Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Straight From The Soul: An E-Conversation With Seth "Soul Man" Ferranti

Seth "Soul Man" Ferranti

By Scott Tre

I was once told that you can't learn about "the hood" by association, you have to have lived it.  The same can be said for just about any harsh or extreme experience there is to be had in this world.  Voyeurs hope to gain overstanding by consuming reference materials and anecdotal advice from those in the know.  While such knowledge is valuable, a true ground zero perspective trumps all of that.  Being able to intellectualize and categorize the experience of others is no substitute for first hand knowledge.  For a very long time, even a voyeur's view of organized crime was an unobtainable vantage point.  Now, information on ethnic mafias past and present increases exponentially in the blink of an eye.  The internet has allowed for information not only to be provided but verified at the speed of light.

Seth "Soul Man" Ferranti is in the eye of the storm, or rather the belly of the beast.  His status as a prisoner of America's never ending war on drugs allows him the sort of access to organized crime history that voyeurs and enthusiasts could only dream of.  Seth puts this access to amazingly productive use.  He is serving out a 25 year sentence on a kingpin conviction for LSD.  This allows him a good deal of free time and provides him with the sort of insight that is lacking in most crime related literature.  While spectators wonder what exactly transpired between Wayne "Silk" Perry and Alberto "Alpo" Martinez, Seth Ferranti has actually reached out to those that knew them personally.  Gorilla Convict Publications allows him to spread the knowledge via books such as Prison Stories and Street Legends volumes 1 & 2. 

I recently corresponded with Seth via e-mail about life in prison and the mystique of legendary street figures such as Frank "Black Caesar" Matthews.  As a layperson who possesses a casual familiarity with street lore, I found myself amazed at the resourcefulness and clarity of perspective that Seth brings to the table.  One can only imagine what he may go on to accomplish upon his release.  Now that I have gotten through my self-aggrandizing preamble, I will allow you to be enlightened by the gospel according to the Soul Man.

Scott Tre: Those who have been convicted of serious crimes due to testimony by government informants see snitching as dishonor of the worst sort.  Some see that as ironic given that society as a whole views criminality itself as dishonorable.  Since there is supposedly “no honor among thieves”, they see no logic in the idea of one class of criminal being looked down upon by the other.  What is your take on that?  Do you see that perspective as unfair or uninformed?

Seth Ferranti: My take on that is that if you're willing to do the crime than you have to be willing to do the time. No one likes a rat. In the corporate world they call it a whistle blower and no one likes a whistle blower either. For the police they have the blue wall of silence same as in the military. When you are growing up you parents tell you not to tell on your brothers and sisters. This is something that is ingrained into the fabric of our culture, and especially when you lead a life of crime it is implicit that all the parties know that they are engaging in criminal activity and as part of that pact it is agreed that all parties will hold their own weight no matter what happens. So when one breaks weak and decides he can't do the time and cooperates with the authorities then he is a snitch because he betrayed his comrades that he was engaging in illegal activity with.

Someone's grandmother who calls the cops on the dudes selling crack on the corner is not a snitch. She has no vested interest in their activity and is performing and behaving as a respectable member of society is expected to. Criminals are not respected members of society. They are the underside of it. A lot of people got it fucked up as to what a snitch really is. If you witness an accident that kills a child and you write the plate number down and give it to the cops you are not a snitch. That is the right thing to do, the human thing to do. The same as the grandmother situation given above. If you engage in criminal activity and get busted and then roll over on your comrades or bring people into it who did no business with you but that you know engage in illegal activity then you are a rat of the highest order. So I see that perspective as uninformed. Look at all the cover-ups and stuff like that in the police forces, military or government- when those people hold true to their comrades its seen as honorable or admirable. Its the same thing on the criminal side.

Wayne "Silk" Perry

Scott Tre: Wayne Perry was obviously not a man to be trifled with and had no mercy for snitches.  He said he had reasons for keeping Alpo alive, and Alpo himself said that he was worth more to Wayne alive than dead.  If Wayne always sensed weakness in Alpo as he and so many others claimed, why do you think he allowed him to live?  Doesn’t it make more sense to eliminate a weak individual from your circle regardless of what his perceived worth may be?  Why not just force him to give up whatever he has that may be of value, and then cut ties with him?

Seth Ferranti: Alpo had the flow of cocaine from New York. He was flooding the city with coke. I think Wayne Perry took the long view instead of the short view. He was going to get all he could out of dude. If he would have ganked him and merc'ed him on the first deal or the first time he saw a lot of coke that would have been all he got and than the flow would have been dead. That is why he allowed him to live so he could eat and get money and so his crew and all the people around him could eat and get money. It’s like a water faucet when you turn it on the water flows but if you destroy the faucet then what? No one gets a drink. Sometimes a dude like Wayne Perry might think he is smarter than or can out hustle the weaker dude like Alpo. I see it like this, two snakes doing a deadly dance, it’s just a matter of time before one strikes.

Alberto "Alpo" Martinez

And for everyone’s claims that Alpo was weak, he was a killer. We can say he broke weak and didn’t follow the street code but just because you're a rat doesn't mean you're not a killer. I have seen dudes that are rats and gumps and killers all combined in prison. Dudes know what they are but they leave them alone because they are not worth the trouble. Realize this is not the norm and extremely rare but these types of dudes are around. And who is to say that Alpo wouldn't have killed Wayne if he felt his use was at an end. It was bound to happen one way or another if the feds hadn't stepped in and cased them up.

Like I said if Wayne Perry would have cut ties with Alpo, robbed him or killed him and took what he could from him the flow of cocaine into his city would have stopped. You have to remember this was right after Rayful Edmond got busted so dudes in the city were used to getting money and selling coke- this was right in the middle of the crack era- and when the flow from Rayful stopped Alpo stepped in and dudes in the city including Wayne needed that flow of cocaine to conduct business as usual and Alpo knew this. So you have to look at all the circumstances involved. It is why today dudes on the street will buy drugs from a dude they know is hot because he has the flow and they need the drugs to make money.

Frank "Black Caesar" Matthews

Scott Tre: Aside from Easy Money by Donald Goddard and Gangsters of Harlem by Ron Chepesiuk, information on Frank "Black Caesar" Matthews is extremely hard to come by. Photos of him are even rarer, yet you seem to have access to both. The second volume of your Street Soldiers series contains a few details about him that those other books do not. How do you come by such information?

Seth Ferranti: I had read the Easy Money book awhile ago and was very intrigued by this drug dealer from the late 60s and early 70s who seemingly made 100s of millions of dollars way back then. In the late 90s I started asking older dudes in here that I met about Frank Matthews and you'd be amazed at the stories they told me. I couldn’t even use all the information I got on him. Dudes from all different areas knew about him and had different stories about him. He was a truly nationwide guy, the biggest drug dealer of his times and of our times.

It’s easy for me though because I am in prison and if I need to know about a guy I can just walk down the block and find a dude from a certain area and with my reputation dudes are willing to talk to me because they know who I am and they know what I am about. It was harder to find dudes who knew about Frank Matthews because it was so long ago but I am very friendly with the old-timers in here because I have found that they have the best stories from the past and most of them like to talk about how it was back in the day and the legends of their times.

So that is how I come by the information, I guess if you are not in prison it would not be as easy as it is for me. But it also helps that I have 17 years in and have an impeccable reputation which precedes me. So it is a combination of all those things that let me get the stories that I get. I have access to people that normal writers would never have access to and I have been locked up with the street legends themselves, their co-defendants, their homeboys and relatives. I have the type of inside access and hear the stories that you couldn't hear unless you were in prison. That is why my work comes across as it does.

Scott Tre: You mention in Street Soldiers Volume 2 that Frank was likely killed after he fled and his money confiscated.  Is it really that unlikely that he simply disappeared with his money and has been living off of it ever since?  Wouldn't the mafia have left his dead body as an example to others if they had really killed him?

Seth Ferranti: It just seems unlikely that the FBI, DEA and US Marshalls couldn't find him. With all the informants that they had its amazing that  they never got any information of his whereabouts. I hope he is still out there. But with stautue of limitations who could have come out of hiding. And if he had money he could have fought the case. It just seems highly unlikely but the possibility exists. It is kind of like the mythical hustlers dream though, escape into the world with all the money.

A lot of dudes I talked to said he was deep in with the Italian Mob and at that time the Mafia was probably more powerful than the government. The feds had just started their war on the Mafia and they hadn't destroyed them as yet. So the Mafia had a lot of power and it makes sense that they could have had him whacked and took his money. Jimmy Hoffa just up and disappeared and a lot of others too. The Mafia used public killings but a lot of times they just made people disappear, no bodies equaled no case. And Frank hadn't crossed the Mafia but they might have been scared that he was going too.

Back in those days organized crime figures would work with dirty cops and hand them fringe players or their competition in order to keep operating. That was the status quo. With Frank having law enforcement contacts on his payroll and a federal case it could have spooked the mob of what he might say or do. When a person has a lot of money and is accustomed to living a certain way it is hard to give up. Not to say thats what Frank Matthews was about, theres no proof to say that, but humans are creatures of convenience, so it is in the realm of possibility.

But in reality its all speculation, dudes can say this and dudes can say that. They can offer their opinion but no one really knows the truth. That is why the legend is so mystifying and why Frank's mystique and iconic status in the chronicles of gangster lore and hip-hop circles is still what it is. He personifies the hustlers dream and the ideal of the gangsters paradise and for real I hope he is somewhere living off of his money and not dead and buried in a ditch somewhere or under some concrete slab.
Scott Tre: In your opinion, what movie or television series offers the most realistic depiction of prison life?  Which one offers the most unrealistic or laughable?

Seth Ferranti: I have never seen OZ because we don't get HBO or Showtime or whatever its on. I watched prison break a couple of times. Some aspects of that were real but when they try to show these relationships between prison staff and prisoners they take it a little too far. A lot of the movies like American Me or Shawshank Redemption are really dramatized to show the most extreme aspects of prison which do happen but the norm is more routine and monotonous. Violence and rape does happen but it’s not like its happening all the time. Its usually isolated incidents that are much rarer than popular culture and like would have you believe. But that is what sells. The violence and the rape are the extreme so that is what entertainment pushes.

George Jackson

You can get a more realistic view of prison life by reading books like Hothouse by Pete Early, In the Belly of the Beast by Jack Henry Abbot, Soledad Brother by George Jackson, any of Edward Bunkers books and my own prison stories. T.V. and movies are dramatized for greater effect. The reality is much more mundane. A lot of these movies and T.V. shows are just going for shock value. Like with all this gang stuff and Nazi and white pride stuff. I have been in for 17 years and yes you see it but the characters and all the action is really exaggerated in the movies and TV shows but that is entertainment.

Scott Tre: If you could change one thing about the way prison and prisoners are perceived in popular culture, what would it be?

Seth Ferranti: You always hear a lot of stuff like don't drop the soap and there gonna put you in a cell with Big Bubba like rape is real prevalent in here and for real it's not. You have regular people out there in the world who think prison is the god awful hell but its not and the feds and police use that type of misinformation to get people to cooperate. So that is something that I would like to see changed. Like you only have a bunch of animals in here. Half the people in prison right now probably don't even deserve to be. They are only incarcerated because of the war on drugs and draconian sentences that the feds are giving out.

Plus I hate it when you see in the media that Mike Vick or T.I. were in prison and they talk about they were doing time in the federal pen. Vick was at a camp with no fence and maybe a couple of 100 people max...mostly snitches and white collar crime people. T.I. was in a low security facility which is filled with pedophiles and snitches and white collar crime dudes. They make it seem like they were doing hard time in the pens with the worst of the worst but the media fails to differentiate between the levels in the prison system. Sure the maxes and highs are rough and there is much more violence but at each level as it goes down the violence is less and they get much more petty for other types of stuff. Like in a pen they don't give a fuck about you having your shirt tucked in or your bed being made, dudes there are doing life and will kill another prisoner or a cop if the need arises. But in a low where prisoners have the most to lose and are getting ready to go home they sweat all the little small petty stuff because the violence isn't as prevalent.  So when you go down in level because you never got in trouble in the higher level places in fact it gets more restrictive in certain ways. But all the time in the media you see that like so and so was in the federal penitentiary and most of the times it’s not like that.

Scott Tre: There are lots of authors putting out so-called “urban literature” these days.  What sets you apart from the pack?

Seth Ferranti: I wouldn't even say I even write urban literature. I write true crime non-fiction about crimes and criminals. The shit I’m doing is real. It’s not street lit or made up fiction. I am writing about dudes from the urban worlds though...dudes that have been mythologized in hip-hop. These are the black John Gottis and Pablo Escobars. The dudes that were featured in B.E.T.'s American gangster series are the dudes I’m writing about. I’m trying to take these stories mainstream and tap into the organized crime market that the mafia stories and Colombian cocaine cartel tales dominate. These genres have become popular culture and been represented in numerous books, TV shows, documentaries and movies. With the black gangsters from the crack era I am trying to do the same thing. So that is what sets me apart.

I am at the forefront of this movement. I have been writing for Don Diva and F.E.D.S since day one. I am locked up with the criminals that I write about. No one has got a book deal from being in don diva or feds but I am trying to change that. I am trying to show with my books and articles that these stories can entertain the masses. They just have to be presented in the right way.

Scott Tre: Each volume of your Street Legends series seems to follow a particular theme.  How do you select who gets profiled in a particular volume?  What are the requirements?  Have you ever had any issues with conflicting information while doing your research?  If so, how do you resolve such issues?
Seth Ferranti: The first Street Legends were Death Before Dishonor and volume 2 was Original Gangsters. With the third volume I’m focusing solely on the supreme team. It’s titled The Supreme Team: The Birth of Crack and Hip-Hop, Prince's Reign of Terror and the Supreme/50 Cent Beef Exposed. This book will go into explicit detail of how the Supreme Team began its metamorphosis and Supreme's emergence back onto the street and into the hip-hop scene before reentering his life of crime. I have certain dudes and stories I want to write about. I have folders of research materials and interviews I have conducted with dudes over the years of my incarceration. I just put together a group of guys that I think fit together.

Like Street Legends Vol. 4 will be called Infamous Gangsters and will feature Fat Cat, Rayful Edmonds and Alpo- all high profile snitches. So I pick dudes that fit together for different reasons. The only requirements are that the dudes being profiled have to have a big name that rings loudly either in hip-hop or in prison or the criminal underworld. I try to give dudes their props and let the world hear the stories that I have been hearing all these years in here. That’s what dudes in here do. They sit around and talk about the gangsters from their hometowns...about who is the baddest, who had the most money and who killed the most people. If I get conflicting info I usually put it all in. Sometimes what the court papers say and what the newspapers say and what really went on are different so I cover all angles.

I’ll give you an example: a lot of times on these big cases the feds go into one part of a town where there is a lot of violence and drug dealing. They round up dudes from all different crews, even dudes who are beefing with each other and try to get them to snitch on each other so they can make their case. Whoever doesn't snitch gets cases put on them. Like they are all in one crew when in reality it might have been two or three different crews and the dudes on the case were enemies in the street but now they are co-defendants and fighting the case together against the snitches from all their individual crews. The papers and court records don't tell you this neither do the newspaper articles but if you talk to the dudes from the crews or the areas involved they know and can set the record straight. I try to put in as much correct information as possible even if its contradictory because one mans truth can be a lie to another man.

*Special thanks to Seth for providing me with rare photos of Frank Matthews from an old issue of Jet Magazine.  You can purchase all of Seth Ferranti's books over at www.gorillaconvict.com




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