to learn about my writing. As a writer, I look at things in a different way. I’ve learned a lot about people through my writing and incarceration. When I write about someone in here, I always let them check out what I write and approve it, because I don’t want any misconceptions or dudes saying they were misquoted. I live in a fish bowl and I’m not trying to see dude or his homie coming up on me saying that I misrepresented them. I always clear everything I write with the appropriate sources first. I can deal with whatever comes, but why deal with it if you don’t have to? Integrity is important in here, and if my integrity and reputation wasn’t on platinum status do you think these dudes in here would even talk to me?
TSS: How has earning your BA in jail changed other prison’s opinion of you?
Seth Ferranti: I don’t think a lot of other prisoners even know I have a BA. I’ve been taking college courses since 1994. First I earned my AA through Penn State, then my BA through the University of Iowa and now my MA through California State University. It is just something I do, not something I advertise. If someone asks about it I tell them or will steer them in the right direction if they are trying to do the same thing, but getting a college education is not a very big topic in here. I think my books and my writing have changed other prisoner’s opinion of me, but I was in for 12 years before I had a book published, so I would say my reputation as a solid dude and convict precedes me. A lot of dudes say to me nowadays, “I didn’t even know you wrote books.” It’s something other dudes talk about more than me.
TSS: Break down your new book Street Legends. How long did it take to research, write and publish?
Seth Ferranti: Street Legends is a book about the hood stars that rappers like 50 Cent, Nas, Fat Joe, Jay-Z and Ja Rule rap about. In the book I cover Supreme, Wayne Perry, Aaron Jones from the Junior Black Mafia, Anthony Jones from B-More, Pistol Pete from the blood set Sex, Money, Murder and Boy George the Puerto Rican James Bond. These dudes have all been covered before in the papers, news, and street magazines like Don Diva and Feds, but I put their whole stories together. I went through the newspaper articles and court records, but most importantly, I talked to them when possible. I also spoke to their co-defendants, family members, and homies. I got the real stories from dudes that were with them if not directly from them. I tell the stories that you only hear inside a prison cell. From concept to publication the book took about a year. A buddy of mine named Mark came up with the concept and idea, I just ran with it. He helped me out with a lot of the research, early drafts, and editing. I had been writing a lot of the true crime stuff anyhow for Don Diva and my blog, so the book was the next natural progression from that. I’m getting real good feedback on Street Legends so far. A lot of dudes are feeling it.
TSS: How does the experience of putting it together compare to your first book, Prison Stories?
Seth Ferranti: I can honestly say that it was easier because me and my wife knew what we were doing with Street Legends. We had already put out one book and we learned from out mistakes. We really did Prison Stories on the job, learning as we went. With Street Legends, we had some experience in the publishing world and some valuable contacts to help us make the book a reality. We are still learning though. Publishing isn’t an easy game, especially when you are an independent, but we are doing it and putting out books from the prison cell so to speak.
TSS: What do you think are the three biggest misconceptions that the general public has about the American prison system?
Seth Ferranti: 1) People deserve all this time.
I am doing a 25 year mandatory minimum sentence for a first-time, non-violent drug offense. I sold LSD and marijuana at east coast colleges and was sentenced to 304 months when I was 22 years old. That is not justice.
2) All prisoners are violent.
85% of these dudes aren’t violent; they just got caught up trying to make some money. Most of them weren’t even that successful. Federal prisons are full of dudes that never flipped 10 G’s. There are not many kingpins and killers in here.
3) Prisons are for rehabilitation.
That’s a big misconception. These prisons are warehouses. The feds warehouse men and women for decades of their lives in these institutions to prop up the economies of these rural areas. It’s really sad. If my parents didn’t pay for my education, I wouldn’t have one. The programs they have in prison do not give prisoners the tools they need to go out into society and succeed.
TSS: What is the most important thing the general public should know about the American prison system?
Seth Ferranti: Prisons are corrupt. The staff is lazy, incompetent, and basically doesn’t give a fuck. They don’t care or want to make a difference; they are just drawing a paycheck. Nobody here is correcting anybody. The whole prison system is like a big scam. Most of the people don’t even belong in prison and the staff doesn’t give a fuck what’s right or wrong, they are like robots trained to treat you as sub humans.
TSS: What can people do to support education program for prisoners?
Seth Ferranti: Lobby your congressmen and representatives. People need tools to survive in society. If prisoners are not given tools, they will not succeed. The United States is now the world’s leading incarcerator. What kind of reputation and legacy is that? The land of the free? I don’t think so.
TSS: Besides buying your two published books, what can people do to support your efforts as a writer?
Seth Ferranti: Go to my website, gorillaconvict.com and leave a message or comment. Go to Amazon.com and Barnesandnoble.com and post a review for my books. Check out my monthly blog on the website and post replies. Let me know what you think about my writing. Help gorillaconvict.com and Gorilla Convict publications grow so that I can continue putting out books while in here. My release date is 2015 and I plan to put out a book a year. Upcoming titles include Prison Ball, Street Legends 2 and 3, Prison Stories 2, Murder Capital and The Supreme Team, so keep checking back for them. Take care and thank you for the support.