Ryan Leone knows about crashing and burning. The 35-year-old Los Angeles, California resident started doing heroin in high school and spent a good chunk of his teenage years in programs for troubled adolescents. He went on to attend a writing internship program outside of Boston but was expelled for more drug use. Ryan started getting into trouble with the law, attended over 25 rehabs, spent time homeless, and found a little success producing for Spike TV in his early twenties — while he was still heavily addicted to heroin and crack. He lost that gig because of his drug problem and started selling drugs on a pretty big scale. He was flipping pounds of heroin; kilos of cocaine and MDMA. Eventually, the feds busted him for conspiracy to distribute heroin and Ryan was sentenced to five years.
“They sensationalized it of course and said that I was part of a cartel.” Leone tells Gorilla Convict. “The people I was getting the drugs from had ties to the Mendozas Clan but I guess I didn’t pay attention to the scope of it.” Ryan did his first fed term at MDC LA, FCI Victorville , and FCI Oxford, but he has been to prison twice since then. Once for a non-conviction DUI that the feds called a probation violation. They sent Ryan to USP Lompoc for three months. That was interesting because Ryan met and spent time with Big Meech. The third time, a state charge, was for pimping and pandering. “That’s a crime that I still maintain my innocence on.” Leone says. “I was sentenced to 3 years in the California state system and 8 months for the fed violation. I served 16 months and missed the birth of my son.” Ryan was released in March of 2019 and hasn’t looked back. Gorilla Convict talked to the author/filmmaker/producer about writing his first novel in prison, having his story featured in Penthouse magazine, becoming digital famous on youtube, and what else is on the horizon. Here’s what he had to say.
You wrote your first novel in prison, what have you learned in retrospect when considering that situation?
My first book, Wasting Talent, kept me sane while I was in prison. It was my day dream to a better life. I would fantasize about what the book could do for me if it was published: I’d be catapulted to fame and fortune. But most importantly I looked at it as a chance for vindication for my family. The shit that I put them through weighed on me. I felt like I had a moral obligation to turn my harsh-life lessons into art. It helped me get away from the hellacious day-to-day of prison life as well. At Oxford, we weren’t allowed to use computers unless we were attending college correspondence classes. I really wanted to use the computer to work on my novel so I had my dad sign me up for creative writing classes that I never did. I wrote most of that book in the computer lab of the prison pretending to take the courses. I actually reject the notion of creative writing instruction. I think it’s the kind of thing you should teach yourself. In my experience, the best artists are self-taught. I look back at my first term as my education. I read tirelessly and subsequently left prison with a command on the craft.
What was it like being a creative in prison? How did you have to carry it but also how did you remain true to yourself?
It was interesting. The first term it was my lifeline to sanity. It provided the fantasy and faith to keep moving forward. I knew I was going to leave with something I created and I had all the time in the world to perfect it. By my second time in— the book had been published already and a lot of people in prison knew who I was. I find it paradoxical that it worked kind of against me. A lot of people just thought I was some pretentious writer fuck. As you know, people in prison tend to project their own inner failures. As much as I wanted to be praised there were always people that didn’t like me because of the book. They assumed I thought I was better than them for it. That couldn’t be further than the truth. By my third term I was careful not to mention the book if people didn’t know about it. It’s kind of like when you have a verbose vocabulary. You tend to water it down when you’re talking to people that don’t. You don’t want to seem patronizing or condescending. I still worked on creative stuff in prison but it was less out—in-the open the last couple of times. I wrote and didn’t tell anyone about it for the aforementioned reasons.
What was it like when the Penthouse article came out and where were you?
The Penthouse article remains my favorite article ever written about me. It was written during a very confusing time for me. I was out on bail for my pimping case, my partner was pregnant and I knew I was going to miss our first child’s birth, and I just got two deals: one for my documentary and one for the film version my first book. It was too much and I had a public, humiliating breakdown. It created a sexy story for the press: “fuck up fucks up with some good stuff maybe too.” I got covered by a lot of magazines and papers but seeing my name on the cover was something I can’t even articulate. It was a bittersweet triumph for me. It came out while I was in jail waiting to go to my third prison term. My fiancé sent me a photocopied version of it. On top of being a magazine I jerked off to for many years in my youth… Penthouse always had cool counter culture content. And you wrote it, a writer I respect immensely, that knew what I was going through better than most. That article remains one of my favorite achievements to date.
You’ve blown up on Youtube whats it like being a youtube star?
I don’t even know where to begin so I’ll start with gratitude to you and Al Profit and all the people the have supported me. You changed my life and I’m eternally indebted. I had paroled from prison and it was hard to find work. We were on welfare and having to go to food banks to feed ourselves. I found a job as a telemarketer and had to commute two hours each way to make $15 an hour. It wasn’t even enough to pay our rent and I felt like I could do better — I wasn’t making much from book royalties and had fucked up both of my film deals. One day my boss was yelling at me at work. I just got up and quit. I had no prospects for another job and an infant to feed. My fiancé was so worried. We didn’t know what we were going to do. Call it Devine intervention or a karmic response but the day after I quit two-life changing things happened: I got on Al Profit’s show and I was invited up to Johnny Depp’s house. I have not worked one day for someone else since then. That was over. A year ago now. It allowed me to connect with a larger audience. People come up and recognize me in public. I’ve had a couple projects financed and scripts sold. None of that would have happened if YouTube wasn’t in the picture. It’s been great and I thank you, Al Profit, Big Herc, Sinister Monopoly, Simon Rex, and Death at 23 and 1. Thanks to everyone that has watched and supported me.
Talk about your doc and when its coming out?
When I got out of prison Idiot Savant, my documentary, was dead. I had fucked it all up. I ended up switching managers. My new manager is Jose Montalvn Jr. He was Boston George’s manager and he owns Tremendous Films inc. I came to him with my head down and he believed in me to manage me and use his production studio to finish the movie. I was able to find the financing. I fired the director and now I’m directing it myself. Jim Uhls, screenwriter of Fight Club is officially signed on and he’s writing some of it. We are coming out with it soon. There’s lots of big names involved and I’m proud of what it is. I think it has profoundly important social implications too. I hope my son and an entire generation can learn from the mistakes I made and play better hands as a result.
I just finished a script with my actor friend Nick Stahl. I have a book deal with Mickey Avalon. I have a horror film coming out. And I’ll be writing Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail… I also have some new books coming soon too… my second novel June Gloom and a series I’m starting with Tony O’Neil — who is my favorite living novelist. I’ve been very fortunate to become friends with a lot of my life-long heroes. I’m fired up for the era ahead of us. I know you’ll be a big part of it. I’ve also started a non-profit in honor of my late best friend Paul Harper. It’s called The Paul Project and its goal is to provide Narcan, a life changing overdose reversing drug, for free to anyone that needs it nationally. To me, the non-profit stuff is the most important thing i’m doing aside from being a father, son, partner, and friend.
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