Gangsters Inc. is proud to present an exclusive interview with imprisoned author Seth Ferranti about life in prison, stand up guys, snitches, crime boss Supreme McGriff, being an author behind bars, and his plans for when he is released.
As a young man, Ferranti was convicted of running a continual criminal enterprise that dealt in LSD. He was sentenced to over 25 years in prison and has been doing his time since 1993. He has the inside scoop on gangbangers, mobsters, and crime bosses by proving to them he is a man that can be trusted with their stories.
David: You have been behind bars since 1993 after you were sentenced to 304 months in prison for an LSD kingpin conviction. Can you tell us a little bit about those first months in prison?
Seth: It was a culture shock to say the least. I had grown up in an upper middle class environment and never thought that I would end up in prison. I was used to getting out of things, for whatever reason, and then, at the age of 22, to be trapped it was very disheartening. But I endured. Looking back, I was probably a little naive but I have always had a lot of heart and been the type of person to stand up for myself. I had to adjust to a lot. Like I said: I was basically a middle class white suburban kid thrown into a world of minorities and gangs. It was a world I had little understanding of but I would come to understand it and survive.
There were all types of little things I had to get used to and dudes in prison have all kinds of little routines and rules and the like that you have to adjust to. Not just on the guards part but the prisoners parts too. I would get in arguments with dudes and fights because they said “this is how it’s done” and I was hardheaded and I didn't give a fuck so I would buck the system. But in the end you can't win and I conformed or became institutionalized or whatever you want to call it. If you tried to argue or fight with the guards they would throw you in the hole and you could bang your head against the door and scream and kick and yell all day and they didn't give a fuck. It was just you locked in a little room with only yourself. So you get a chance to know yourself and there is no delusion you have to become very comfortable in your own skin and accept who you are and what you are capable of because prison is like a fishbowl, there is no escaping. You can't just move, your reputation precedes you and things follow you around.
It hasn't been easy but I have survived and even prospered during my years behind bars. I don't let prison, the prisoners or the guards and administration become obstacles to what I want to do. I just continue in my direction and get stuff done. I am single minded and relentless in that way. But being in here has given me a lot of tolerance and patience.
David: You were convicted of being a drug kingpin, did that help you become accepted by other inmates? Or is it all about how you behave yourself as a strong tough male?
Seth: I would say my charge has given me stature on the inside. But it mostly comes down to who you are and how you carry yourself and represent yourself in here. And who you hang around with too. I was accepted by other prisoners because I was myself and I showed them that I wouldn't back down, that my word is good and that I will fight them or the guards. It’s not just about being a strong tough male. It’s about respect and how you treat people and your word and who you hang around and what you do and what you don't do. Also about what you condone and what you don't condone. I have seen too many dudes get jammed up because they wouldn't speak up or they let some bullshit happen that they weren't really agreeing with. Basically you just have to be yourself and be ready to get busy at any moment. Because you will be tried and tested and if you fail one time then it can be like open season. Once you are considered weak or this or that than dudes will be coming at you.
David: The public is being swamped in prison reality series in which we see violent inmates and a lot of gangs. Authorities are extremely worried about the gangs and have taken a lot of precautions. From your day to day experience, what is your view on gangs inside prison?
Seth: I think staff can maintain security better because the gangs and prisoners are at each other’s throats. In prison there is a scarcity of resources and dudes are willing to fight over those resources be what they may; drugs, contraband etc. That is how the administration maintains control. Shit can jump off in a minute, though, but when it does they just lock everyone down and they will leave you locked down as long as possible until the threat of whatever was jumping off passes. Violence is not the routine or norm in prison, it is the extreme. But it can and will happen and staff knows this.
In prison they judge you by your negative potential, they say this convict has the potential to do this, so it’s not always about what you do it’s about what they think you are capable of doing. But as the guards that is their job, to maintain the security of the prison, and they take their jobs very seriously. The biggest things they worry about are their counts, keeping prisoners alive and keeping you away from the fences or walls (meaning keeping you inside.) But nowadays it’s almost like overkill, everything that can happen has happened, so they are very prepared and overreact most of the time. But that is how it is. Prison is the netherworld of violence and corruption and hate. But for me it’s home so I do what I have to do to maintain.
David: When did you decide to start writing? And what brought about the writing bug?
Seth: I have always been very creative and writing. If not what I am doing now, then song lyrics, poetry, dungeons and dragons stuff. I have always been a big reader and creator. Creating my own worlds for fantasy games and writing songs and all types of stuff like that. In prison I was just kind of drifting and I was very angry during my first nine years or so. Working out, playing sports and smoking lots of weed, self medicating I guess. Then I had a good friend of mine that motivated me to start doing something for my future. His name is Michael Santos and he has books and a website out too. He got on me about doing nothing and wasting my time smoking weed and I started to look at life differently and started to do stuff for my future.
I was taking college classes through correspondence first (I now have three degrees: an AA, BA and MA, which I earned through correspondence courses) and I started to write for the prison newspaper doing little sports pieces and stuff like that. Then, it just evolved from there. I met some dudes that knew the guy who started Don Diva and Feds magazines and I started sending them articles and pitches and they started running my articles. Then I branched out to other websites and magazines and had some success. Then to me it was like a drug, I just wanted to see more of my stuff in print and I kept sending out lots of queries and photocopying my articles and sending them out to magazines and the like and it kind of snowballed. I got several different regular gigs for hoopshype.com, urbanbooksouorce.com and vice magazine, columns and the like. Then I started doing cover/feature stories for the street magazines and then a bunch of urban publications started asking me to write for them and websites were requesting permission to rerun my stuff. I then started doing the books. So it was all a kind of gradual progression.
David: You have now become an established and successful author and journalist from behind bars, does your new status on the outside make it easier to come into contact/talk to fellow inmates from all walks of life to make their story known? Or has it become harder? Because some people prefer secrecy.
Seth: I have always been able to interview dudes because my character and reputation in here are good. I am not some fly by night scam artist piece of shit motherfucker. You got a lot of shady dudes in here, and prisoners respect dudes whose word is good. And my word is gold so that’s my reputation. Plus the way I work when I do a project with someone I don't send it to be printed until they approve it. I do this so there are no misrepresentation or misquotations. Because in here, that sort of thing could lead to me being stabbed and I am not trying to look over my shoulder all the time. A lot of journalists on the street just run with shit and go for the shock value of the story with no thought as to the consequences of their writing on the people they are writing about. That is why you hear people talking about they got misquoted. I cannot afford to have a situation like that because I am in prison with the people I am writing about. And if they don't like something I wrote they can come and see me or send somebody at me and then I would have to defend myself accordingly. Which I can do, but why generate or make a problem like that when all I need to do is get their clearance or blessing?
So it is my reputation that enables me to get a dude’s story but it is also my access and my ability to get their stories in magazines and on websites. So I believe my success has made it easier because I am not just some Joe Schmoe writer. I am who I am and people on the outside and inside have heard of me, read my books, know my material, my stories and my writing. They have seen my books in the magazines and seen the interviews I have done. So my notoriety as a writer, so to speak, definitely makes it easier to get the stories I want to get. But I am like this also if I holler at a dude about doing a story and he declines. Then I leave it alone. I am not after the story just for the story’s sake. I am trying to craft a good story that the person I am writing about and myself will like and enjoy. I like to present the story to the public in the right way and not just take the government’s or the prosecutor’s angle as most mainstream news media outlets do. I show the story from the flipside and I keep the story within the criminal code. Because I am writing to entertain and inform not to put cases on somebody or blow them up and make them hot so the feds start investigating them. It is not just news to me. I know these dudes, I walk the yard with them, and I respect them and they respect me.
David: Your books are filled with interviews with imprisoned gangsters and drug bosses who are very open and honest about their lives. Which interview (or more precise, which gangster, or story) had the biggest impact on you and why?
Seth: I would say the interview that had the biggest impact on me was the one I did with Kenneth "Supreme" McGriff. I was at FCI Gilmer in West Virginia with him from 2004 to 2005. He thought he was getting out that summer of 2005 but he got indicted on the “Murder Inc.” case and now he’s doing life and is in ADX Florence in 24-hour lockdown in Colorado. That is the federal Super Maximum Security prison. Supreme is a really classy guy and he was very high profile, like a gangster celebrity. Remember this is the dude that they said owned the Murder Inc. record label that housed stars such as Ashanti, Ja Rule and Irv Gotti. This is the man that they said shot rapper 50 cent nine times before he became famous and the same man who was instrumental in the Ja Rule vs 50 cent beef trying to diffuse it.
Supreme is a walking talking and living legend. He has been namedropped numerous times in verse and is a mythical figure straight out of hip-hop’s lyrical lore. His crew, the Supreme Team, is a legendary gang from the crack era and Queens New York. They were the ones who influenced the rappers and set trends and styles. The rappers emulated them. So being around him was great not only because of who he was but because of the way he treated people. He was very down to earth and charismatic and listened to what people said. He did not act like a star or like he was better than people and he was a gangster who upheld the street code of no snitching to the fullest. He went to battle with the feds and lost but he went down swinging. You can read about him in my book Street Legends Vol. 1 and in my upcoming book The Supreme Team. But he is not only a friend of mine, I also admire him greatly. Of all the gangsters I have known I would say he is the top one in all regards, very versatile and multitalented and down to earth too.
David: Your books celebrate and honor the gangsters who stood up and did their time for the crimes they (allegedly) committed. Why is standing up and not being a snitch so important? I ask because people in the legitimate world will say that a snitch will help law enforcement get rid of gangs and violence.
Seth: Standing up and not being a snitch is important because if you make a deal, spoken or unspoken, with someone to commit a crime and then you betray that deal or contract just because you get busted, that shows that you stand for nothing and will fall for anything. People in the legitimate world are not criminals. They are supposed to tell law enforcement what has happened and cooperate with them. There is a profound difference between a witness and a snitch. Somebody's grandmother who called the cops because they are selling drugs on the corner is not a snitch. Dudes have it fucked up about what a snitch really is. A snitch is your man, friend or associate who is committing crimes with you and then when he gets busted he can't hold his own weight or take the weight and the time so he snitches on you to get less time or to get out of his situation. That is what a snitch is.
In every profession snitches are looked down upon. When you grow up they tell you not to tattle on your brother, sisters or family. If you are a policeman they have the blue wall of silence. In industry or government if you blow the cover of everyone who is doing something illicit they call it a whistleblower. All of that is wrong if you are in on the act and then YOU get caught and try to make other people take the fall for YOU. That is what a snitch is. If you witness a hit and run where a drunk driver runs over a little girl and you report it to the police you are not a snitch. That is your civic duty as a citizen. But if you are selling drugs for your man on the block and you get busted and give the police your man’s name so you can walk out of the stationhouse scott free then you are a snitch because you can't hold your own weight. If you can't do the time then don't do the crime. It’s about ideals and honor among thieves and all that. You can be a gangster but still have ideals and morals. Just because you are a criminal doesn't mean that you would do anything. Stand up mean have ideals and stand up for them and for what they believe in that is why standing up for what you believe in, even if it’s on the criminal side of things, is important.
David: You have written several books and countless articles all from your prison cell and have become very successful. How difficult is it to write books about various subjects from behind bars?
Seth: It’s not hard because you have a lot of time to write and research and look into stuff and things like that. What is hard is you are handcuffed and you have so many restrictions on promoting your work and things of that nature. Like for my books, I am missing out on book signing and events where I could go and personally promote and market my books, website and work. I know a lot of stuff in the entertainment industry is personality driven and being in here through mailings, emails and phone calls I can only show a limited amount of my personality. I know if people like you as a person and how you present yourself they are more apt to buy your product just off of that. And I am not afforded that opportunity being in here. Also with limited phone minutes due to the prisons restrictions on communications I cannot reach out and talk to people like I need too.
So there are all types of restrictions on me. It is like I am handcuffed promotions and marketing wise not to even mention that I am not allowed to run a business under the prison rules and they are always looking at me and what I am doing and my emails and listening to my phone calls and going through all my mail to see what I am receiving and working on. It gets a bit frustrating at times but I try to stay positive and just keep trudging along at the slow pace that I am allowed to move at due to all the restrictions. I am relentless in that way. So it is good in a way, because whatever obstacle the administration puts in my path I have found a way to overcome it and do what I want to do in regards to my writing anyway.
Because for real they don't want me to write. They would rather I not but I have a first amendment right to write and they can't do anything about it. So I continue to write despite all the roadblocks and obstacles they throw up in my way. I write about true crime and prison gangs and prison life and all that and the prison administrators hate that. They don't want me promoting or glorifying and romanticizing this type of lifestyle. They don't want these dudes in here doing life to get any type of notoriety of infamy. They would rather it all be swept up under the rug and never heard of again but I am the voice of the convict, I am the voice of the streets and I will continue to write as long as there is a demand for the material that I write about and to date there is quite a demand and my audience is growing.
David: Why is it such a problem for the prison administration when inmates like yourself express themselves?
Seth: It is a problem for the administration because they are very close fisted about what goes on in here and about who is in here and what their status is. They want to know everything that is going on and they don't like surprises. And people like me, writers, or people who can get publicity are full of surprises and in the corrections field they don't like surprises. They are scared to death of criticism or stuff like how is this convict or prisoner getting a forum to voice their opinion on this or that. That scares them to death. That someone in here would actually have a voice to address his concerns of what is going on in here. Or if a prisoner has the ability to articulate something and write about it so that people on the outside can read about it.
They want everything that happens in here and everybody that is in here to stay kept in here, swept under the rug so to speak. They don't want to have to deal why this criminal is on television or in a magazine or how it happened since they are supposed to monitor and keep track of everything that is going on in their institution. They don't want you to do something positive and rehabilitate yourself. They would rather you took drugs and got in fights and stuff like that. That they can understand. Writing and having books out and getting college degrees and having a blog and a website, they don't understand that. They think you are not allowed to do stuff like that. I have had to fight and battle for every little thing I have done. The administration has tried to shut me down and intimidate me into not writing or having a website or having books at every instance. But I am relentless and have fought for my rights. I have not given in. They can throw me in the hole, write me fictitious shots and all that and still I will not give in. I will continue doing what I am doing because for real it’s not for in here why I am doing what I’m doing, it’s for my future. And that is what they can't stand. That I might get out and actually never come back. Their job security depends on my recidivism. So I work very hard every day to thwart them at every turn. That is why they are shook when it comes to convicts like me.
David: Once you are released and able to work and write in freedom, what are your plans as far as writing is concerned?
Seth: I plan to do about seven more books so that I have ten out in total by the time I am released which should be in about thirty more months or so. I have several of those seven in the works right now and a couple of them will come out on other publishing houses but the majority will come out on Gorilla Convict Publications which my wife runs for me.
But when I get out I want to take the books I have written and turn them into dvds, documentaries, and video games. Then I want to get into feature films. I plan to get my doctorate when I get out and concentrate on licensing my material for documentaries and video games and more so that I can concentrate on making films. I have written some scripts already and I plan to write more. I have a vision and I refuse to be stopped in accomplishing what I want to accomplish. I have a definite idea on what I want to do film wise. My books and other projects will act as my resume so that I can take my film projects to producers so that I can get the money to make them. I want to write and direct and eventually produce also. But I will get my doctorate and do some public speaking and lecturing to go along with pursuing my film ventures and promoting my books and Gorilla Convict Publications also.
David: You are scheduled for release in 2015, which is getting close, what is the first thing you will do once released?
Seth: The first thing I’ll do when I get released will be to spend time with my beautiful and sexy wife Diane and make up for lost time. I am lucky to have such a fine woman as her and I will devote all my energy to her and my various projects. Within two years of my release I hope to have my company built up to a national level so that I can enter a doctorate program and pursue my film ventures. I have a lot to do and accomplish. I am just laying the foundations now and when I come home I will really be able to spread my wings and fly. The handcuffs and shackles will be off and I will be ready to work and pursue the things that I want to. But of course my wife will always be my first and primary responsibility and objective. Making her happy will come first.
David: Any last words?
Seth: Please check out my revised website at www.gorillaconvict.com and order my books Prison Stories, Street Legends and Street Legends Vol. 2, which are available as e-books now from the site in all formats. Also coming soon: my new book THE SUPRME TEAM: THE BIRTH OF CRACK AND HIP HOP, PRINCE'S REIGN OF TERROR AND THE SUPREME/50 CENT BEEF EXPOSED. Followed soon after by Rayful, Fat Cat and Alpo: INFAMOUS GANGSTERS - Legendary Figures From the Black Underworld and Hip Hop's Lyrical Lore.
David: Thank you for doing this interview, Seth.
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