Fix Writer Held in Solitary Confinement
Seth Ferranti, The Fix's incarcerated correspondent, is currently in the "hole" at FCC Forest City, a federal prison in Arkansas. In a letter, he describes being held under 23-hour lockdown in the Special Housing Unit, in a six-by-nine-foot cell, since June 27. He is under investigation for an as-yet unspecified reason—but says that he believes that it is "retaliation" for articles he has written about addiction and recovery in prison. "The Bureau of Prisons doesn't like what I have been doing for The Fix," he writes, "so they have locked me in the hole under the pretense of SIS investigation. They have not notified me what I am in here for yet, but I have violated no rules, only written for publication." The SIS (Special Investigative Services), he explains, "is like the FBI in here. They investigate prison rule violations."
Ferranti has been in prison since 1993—when at the age of 22, he received a 25-year mandatory minimum sentence for a first-time, nonviolent drug offense. He has been in recovery from addiction for 10 years and has written regularly for The Fix since May 2012. He first informed us of problems related to his writing four weeks ago, saying he'd been "pulled up" by staff for failing adequately to disguise the identities of some sources in his recent article, "What Long-Term Recovery Looks Like From Prison." At his request, some identifying details in that story were then removed.
"Where I fucked up was when I mentioned that I was at FCC Forrest City," he writes now. "I got too specific and they zeroed in on me. Then I thought it was all good, but it spiralled from there. They started looking at all my other pieces, and I think what really did it was the smuggling series." His situation means he is currently ineligible to join the RDAP program, which could secure his early release in May 2014. "I'm good," he writes, "just bored with nothing to do. They won't give me any of my property besides a radio and shower shoes—no access to any of my research materials so I can spend the hours doing something productive."
The Fix asked the warden of FCC Forrest City and the South Central Regional Office of the Federal Bureau of Prisons for comment, but received no response. Prisoners are frequently permitted in practice to write for the media, so long as what they write is not deemed a security risk. But obtaining clarification of what is allowed and what is not, in halfway houses as well as prisons, is notoriously difficult. Julie Stewart, the founder of Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM), a nonprofit fighting for fairer sentencing laws, can't comment specifically on Ferranti's case, but says she finds it plausible that a prisoner might be held in the hole because of his writing, "if what he was writing was perceived as a threat." She adds, "Segregation should be used far more sparingly than it is, because it is so incredibly cruel."
Anyone wishing to inquire or express concern about Seth Ferranti (inmate 18205-083) can contact South Central Regional Office, Federal Bureau of Prisons at: SCRO/EXECASSISTANT@BOP.GOV