The ‘Free Ross’ movement faces a setback, unwinding momentum built by Ulbricht’s recent heart-wrenching speech.
Days after recording a talk from prison for the 2021 Bitcoin Conference in Miami, darknet market pioneer Ross Ulbricht was reportedly moved from his regular cell to the Special Housing Unit, otherwise known as the SHU, or solitary confinement. Ulbricht, currently serving a term of double life in prison plus forty years for operating Silk Road, had agreed to speak with Bitcoin Magazine over the telephone, relaying a message to be presented later at the conference.
The news of Ulbricht’s transfer was first relayed by the Free Ross Twitter account, which is run by Lyn Ulbricht, Ross’ mother. It was not immediately clear why Ulbricht was transferred to solitary confinement, although Ulbricht himself mentioned that he was putting himself at risk by making the phone call.
During the speech broadcast in Miami, Ulbricht talked about having previously spent time in the SHU for as long as four months. “Let me start by telling you about the hole,” he said a few minutes into the recording. “I once spent four months straight in the hole… The hole can make you or break you and there was a time when it broke me.”
While some speculated on Twitter that Ulbricht was being punished for speaking out against the prison, the justice department or the unfairness of his sentencing, others pointed out that prisons have rules preventing prisoners from talking to people not already on their “approved” list. This is a plausible explanation of what occurred given that the phone had been passed off from somebody else to the interviewer at Bitcoin Magazine.
Regardless, the recent punishment was generally viewed as a senseless and cruel act by those in the Bitcoin community, with one person going so far as to describe it as “a complete travesty of justice.”
Ulbricht launched Silk Road – the first darknet market and the standard for countless others to follow – in February 2011 and operated it until it he was apprehended by law enforcement in October 2013. Despite an outpouring of support from the Bitcoin community, Ulbricht lost appeals to his sentence in 2017 and 2018, most recently being denied clemency by Donald Trump in 2020.
The theme of Ulbricht’s recording, initially played back to conference-goers on June 5th, centered around freedom, or the lack thereof. Several times during the emotionally-charged talk he repeated the phrase, “I want you to understand what it means to lose your freedom,” describing in harsh detail what it is like to live in prison with a life sentence.
“The irony is that I made Silk Road in the first place because I thought I was furthering the things I cared about. Freedom. Privacy. Equality. But by making Silk Road I wound up in a place where those things don’t exist.”
He also expressed remorse for the pain and suffering he caused others, asking that the community be compassionate and not forget his plight, or the plight of other non-violent offenders held in the prison system.
“These prisons are full of people who don’t deserve this… We need your help. We need you to care. We need you to look at the stark contrast between the freedom of bitcoin on the one hand and what it means to be locked in a cage until you die.”