“I Really Feel Most Comfortable In Prison”
PUBLISHED IN AUGUST 2019 ISSUE OF VANITY FAIR, POSTED AND WRITTEN BY CHRIS POMORSKI ON JULY 2, 2019
Skowron, who goes by Chip, was a member of Greenwich Connecticut’s new elite, a partner in a hedge fund called FrontPoint Partners. At 31, he had begun his career in finance, as an analyst but before long, he was overseeing some $1 billion in assets. Skowron wanted a home to reflect his success so in early 2006, he bought a home for $4.1 million. Among friends and family, Skowron was known to be generous, loyal, and fun-loving. But he was emotionally exhausted, wrung out by the pressure of keeping up appearances and increasingly troubled by a sense of emptiness. “I wanted to accomplish, succeed, to be satisfied. It was all illusory.” In November 2010, Skowron had become a target of a federal investigation into insider trading. Skowron stood accused of bribing a French doctor with wine, cash, and travel in exchange for confidential information from a clinical drug trial. He was suspended from the firm, which quickly collapsed. Skowron found himself drawn to religion. Skowron decided to plead guilty and was sentenced to five years. What he didn’t yet know was that the challenges of prison would pale in comparison to those of coming home. About 70 percent of Skowron’s fellow inmates were drug offenders, many of them poor young men of color. Prison was dynamic—rich with incident and culture. Prison ecology isn’t known for rewarding vulnerability, but the bunk became a foxhole, fostering a spirit of confession and mutual reliance. Skowron found he could expose himself in a way he had never been able to before. When news of his legal trouble broke, his Greenwich social circle vanished. The people in prison were not who he had expected them to be, and prison, he now believed, was not where the vast majority of them belonged. Increasingly, he felt, they were his brothers. Following his release, in November 2015, despite the familiar comforts of his Greenwich home, Skowron found his old surroundings isolating. He often awoke in the morning thinking about prison—not from nightmares, but with pangs of longing. About a year after his release, Skowron began visiting Bridgeport Correctional Center, with the New Canaan Society, a Christian men’s group. He recruited roughly a dozen volunteers to visit the facility every Thursday to commune with prisoners, in sessions modeled on those in his cell. Skowron hoped to make inmates feel more connected to the world, and to illuminate for volunteers how their own lives were continuous with those inside. Skowron found his time with the prisoners exhilarating. He started making the trip to Bridgeport three times a week. On a bright, windy afternoon last fall, Skowron climbed into his truck for the drive to Bridgeport Correctional. When he arrived, he said to the new warden, Amonda Hannah, “I want to thank you for letting me be here,” Skowron told her. “I need this. Even though things back home are in some ways returning to normal, I really feel most comfortable here—in prison.”
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