“Life in a box”
Ross Ulbricht’s genesis piece “Perspective” is a glimmer of hope for prisoners everywhere
“I know I’m his mother, but I honestly think he’s a wonderful person. He has a wonderful, sweet nature. He’s very laid back and easygoing. He’s a lot of fun. And he’s very funny; he’s got a very quick wit. I was on Twitter with some of his old friends and one of them said, “Ross is the least judgmental person I know.” And it’s true, you feel very safe with Ross. He just doesn’t judge people. He doesn’t care about where you come from, he just really gets to the person. And that has helped him a lot in prison.”
Despite her hectic schedule, Lyn Ulbricht has taken the time to talk to yet another journalist about her son. Ross Ulbricht has been described by the people in his life as altruistic and an idealist, creative and brilliant, and overwhelmingly kind and compassionate.
The narrative that federal prosecutors pushed painted him as a money-hungry drug kingpin who was also involved in murder-for-hire plots.
From freeross.org” Graphite pencil drawing created in prison, with accompanying poem. Drawn during the grueling 2020 year of coronavirus lockdown (22 to 24 hours a day locked in his cell every day).
From the light of freedom to a concrete tomb,
The fall was great and swift.
My soul cried out in a mighty boom,
How could it come to this?
Clamped down, trapped stuck,
Paralyzed in a tiny cage.
Had fate left me not a drop of luck?
Was there reason for this rage?
Told to lay down and die,
Something deep inside me stirred.
I can’t be caged I have to fly!
Not yet am I interred.
They can take my body, tie me down,
It matters not a bit.
My spirit still runs wild and free,
So in freedom here I sit.
In 2011, at the age of 26 years old, Ross launched the groundbreaking (and now infamous) Tor-hosted and Bitcoin-fueled ecommerce platform Silk Road. Founded on libertarian economic principles, Silk Road allowed the private and anonymous sale and purchase of goods such as art, games, hardware, and books. It explicitly prohibited the listing of stolen goods, counterfeits, weapons, assassinations (yes, really), and child sex abuse imagery and related materials. Predictably, some users took advantage of the platform’s anonymity and sold and purchased illicit drugs—mostly cannabis for personal use, according to an analysis by Carnegie Mellon University.
Two years after Silk Road went live on “the dark web,” on October 1, 2013, Ross was arrested by the FBI in a public library in San Francisco. He was eventually charged with conspiracy to commit computer hacking, money laundering, and conspiracy to traffic narcotics. He had no prior arrests nor a history of violent behavior.
After a lengthy and emotionally draining trial, he was handed down two life sentences, plus forty years, without the possibility of parole.
If you think that sentence sounds excessive, you’re not alone. In the nearly ten years that Ross has been in prison, hundreds of people have vocalized outrage and support and have written letters on his behalf petitioning for clemency. His mother, Lyn, and the rest of his family have spearheaded the Free Ross Ulbricht movement, complete with a dedicated website and hashtag (#FreeRoss).
As detailed on freeross.org, the case was egregiously tainted by corruption. Going deeper, Ross is one of the hundreds of Americans serving life sentences for non-violent, drug-related offenses.
Despite everything he’s been through, Ross’ people-first nature has held steadfast.
“He always cares about people,” Lyn says. “He cares about the underdog. And this is being reflected in this NFT.”
The collection is comprised of a package of Ross’ original artwork and writing. Comprising of ten pieces, ranging from his early childhood to his adult life behind bars, and an animation by artist Levitate featuring Ross’ voice, The Ross Ulbricht genesis piece will be auctioned on SuperRare this week during Miami Art Week.
“The Trial I Saw”
Through the collection, we see Ross’ artistic skills and sensibilities evolve and mature, from the marker-and-crayon scribbles he made when he was a kid, to the incredibly detailed and stylized graphite pencil works he started drawing at age 17. The most recent piece in the collection is an oil painting on canvas he made this year, depicting a skull with flowers in the eye sockets, titled “Death.”
Another drawing, created when Ross was 31, is a courtroom scene—his own courtroom scene. Titled “The Trial I Saw,” the subjects in the scene (a prosecutor, the judge, two spectating jurors, and other members of counsel) wear Venetian Carnival-style domino masks. The next year, he drew “Life in a Box,” which depicts himself and his former cellmate (or “cellie”) Scott in the 65-square-foot cell they shared in the Metropolitan Correctional Center in New York. Created with graphite pencil, “Life in a Box” is visually striking and withholds no detail—including the pet mouse that he had.
“Life in a box”
The NFT isn’t just about the art. A portion of the proceeds will go to the Ulbricht family’s charity Art4Giving, which is dedicated to alleviating the stress and suffering experienced by prisoners and their families—particularly when it comes to the expense of traveling for visitation.
“With this NFT, I see a chance to make a difference,” Ross said in a statement published on freeross.org. “My own future may look bleak, but I can still do a little something to heal the damage I see all around me.”
Lyn says that the topic of NFTs was introduced to her by Ross’ friend Rob Hustle and around the same time by Ross himself during one of their phone calls. The project came together with the help of a supporter of Ross, who goes by the name “Trippy,” who has experience in the NFT space. Trippy also connected Lyn with SuperRare.
“Perspective” on SuperRare
In a way, it seems that Ross Ulbricht’s entire journey is connected by the thread of cryptocurrency. Silk Road operated on Bitcoin, and now his family is minting NFTs of his artwork, which will be purchased with Ether.
“I would say a lot of our donations have been crypto-based,” Lyn muses. “That’s the community and he’s a bit of a legend in that community. They want him out and they want to help me get him out. He shouldn’t be in prison. He’s got a lot to give. And I’ve been working very hard for over eight years to get him out of there and out here, where he can do some real good.”
The Ross Ulbricht Genesis Collection is now up for auction on SuperRare.
Chloé Harper Gold is a writer and editor based in New York. Her work has been published in 71 Magazine, Honeysuckle Magazine, Nightmarish Conjurings, Horror Film Central, High Times, Dread Central, Crystal Lake Publishing's Shallow Waters Volume IV, and 100-Word Zombie Bites. Chloé received her MFA in Creative Writing from The New School.
Following its work with Duran Duran, a bold A.I. image creator looks to the future.
Crypto con artists and digital thieves are everywhere–what can we do about it?
Your weekly introduction to new artists on SuperRare.