by Ross Ulbricht
It is finally starting to sink in that I might be here in federal prison for a while. I just started my 9th year of life without parole. Decades of incarceration stretch out in front of me. As I face that future — my eventual old age and death in this cage — I find myself looking for meaning and purpose. Why am I here? What good can I do with the time I have left and from where I am?
Coming from an artistic family, I was encouraged to draw from a young age. I drew comic book characters for many years. Then, as a teen, I adopted a surreal, psychedelic style that pushed the boundaries of my craft. In my 20s, I stopped drawing so much. I thought I did not have enough time. I know better now. If something is important, you make time for it.
I was 29 years old when I was arrested. Suddenly, sitting in prison, I had time for drawing again. I reconnected with my artistic side, producing illustrations that told the story I was going through. I was able to connect to those of you in the free world through my art. The isolation I felt was tempered by it.
Then one day, I was told “you should sell your art as an NFT. The community will love it.”
“Umm…What’s an NFT?” I asked.
One thing led to another. Ideas were chewed. Brains were stormed. An NFT was born, one that told my story through the art I produced over the years, from toddler to teen to prisoner. Then, I told a story with words and drawings of a typical day in maximum security, and my collaborators animated it from my point of view as a prisoner. That is all bundled into the NFT. It is my story as art.
But what I realized — and what gives me hope that I will find something more to live for — is that my story is not over. It does not end with “…and then he was arrested and spent the rest of his life in prison.” I am still alive. I am still here. I can still make a difference.
There are about a million prisoners in the United States, or so the statistics say. But the truth is there is more like ten million. You see, the families of prisoners feel the worst part of incarceration too: separation from the ones they love. In that sense, we are all doing time. Each of us is no more than a couple of degrees from prison. It touches our whole society.
So many times over the years, I have seen little kids enter the prison visitation room. I have seen the joy as they yell “daddy!”, running and jumping into his arms. I have seen the tears roll down their innocent faces when it’s time for the exit door to slam shut, locking daddy on the other side.
Those are the lucky ones. With dad locked away, most can’t afford the cross-country trip to see him. Birthday after birthday, they grow up without him. Soon resentment builds. Eventually, the child that grew up without dad becomes the adult who makes the same mistakes dad made and winds up behind bars. (Rinse and repeat.)
With this NFT, I see a chance to make a difference where it really counts: in the lives of kids who did not ask for any of this. There is a lot we can do with the proceeds of this auction, but one idea I am committed to is to help kids travel to visit their moms and dads in prison.
My own future may look bleak, but I can still do a little something to heal the damage I see all around me. Prison shatters families. It shatters communities. And the kids are the ones who suffer.
You can read more information about the NFT auction here, and I will write again about how we will move forward after the auction ends.