MIKE ENEMIGO’S EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW WITH JAILHOUSE PUBLISHING OG AND OUTLAW FILMMAKER SETH FERRANTI
Seth Ferranti rocked the literary world in 2004 when he launched his publishing company, Gorilla Convict Publications, from inside a federal penitentiary, and began penning and publishing raw, uncensored tales about life inside America’s prison system, street legends, and other aspects of the criminal underworld. Not since Jack Abbott’s In the Belly of the Beast, George Jackson’s Soledad Brother, and Tookie Williams’ Life in Prison had about prison stories been told from such a true, insider’s perspective, without givin even half a fuck about who may or may not like its truth. The Gorilla Convict would go on to become an expert on kingpins from the 80s, like Kenneth “Supreme” McGriff, Fat Cat, Pappy Mason, Rich Porter and others. Seth Ferranti has been one of my mentors since before he even knew I existed, and today I am honored to be interviewing him so we can learn more about his story, including what he’s been up to since being freed from prison, and any jewels he’s willing to share for other, upcoming incarcerated authors.
Mike: I know you have a lot going on, making real boss moves in the business of storytelling, so I want to thank you for taking the time out to talk with me. I’ve been following your work since 2008 sometime. I’d been flirting with the idea of writing books, and ironically, my celly, who was cleaning out his locker, gave me an old Black Men magazine he was going to throw out. When I flipped through it, I saw an interview you’d done about your book Prison Stories. I cut out the interview for inspiration, and a couple months later I received my monthly Smooth magazine, where I saw a book review on Street Legends Volume 1. I immediately ordered both books because you were an example of someone who was doing what I had been thinking about doing. So, to now be interviewing you, having some of my work published on gorillaconvict.com, and networking with you in other ways, it’s an exciting career moment for me. I’m pointing this out not only to you, but to the upcoming prisoner authors, because I want to show them that dedication and determination will eventually pay off for them. It took 12 years, but now I’m rubbing shoulders with one of the guys I looked to for motivation with my writing career. This is a lesson I want to make sure they understand.
Okay, with that out the way, when did you start going down the road of crime?
Seth: To this day I still don’t consider myself a criminal and I never did. I didn’t carry a gun, I didn’t use violence, I didn’t rob anyone. All I did was sell cannabis and LSD, one substance that is basically legal now, and one that is being looked at for its therapeutic value. I always tell people that I’m not a criminal, I’m an outlaw because I broke laws that I thought were wrong. And now finally society has decided that these laws are wrong too. I was just a man before my time. A trendsetter. An OG of the weed game.
So, you start selling drugs, and just like we all do, you eventually get popped. What exactly were you charged with?
I was charged with a Continual Criminal Enterprise. That is a federal kingpin charge. But it was some bullshit. I was a small-time marijuana and LSD activist. Not a big drug dealer by any means, but you know how the feds and law enforcement do when you won’t snitch.
How much time did they give you for that?
My sentence in the feds was 304 months. I did 21 years in federal prison for a first-time, nonviolent offense. They call that justice. I call it injustice.
Your story’s even been told by Rolling Stone magazine and VICE. How did that come about?
I sent them lots of letters. It started in a journalism class. I just turned it into a feature on my case in Rolling Stone.
So, at 22 years old, even though you were a first-time, non-violent offender, you were sentenced to 25 years in federal prison. That’s crazy. How long into your journey did you start thinking about writing books? How did that all come about?
I was a creative person already. I wrote music and had dabbled in poetry as a teen. A modern-day Jim Morrison in my mind. Writing articles and books and then films was the logical progression. I started out doing articles and prison newsletters, sports mostly, but writing for the college correspondence courses that I was taking really helped me to step my game up. Eventually I got a master’s degree in prison.
What made you decide to start your own company, Gorilla Convict Publications?
I was mailing out manuscripts of my first book, Prison Stories, and got a lot of publishers and agents interested, but they wanted me to change this or that and I didn’t want to. I liked the book how it was so I researched self-publishing and put it out myself. This was when Teri Woods and Vickie Stringer were doing their thing with urban novels and I kind of followed their blueprint.
As I’ve mentioned, you were one of my biggest inspirations and motivators. I remember being in my prison cell and holding a couple of the books you’d written and published from your prison cell, god-knows-where in America. The feeling I got was inspiring. Then, when I read your books, they were written in a raw, informal tone, almost like how we would talk to each other on the compound, and not only did you write the books, you’d published them. For me, this is one of the biggest takeaways from that experience, and it was extremely valuable: execution. The difference between you and all these guys who sit around talking about shit all day, or have half-written manuscripts sitting in their lockers, is that you executed. You followed through and got your books to market. I felt the need to point this out because it’s a major jewel I got from you, and I want our prisoner-authors to understand this. Execution is key. Now, I had you to be this example for me. Who did you have? Who provided you with this example?
Jack Henry Abbott, George Jackson, Dannie Red Hogg Martin, Leonard Peltier, Mumia Abu Jamal – these guys were my literary inspirations. They showed me the way, but I was also locked up with an amazing man, writer, and prisoner, Michael Santos. He was my mentor. I learned a lot from him, but most of it was trial and error. I came up with plans and ideas and my wife, Diane, who ran Gorilla Convict while I was locked up, implemented them.
Yeah, but those prisoners were published by actual publishing houses. Established ones. I see your situation as being a little different. Not only did you follow through with completing your books, you bet on yourself and published them, too. This can be intimidating. You mentioned Teri Woods and Vickie Stringer, but they did it while in the free world. What gave you the courage?
I had 25 years in the feds. I was effectively dead to the outside world. I was angry As fuck because of my sentence. I used that anger to do what I did. I refused to be silenced. I reached out to the world and made a career from prison.
Okay, so you first published Prison Stories, then you came with Street Legends. I can understand getting the idea to do Prison Stories, being that you were in prison, but what gave you the idea to do Street Legends? I’d never seen a book done like that before.
F.E.D.S. and Don Diva magazine came out in the late 90s and were huge in prison. I started writing for them, and I had so much extra material because they were just magazines and had space limitations, I eventually decided to put out books telling these gangster stories.
When I first got locked up in the feds, I was around all these big mafia guys and Colombian cartel guys. I could reach out to my wife and get her to order me books on these guys, but the African American gangsters didn’t really get no play. I knew a lot of these dudes or their co-defendants. I was into rap music. I heard the gossip on the pound about these guys and I wanted to write their stories. Not in an exploitive way, but in a way that showed how these guys were targeted and hyped up but the feds and law enforcement. Not to say they were innocent – some of these dudes are bad guys – but some just got caught up in it. I wanted to give the story that the mainstream media didn’t cover.
Do you know any of the street legends you’d written about? Did you do time with any of them?
Not all of them, but I was with Supreme who gave me his blessing to write the book. A lot of the other guys, I was with their co-defendants. I tried to get as close to the source as possible. But most of my relationships with these guys were through the mail. Their co-dee’s or homeboys that were on the yard with me would vouch for me and they would do the interviews.
How do they feel about your writing?
I would say most liked it because I kept it real. Some guys didn’t like it because they had appeals or this or that, but most dudes respected what I wrote because I kept it within the code. I didn’t talk about stuff that they weren’t convicted of. I didn’t speculate or try to attach them to different murders that they may or may not have done.
Okay, a lot of prisoners and aspiring writers are going to read this, so I want to provide them with some type of jewels; some type of guidance. How did you promote your work? I’ve seen you everywhere. I know you’ve written for Don Diva, F.E.D.S., VICE, etc., how did you connect with these guys? How did you get them to work with you? How did you do things like get interviews in magazines such as Black Men, etc.?
I had like 50 magazine subscriptions when I was in. I would look at the masthead and send pitch letters to the editors. I was sending out 100 pitch letters a week. Staff and other prisoners used to think I was crazy mailing so many letters, but it paid off. I was always looking to buy stamps on the yard, not to gamble or for drugs, but to do mass mailings. I would promote my work and build relationships this way. That is the secret to my success. I am relentless.
What about getting bookstores to carry your books, like Wall Periodicals, Black Star, etc.? How’d you get that done?
I created a demand for my books and they came to me. I have always had a good relationship with Don Diva and they always promoted my books hard. They would compensate me for my articles with promotion and advertising. I never charged them a cent for any of the many cover stories I wrote for them. The advertising was my main concern. I did the same thing with VICE and the other places I wrote for when I was in. Pay me by advertising my work. That’s how it was all built.
So, if a prisoner wants to do what you’ve done, what are the biggest pieces of advice you’d give them?
Be relentless and don’t give up and don’t listen to other prisoners and staff that try to tell you what you can or cannot do. I did what I wanted. I was worried about my future. I’ve been locked up in the hole for investigation over 20 times for my writing. I’ve written books in the hole. I didn’t let the institution intimidate me. I told them ‘fuck you’, and now I am out reaping the rewards of my hard work while I was in.
Okay, so you were released from prison in Jan 2015. You’d pimped your prison time by using it wisely to educate yourself and build a career. Book-wise, what were the next steps for you? Did you immediately start a new project? Had you stacked up books to drop as soon as you’d be released? Did you start networking, doing appearances? What moves did you make to take your career to the next level?
I’ve been so busy with journalism and getting into film stuff that I haven’t written anymore books since I’ve been out. 2021 is the year, though. I’m dropping five titles on Gorilla Convict. Some titles by me, and some by other prisoners. Stuff that I’ve had ready for years, but just now getting around to publishing.
I’ve been networking and doing appearances like crazy pre-COVID. I just keep going. There is no overnight success. Other people will look at me and say I’m successful, but I’m not where I want to be. I am just beginning.
I hear you on that. Some people consider me successful, but I tell ‘em they have no clue, I’m just getting started. Have you ever thought about trying mainstream publishers again?
I just signed two book deals with mainstream publishers. A first for me. But mostly I’ve been concentrating on the film stuff.
What have been your most successful books?
Prison Stories and Supreme Team.
I saw you on Crime Watch Daily one day a few years back. I remember it showed you sitting at a huge desk like a boss with stacks of your books, and I think it showed you next to a Rolls Royce. Was that yours? I was extremely excited for you, and again, inspired. How’d you set that up?
It was just a photo shoot with the books, and it wasn’t my Rolls Royce. It was a friend’s. I drive a big truck. A Chevy Z71 off-road. Like I said, not where I want to be, but grinding to get there.
What would you say have been the biggest moves you’ve made in your writing career? Like, while trying to figure all this out, what did you do, maybe not even knowing how valuable it was going to be, that really made a big difference when it comes to your success?
I think just grinding and continuing to be productive and putting stuff out is the biggest move. Just networking and hooking up with different people. But the best is yet to come.
Okay, so you’re out, you’re making boss moves, and you get into filmmaking. What made you do this?
It was the next step for me as a writer. I am directing and doing acting now, too. I just love to create. I crave the accolades that come with people liking my work. That is the biggest thing for me, and film has the largest audience, so it was a logical progression.
And your biggest film to date is your documentary White Boy, about Detroit’s street legend White Boy Rick. I wanna see it so bad. What made you pick Rick, and what is your relationship like with him?
I’ve been writing articles about the injustice of Rick’s case and doing interviews with him through the mail since the mid-2000s. He’s out now. Getting his life together. We touch bases every now and then and I hope to work with him on some film projects.
White Boy came about after I was talking to this producer about different ideas for documentaries and White Boy [Rick] came up. The producer found the money for it and we made it. I learned a lot on that production and am grateful for the director, Shawn Rech, who took me under his wing. And I’m especially grateful to Rick who blessed the project. I picked Rick because his case was so fucked up, but also because I had a relationship with him and access to everyone we needed to interview for the doc.
And you got it picked up by STARZ? How did you pull that off? How’d you make those connections?
The director Shawn Rech had the connections. We enlisted Submarine as a sales agent and they made all the deals for us.
Have you written a book about White Boy Rick, or are you planning to? Because I need to read it, since I can’t see the film.
I got a book about Rick, but it will probably never come out. He’s out now and is working on his own book deal so I respect his right to get money off his story. Him giving me access and interviews has helped my career a lot and I have lots of others books to put together.
That’s official. I respect that. There are rumors that you have more documentaries on the way. Is this true? What are they about? When can we expect them to be available, and where will we be able to see them?
I got three docs in production: Walk Through Murder, which focuses on North St. Louis, post-Ferguson, and all the things that are going on currently. It’s almost ready. It will be out in 2021. Dope Gentleman, which is about the mafia and heroin, and The Secret History of the LSD Trade.
And what about the books you have on the way? What can you tell us?
I’m releasing Prison Stories 2 next year, Prison Basketball, a book on the Dirty White Boys prison gang that my friend who’s doing life wrote, and a few others on Gorilla Convict. Plus, I’m doing two books with mainstream publishers. One about a guy that got a life sentence, turned gay in prison, got a pardon from Obama, and now is straight on the street, and one about where hip-hop and organized crime meet.
Okay, so let’s sum up this amazing story about an amazing storyteller. You went from being sentenced to 25 years in federal prison for being a kingpin to writing books that you published via your own company, Gorilla Convict. You get out of prison, and you’re not only still writing books, you’re producing documentaries, one that is picked up by STARZ, a major network, and you have many, many more great projects on the way. That’s an amazing accomplishment. You’re a perfect example of how to use your prison time to create a legit way to make a living. You’re free, you’re respected and recognized, and you’re living the life, all without taking penitentiary chances. You’re a perfect example of someone who made a mistake, but learned from it, figured out who you are and what you’re truly meant to be, and goes on to live a successful life. I appreciate you for inspiring me and letting me know it can be done, and I appreciate you for talking to me. I’m going to do all I can to get this story passed all around the Belly of the Beast so other aspiring writers know this shit is real, we ain’t playin no games, and if they apply the same commitment, dedication and determination, they, too, can win. Fuck prison, you feel me? We hustle and win legally. There’s money to be made. We gettin money.
I’ve been publishing and getting money from books, but I am not rich or liquid by any means. It’s a struggle, but I love my work and have a passion for it. The same with the films. I just put out stuff that I like or that I would want to buy. If other people like it and buy it, that’s a plus. But I am getting into the cannabis thing, too, and would like my own brand. We will see.
Any last words, plugs or shout-outs?
Keep striving, go for what you want, and be relentless.
Mike Enemigo is America’s #1 incarcerated author, with over 25 books published and many more on the way. He specializes in writing about prison and street crime, as well as how-to books for prisoners. You can learn more about Mike Enemigo and his books at thecellblock.net, where you can also subscribe to his blog. Be sure to follow Mike on IG @mikeenemigo and Facebook/thecellblockofficial.