Lessons from a life sentence – Learning from Ross Ulbricht

…here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.” 

John 16 v 33

I came across Ross Ulbricht for the first time last year in Nathaniel Popper’s Digital Gold, a book on the evolution and diffusion of the pioneering application of the blockchain technology, Bitcoin.

The book detailed the beginnings and the ending of Silk Road, the very first marketplace built on Bitcoin. Ross Ulbricht had created Silk Road; he was a seeker, looking for freedom by studying Eastern philosophy and using designer drugs.

“Has anyone seen Silk Road yet? It’s kind of like an anonymous amazon.com. I don’t think they have heroin on there, but they are selling other stuff,” was his first post on Bitcointalk, a forum for bitcoin enthusiast.

Silk Road was the Amazon store of the dark web. The twenty-six-year-old Ross had set up the marketplace to cater to everything not sold on ordinary online markets, mainly illegal drugs.

After some successful years of Silk Road, the FBI eventually tracked down, arrested, and sentenced Ross to life in prison in 2013, criminal charges including “money laundering, computer hacking, and conspiracy to traffic narcotics.” At the time of his arrest, he was worth around $28.5 million.

Now, this is not the post to praise or criticize his choices. I don’t know him personally; I know only a little about his backstory.

But I’m particularly interested in the letter he wrote some months ago from the Special Housing Unit (a solitary confinement; the place Lincoln Burrows spent his prison term while awaiting death row in Prison Break Season 1) talking about the “five keys to inner strength I’ve learned from five years in prison.”

There are principles in his letter that can help each of us as we journey through life and walk through the shadow of death – as we’ll all do, either through choices or chances.

The letter says:

1. …that patience means doing what you can today then letting go. It means settling into this moment and letting things come in their own time.

2. …that you should fight for who you love, for what matters, for what you believe in, like your life depends on it.

3. …that it is better to focus on feelings of love and kindness and imagine them radiating out and healing those who had hurt you.

4. …that it is irrational to forsake the hope, love and joy that faith brings because it gives you the strength to fight and ultimately win.

5. …that the antidote to suffering, the path out of it, is acceptance and gratitude.

“Acceptance turns ‘I can’t take another day in this hell’ into ‘I am where I am, and yes, it hurts.’

Gratitude goes a step further: ‘At least I have clean water and enough food. At least I’m alive and surviving. Thank you.’ ”

Feranmi is a financial writer and SEO consultant. He's part of the team at Chaka.ng - Your Passport to Trade US, Nigerian & International Stock Markets.