Even if you’re really into cryptocurrency, the name Lyn Ulbricht probably doesn’t ring a bell, but her son Ross Ulbricht’s name probably does. That’s because Ross is currently serving 40 years in prison on top of a double life sentence for being the founder of the infamous black market website Silk Road. According to court documents, Silk Road customers made well over 1.2 million transactions on the marketplace. However, as much as the general public perceives Silk Road as facilitating transactions for mass amounts of weapons and hard-core drugs, the reality is most transactions were for very small amounts of ‘soft drugs’ like marijuana, according to a Carnegie Mellon University study.
Bitcoin Influencers Supporting Ulbricht Family
With her son in the middle of serving time behind bars for the sixth consecutive year, Lyn finds herself in Toronto at Canada’s largest annual blockchain conference, Untraceable’s Futurist Conference, advocating on behalf of her son, hoping he’ll be granted clemency by .U.S President Donald Trump. An online petition currently lists nearly 200,000 signatures and counting. Several notable figures in the cryptocurrency world including Litecoin creator Charlie Lee, billionaire investor Tim Draper and venture capitalist and early adopter Roger Ver are lending their support. Politicians, movie stars and prominent legal figures are also lending their support.
In talking to Ms. Ulbricht, it’s easy to get the sense that her son is just an idealist and libertarian. She describes his early life as relatively normal, saying she didn’t even know about her son’s interest in technology:
“I didn’t think of him as someone who was interested in technology persay, but he was interested in Bitcoin because he was a freedom guy. He worked on the Ron Paul [Presidential] campaign. He was very interested in Bitcoin as a means to monetary freedom for people. He was into reading Austrian economics and [Ludwig] von Mesis and other thinkers in that realm. That was really what he was passionate about.”
Ross Ulbricht is still a freedom guy, but these days his ideas on freeing people have as much to do with freeing himself as they do with freeing people to make their own choices. Ulbricht, his mother and his sister Cally are hoping that building the second-largest online petition for clemency on Change.org will allow the website owner formerly known by the screen name Dead Pirate Roberts to spend his 36th birthday at home, as he expresses in a tweet from earlier this year:
Well…I’m turning 35 in prison today. pic.twitter.com/9dKsIEm1zS
— Ross Ulbricht (@RealRossU) March 27, 2019
Supreme Court Appeal Dismissed
Whether or not Ulbricht will get his wish within the next year, or at any point during his prison sentence remains to be seen. But the fact President Donald Trump and members of his office are carrying out campaign promises related to prison reform and granting many criminals commuted sentences and outright pardons perhaps provides some hope. Getting Trump to understand the merits of a potential clemency package Ulbricht’s mother is working on would be a huge step forward in setting her son free. That’s not just because Trump is more likely to listen than presidents before him may have been. It’s also because the .U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear Ulbricht’s appeal in June of last year.
The appeal brings into question constitutional laws related to Fourth and Sixth Amendment protections relating to the privacy rights of the individual, and the ability of a judge to support a sentence rather than a jury. No fewer than 21 different organizations from across the political spectrum appear on five amicus briefs supporting the Supreme Court petition.
Without the ability to appeal directly, Lyn Ulbricht and her family are now left to their own resources. The family’s home was sold years ago to help pay for legal fees. Today, home is in Colorado, where the Silk Road founder is currently behind bars while mom and sister remain in close contact. By all accounts, he’s behaving like a model citizen, getting along with prison staff and fellow inmates. Ross is helping others graduate from high school, learn yoga, understand physics, and write letters home to loved ones.
But the one man whose word counts the most to the Ulbricht’s right now is not exactly a fan of Bitcoin or cryptocurrencies. President Trump shares his thoughts in this tweet:
I am not a fan of Bitcoin and other Cryptocurrencies, which are not money, and whose value is highly volatile and based on thin air. Unregulated Crypto Assets can facilitate unlawful behavior, including drug trade and other illegal activity….
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 12, 2019
Perhaps not surprisingly, many pundits in the crypto space actually believe having President Trump even mention Bitcoin is a win in the long run. Coinbase.com CEO Brian Armstrong didn’t waste much time bringing his enthusiasm to light:
Achievement unlocked! I dreamt about a sitting U.S. president needing to respond to growing cryptocurrency usage years ago. “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win”. We just made it to step 3 y’all. https://t.co/N3tzUKELaK
— Brian Armstrong (@brian_armstrong) July 12, 2019
Whether or not Bitcoin purists win in the end, Lyn Ulbricht is hoping increasing adoption of cryptocurrencies means that blockchain influencers gain a greater appreciation for the fact that her son’s website acted as a catalyst in proving the value that both Bitcoin and its underlying blockchain are providing to society. She also hopes that this may inspire prominent figures in the space to speak louder and advocate for the clemency of her son.
“…if it weren’t for Ross and his vision, very few people would have heard of Bitcoin and many of the people who have become wealthy would not be wealthy if not for Ross. I’m asking them please don’t forget him. He helped make this possible and now we need your help.”
Still even with his mother’s pleas. It seems the trending Bitcoin news of the day has more to do with the price fluctuation and the President’s ongoing Twitter trolling of cryptocurrencies and Facebook Libra than it does the liberty and freedom of a first-time offender of non-violent crimes.
At the end of the day, it’s up to enthusiasts and justice warriors themselves to decide whether or not to sign the petition or change the focus of the conversation. The Ulbricht family is certainly hoping there’s enough support within the blockchain community, the government and society at large to let the fallout of Silk Road birth a new, brighter and freer future for its founder.
If you’d like to support the cause and help make the case for Ross’ release, please sign the petition.