Christian Cipollini, Co-Founder of www.knockbacks.com and Seth Ferranti, True Crime Author & Founder of www.gorillaconvict.com who is currently incarcerated, share the story of how, “We have become business associates and great friends as well.”
Note they are separate entities, but do a joint collaboration on some projects, particularly the Gangland Legends line of shirts, posters and stickers
Christian had originally communicated with Seth for an interview he wanted to do. Once they began to talk, Seth told Christian about the Knokaround clothing imprint and its prohibition-era concepts and Seth expressed an interest in doing something similar for the subjects he often wrote about – the urban gangster.
So, between Seth’s company Gorilla Convict and Christian company Knock Backs Wear, they created a collaboration line of shirts, posters and stickers called the Gangland Legends series.
Christina J.: Why are you so passionate about the Mob?
Christian Cipollini: My interest in the mob grew from primarily from three things.
1) I was always a history buff. Although in school there isn’t enough time, resource or perhaps ‘interest’ for teaching about it… history has been impacted, for better or worse, by mob activity throughout the 20th century. I chose to research that part of history myself.
2) And perhaps even more of an impact was family members in law enforcement. I learned quite a bit from that perspective while growing up. Later, it was the newspaper headlines on John Gotti that got me fascinated. I wondered how a guy could be so charming on one hand, yet so powerful and sinister on the other. I consumed every book I could on the whole subject of mob history and in researching.
3) I found that there was so much ethnic diversity throughout organized crime. Italians, Jews, Black, and every ethnic group really. They all seemed to be involved and sometimes – even with each other. The reason most of these people became involved has at least one unified element – economics. Not an excuse for it; there’s always other opportunities out there. Maybe not easy to find, but exist. Nevertheless, economic and social dynamics behind organized crime is fascinating and should be better understood.
Christina J.: Seth, why are you locked up and how is it is that you can manage a business from prison?
Seth Ferranti : I am locked up for running a Continuing Criminal Enterprise for my part in an LSD conspiracy that distributed over 100,000 hits of acid to East Coast colleges. I was sentenced to 25 years in 1993 at the age of 22 and I have been in prison for almost 19 consecutive years. Under Bureau of Prison rules I am not allowed to own or run a business when I am locked up. I have always spent months upon months of time in the hole under investigation for Gorilla Convict and my books.
The BOP cannot and will not break me. There is a lot of grey area in the program statements and I use them to my advantage to do what I do. I founded Gorilla Convict but officially I do not run it or own it. I just have a lot of input into what goes on in the company and we will leave it at that because if the BOP reads this they might decide to lock me up in the hole again under SIS investigation for running a business. But what I do I do for my future and eventual release back into society is what I do, still I try to stay on the right side of the program statements and the law.
Christina J: So what makes your designs differ from another clothing company that can place the image of a mobster on a T-Shirt?
Christian Cipollini: Our little team at Knock Backs Wear had seen a few designs, here and there. Some cool, some not so great. What I had wanted to do since the early 90’s was turn moments or personalities of mob history into wearable art. The key elements though… the designs have to truly capture the folklore or historical significance, even if subtle. Not just throw mugshots on a shirt or poster. Old news headlines, dates, cityscapes, etc. Those were important to incorporate, and thanks to the many books I’ve read and the numerous friends I have in true-crime research – I’ve been able to come up some truly unique creations.
Christina J: Seth writing stories about what is going on in prison. Do you ever worry about being labeled and punished for being a snitch?
Seth Ferranti : Prisons is filled with snitches, anything I have written about has already been told to the prison authorities time and time again. I am just informing the general public of what goes on in here and I don’t speak on specifics or ongoing things and I always change the names to protect the guilty. I speak on my experiences and when I relate other peoples experiences I do it with their permission and I do it all within the convict and street code. In my writing I utilize the court records and newspaper accounts extensively. I don’t have to say what the court records and newspaper accounts say because it is all public record and speaks for itself. I just include what they say in my writing and then mix in the interviews I deal with the people in here, some anonymously and some not.
It is their story to tell and if they choose to tell it that is on them. I am just the facilitator. There is a line that we don’t cross and everything is within the code. I am not a historian, I do not work for law enforcement, I am not a whistleblower and I do not write for the mainstream media. I write for the flipside, I give the convicts a voice. I speak for the unheard. I tell the tales that the mainstream media can’t get because I am trusted to tell it the right way. You can tell these stories in a fashion that does not involve snitching. In reality most people don’t understand what snitching is.
When your grandmother calls the cops on the guys selling dope on the corner that is not snitching. If I see a drunk driver run over a little girl and kill her and I write down the license plate number and give it to the cops I am not a snitch. A snitch is a person who agrees to do criminal activity with you, in effect forming a verbal or non-verbal pact and then when he gets busted and the heat comes down he breaks week and rats you out to save his own ass. That is what a snitch is. A lot of people have it fucked up nowadays about what a snitch is. I have never and will never be labeled or punished for being a snitch because I am not and never have been, so to answer your question, no I don’t worry about it.
Christina J: You also write for Mob Candy, How did you get associated with that?
Christian Cipollini: I have been freelance writing for about a decade, mostly entertainment and human-interest pieces. Once I began moving into organized crime stories, it was timing. I happened to see www.mafialifeblog.com needed some contributors. Mob Candy is the print version and recently the publisher was in need of articles, so we talked and I’ll have a few cool articles coming soon. My specialty is finding lesser-known, or off-the-wall little facts and theories relating to mobsters particularly of the prohibition era, but I have also done some fascinating interviews with contemporary kingpins and former mob associates, etc.
Christina J: You wrote a great article about, The Women of Organized Crime-New Book Tells Tales of Female Power. Do you think this content is equal to what we watch on VH1 Mob Wives? Why or why not?
Christian Cipollini: Good question. In that article I interviewed the author Ron Chepesiuk, and he has been researching true crime subjects for years. He delved into some infamous and a few little known individuals that truly shaped the evolution of organized crime. The difference between the people in that book and what we see on reality television? Well, there’s certainly a difference in my opinion. While the shows are entertaining, and even a few of the stars actually have historically relevant backstories, let’s be honest… it’s reality television and not exactly what I would consider a thorough examination of the most important women of organized crime history.
Christina J: Are you and Seth working on any documentaries or movies? Please explain.
Christian Cipollini: Seth and I have discussed some plans after his release, and I know he has a lot up his sleeve, as do I. I would certainly like to take some of our individual and collaborative projects to new levels in the near future.
Seth Ferranti: As Christian stated we both have plans to do a lot of things. We have ideas that we will bring to completion. It will just be a matter of finding the proper funding which I believe will be no problem given my track record and what I have accomplished from in here. So be on the lookout for documentaries and films from us.
Christina J: A majority of politicians participate with organized crime. Why don’t they service jail time?
Christian Cipollini: Corruption comes in many forms, and politics is, by nature, a structure that almost invites it. Today there likely isn’t as much ‘mob’ influence as there was even as recently as the 1990’s (Whitey Bulger and his brother for example). Going back to the prohibition era though, the mob was a powerful group with a lot of cash allotted specifically for ‘buying’ political and/or legal friendship. Guys like Frank Costello and Meyer Lansky were masters of this art. They had plenty of takers because of the cashflow and the mob could help them with votes or settling union issues, and so on. After the mob’s heyday, some politicians did pay the piper so to speak. There are so many dynamics to this form of corruption… we could discuss it all day! But there’s really one answer… money. It will make even the most ‘upstanding’ citizens do the unthinkable, sometimes.
Christina J: Your website(s) are filled with celebrating, informing and educating the audience of the mobster world. What are the main misconceptions you want them to acknowledge?
Christian Cipollini: At our www.knockbacks.com, we want to inform and entertain, absolutely. And of course we want our products to be fascinating, truly unique and frankly look cool too. Our original website plan was actually to cover all sorts of retro topics, and we still have that intention. My interest in mob history – bringing it to wearable and decorative goods – I had the original idea for shirts in 90′s, but it wasn’t until 2010 when we started the website that I actually, finally began putting that dream into effect. Thanks to my wife for reminding me of that old idea! So, our first imprint became Knokaround Apparel. There has been a romantic fascination with the mob in movies, books, plays, music and even our shirts. It’s a form of pop culture, undeniably. I don’t want to celebrate the so-called ‘evils’ some of these subjects have spread through society, but I do want our products to get the point across that certain people and events involved in shaping our society, economics and pop culture – were in fact gangsters.
Seth Ferranti: I set out some time ago, 2005 in fact, to start and run a website that had stories, articles and features on stuff that I would want to read about. When I first came to prison I was reading all the prison books I could. Then I moved onto true crime books about the Mafia and Colombian cocaine cartels.
In prison I was hearing a lot of stories about the black and urban gangsters that had been named in hip-hop but when I tried to find books on them I couldn’t find much. So I decided to start writing and telling the stories myself. That is what I do I am a story teller. I give these dudes a forum to express themselves and give a real accounting of what they did or what went on instead of the government line that the mainstream media puts out there.
They would have you believe that every new case they prosecute is the biggest drug dealer case ever but that is just not true. With my writing I am trying to give a human face and nature to these dudes that have been made legends in their hoods. I am trying to tell the real story and show how everything transpired and why. Because the feds would have you believe that all these dudes are just evil, evil, evil and a lot of the times it is just not true. They are just people that made bad choices and now have to live with the consequences of those choices.
We will keep expanding the Urban Gangland line with more T-shirts, posters and stickers profiling the black gangsters I have written about on gorillaconvict.com and in my Street Legends series. Plus I have many more books on these street icons coming out. So check out the blog at gorillaconvict.com and order the books in eBooks or print versions.
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