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Chapter 8, Part 7: 84 Months

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Chapter 8, Part 7: 84 Months

The only thing worse than despair is having to cope with it in secret. (Baby goats helped, though.)
A baby goat. Illustration by Shannon Loys.
A baby goat. Illustration by Shannon Loys.

There are two specific forms of self-care I indulge in when my mind is close to its breaking point: Either I spend a day lounging around Spa Castle, a huge, kitschy Korean day spa in Queens, or I find my way to a petting zoo or farm and play with goats. Goats were my go-to after I was taken along for the emotional roller coaster ride that was Martin Shkreli’s sentencing. 

The morning after the hearing (which was on a Friday in March 2018), I put myself on a train up to Poughkeepsie, where I planned to spend the weekend at a small dairy farm. I had found a poster advertising the excursion, organized by a social group called Big Gay Hudson Valley. The flier featured an immaculately groomed, denim-shirt-clad man, with whom I would likely have no semi-illicit sexual chemistry, cradling a baby goat. It sounded like bliss.

While I rode the Metro North, I scrolled through Twitter. It was riddled with jeers at Martin over the hearing, where he had broken down and cried during a long-winded recitation to the judge of all of his personal failings. Some people on social media complained that the seven year sentence the notorious “Pharma Bro” received for securities fraud didn’t seem long enough. Others expressed glee at his misery. Prison rape jokes sprouted in threads like crocuses, like they had the previous September when he lost his bail over a dumb Facebook post about Hillary Clinton. 

Try as I might to tell myself that none of Martin’s heap of problems were my problems, that he had brought all of this chaos on himself, and that I was just supposed to be an observer, chronicling his story for a book, his hooks had gotten in me. I had become his friend. I saw him as a human when almost everyone else, including my own ex-husband, wanted to write him off as a two-dimensional cartoon villain. That stark dichotomy had tugged me to his side and engaged my empathy.

During the train ride, I felt as though my chest had been cleaved apart and filled with lead. Seven years, when you were just a reporter writing about someone getting sentenced in court, didn’t seem like much. It was just a single digit in a headline. But when you were drawn into the defendant’s corner through a human connection — like a friendship — it sounded like an eternity. 

Sure, he wouldn’t be in prison all of those years. Although the federal system had no parole, there were ways of shaving down the stay. Still, babies born when he was sentenced might be ready to enter grade school when he got out. Friends, relatives or his cat Trashy might die while he was behind bars. So much could happen in the world, or to him. The time was no longer an abstraction.

Along with that thought, came the memory of Martin’s parents’ faces at the hearing. They did not burst into ostentatious wails, like some loved ones of people being sentenced tend to do. Instead, they tried…

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SMIRK (audio version)
My experiences uncovering the story of, and falling in love with, Martin Shkreli.
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Christie Smythe