Ross Ulbricht’s life in prison after Silk Road

One year into a double life sentence, Ross Ulbricht planted an apple seed in a sun-lit corner of his prison cell. It came to life in a damp towel before a guard took the sapling away. Instead of throwing it out, person placed the smaller plant in the counselor’s office.

Just happy that the plant was alive, Ulbricht got another wet towel, dabbed it with vitamins, and started growing another tree inside his cell. His mom, Lyn Ulbricht, says thats how her son makes his imprisonment a little more humane.

The mouse Ulbricht and his cellmate adoptedthe prison has a lot of mouse running aroundisnt so easily caught by authorities. Ulbricht feeds and homes it in a little cardboard box, but no guard has snatched the rodent yet.

Ulbricht turned 32 on Sunday, March 27. Apple seeds and pet mice are some of the tiny realities that occupy life for Ulbricht a year after being convicted of being the kingpin behind Silk Road, the multimillion dollar Dark Net medication market that launched him to international fame.

Ulbricht now lives in New York Citys Metropolitan Correctional Center( MCC ). His mother and father picked up from their Texas home to live in a small apartment nearby. Its been a levy journey for the couplefinancially, physically, emotionally. Lyn is tired. She lately suffered a heart attack followed by a diagnosis of broken heart syndrome.

It seems incorrect that a citizen must be ruined financially to seek justice in the U.S ., but this seems to be the case, at least for us .

Its been a year of near silence for Ulbricht, at least as far as the general public is concerned. He doesnt speak to the media, so his mother has been his voice. Lyn travels the world speaking at libertarian celebrations and raising thousands of dollars for her sons appeal. Shes become a small political storm on a range of criminal justice issues like fair trials, due process rights, sentencing statutes, and Internet privacy.

Its very clear that narcotics are not the reason Ross is in there, she told me at a meeting in Manhattan before visiting her son in prison. Hes there because he was a political threat, because of the political doctrine of the site, of Bitcoin, of Tor, all of that.

Shes not alone in that interpreting. Ulbrichts trial and sentencing has been criticized in briefs to the court by the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, Drug Policy Alliance, Electronic Frontier Foundation, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, Just Leadership USA, and former federal judge Nancy Gertner. Writing for Forbes , legal analyst Sarah Jeong called it the trial that wasn’t.

The U.S. government paints a very different picture of Ulbricht, whom a jury found guilty of seven misdemeanours that include drug trafficking, operating a criminal enterprise, money laundering, computer crimes, and identity hoax. Attorneys successfully argued that Silk Road vendors sold some 614,305 bitcoins $80 million, at the time of the transactionsworth of marijuana, LSD, methamphetamines, and other illegal goods. The government also contended that medications bought on Silk Road contributed to the deadly overdoses of six individuals.

Make no mistake: Ulbricht was a drug dealer and criminal profiteer who exploited peoples addictions and contributed to the deaths of at least six young people, Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said in a statement after Ulbrichts sentencing. Ulbricht ran from concealing his cybercrime identity to becoming the face of cybercrime and as todays sentence proves , no one is above the law.

Then theres the allegations of six murder-for-hire strategies. The government says theres no proof any murders ever took place, and they were never actually charged in tribunal. In fact, neither the alleged murder-for-hire strategies nor Silk Road’s alleged role in the death of six young people were tried or demonstrated in tribunal. But both still played a major role in the sentencing.

Near the end of the trial, New York federal prosecutors exhorted the magistrate to send a message with a long prison sentence for Ulbricht because he was willing to use violence to protect his enterprise.

Of the seven felonies Ulbrich stands convicted of , nowhere on the list is slaying for hire.

Ulbrichts family and legal team are constructing toward an appeal this summer with significant expenses. Compiling and binding copies of the brief alone cost $13,667.90 from PrintingHouse Press, a successful appellate services provider. Hiring a pathologist to go over two autopsy reports for people who allegedly died of drugs bought on Silk Road expense $9,000. Overall, the family has raised more than $433,000 for the legal defense.

It seems incorrect that a citizen must be ruined financially to seek justice in the U.S ., but this seems to be the case, at the least for us, she said. I believe it is one explanation why 97 percent of the accused take a plea, even admitting to acts they haven’t committed.

The Ulbrichts have been on an endless fundraiser since Rosss arrest in October 2013. The latest fundraising idea came to Ulbricht in a dreaming, he told: An illustration of how he viewed his trial with judge, jury, and prosecutors garmented in horror garb. Supporters pay$ 1 per pixel to expose the arts and win prizes.

Free Ross

Sticking with Ross has been tricky on occasion, Lyn says, like when hes moved from prison to prison with little or no notice to his family.

What Ive learned from the prisons, my saying is, why ask why? Theres no phase, theres no logic, theres no explain, Lyn explained. The only reason I knew he moved was a fiancee of another inmateRoss and him had become friends, texted me and told, Just in case you dont know, Ross has been moved. I was about to go out on a train the next day with my sister up from Virginia to go see him. I didnt know where he had been moved, where in the country he was. Its a weird impression to have no control.

Without explanation, Ulbricht was moved from MCC prison in downtown Manhattan without any belongings, volumes, classes, or the friends hed built over the past year in MCC. Once he said he finally began to settle in, it was back to MCC, still without any belongings. When he got back, Rosss friends at MCC devoted him his old books and chipped in for food.

It was very sweet, very nice, Lyn said. Even though theres pros and cons to the two places, as far as space and all that, I could tell hes happier to be back with people he knew, people hes friends with. Hes been living with a lot of them for a year.

At MCC, Ulbricht resumed his role as educator. When he first ran behind bars, he speedily began a yoga class inside prison. Now he teaches a GED class to help prisoners get their high school degrees. Three students began correspondence college courses that they credit to Ulbricht, Lyn says. Hes taught physics as well, and continues to tutor individuals.

Ulbricht, who has a Masters Degree in Materials Science and Engineering from Penn State, has taught physics to Davit Mirzoyan, who in 2012 pleaded guilty to orchestrating a $100 million Medicare fraud scheme, the largest ever charged.

I didnt know where he had been moved, where in the country he was. Its a weird impression to have no control .

It has been is difficult to absorb the material, but Ross helps fill in the gaps and patiently explains the concepts to me, Mirzoyan wrote in a letter to the court during Ulbricht’s trial. He is attentive and enthusiastic and constructs it fun to learn.

Scott Stammers, who pleaded guilty last year to trying to smuggle 220 pounds of pure Northern korean methamphetamines into the United States, became cellmates and fast friends with Ulbricht at the Metropolitan Correctional Center.

I knew he was facing serious charges and going to trial, yet every night when he’d come back from tribunal, I’d consider him mingling with the other inmates, getting to know them, playing table tennis and just being at ease, Stammers wrote. Of all the people in our division, Ross is facing the most time, but he never complains or tries to bring anyone down. On the contrary, he’s often the one to remind us to look on the bright side and be grateful for the boons we still have.

Teaching is both gratifying and distracting in a very narrow world.

Its very boring in there, its extremely limited physically, his mother explained. To be frank, Ross is very intelligent, and intellectually its hard for him to find peers to talk to. Not everyonehes met some people. But some of these people, he told, are very close to being retarded. They likely shouldnt even be in there at all. Hes not snobby, hes very accessible, builds friends with everyone. But I think he would love to have a great talk about artificial intelligence. Thats not gonna happen. He gets bored.

Editor’s note: This tale has been updated for context and lucidity .

Illustrationby Jason Reed

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