Mar 25 • 3M

Chapter 13, Part 1: Almost Fiancée

I was never really Martin's "fiancée," but when he started calling me that for various reasons, word got to the press — and his reaction surprised me.


Appears in this episode

Christie Smythe
My experiences uncovering the story of, and falling in love with, Martin Shkreli.
Episode details

Two things happened after the Wall Street Journal stirred up an online shi*tstorm in 2019 over Martin Shkreli’s contraband cell phone: Federal prison officials transferred him from a relatively relaxed and laissez-faire facility in New Jersey to another, more tightly run, low-security prison in Pennsylvania. And Martin also started occasionally referring to me as his "fiancée.”

These events were not unrelated. At Allenwood, Martin was treated by discliplinary officers with the same investigatory zeal that one would expect to be applied to terrorists and organized crime lords. Like pendantic traffic cops, they read his emails and his letters line-by-line, scouring them for the the faintest traces of violations. More than once he was punished for their misinterpretations, which were all but impossible to correct.

Constantly afflicted by these lashings, he occasionally used me — his "fiancée” — as a human shield. He referenced me sometimes when trying to fight discliplinary infractions — once when I had accidentally caused the problem by writing in an email that I would say “hi” to an inmate friend of his at Fort Dix, and another time in a completely fabricated coverup story he invented for another small violation.

His plays for sympathy did not work, at least not directly. But they did raise my profile enough with prison administrators that I was occasionally able to help him when he got into a bind, like when he was stuck in solitary after a dimwitted investigator wrongly assumed he had nefarious intentions for putting legal mail in the general mailbox. (He was just being lazy.)

An excerpt of one of Martin Shkreli's inmate discliplinary reports.
In the excerpt of an inmate disciplinary report, Martin Shkreli called me his “fiancé.” He was being punished because I accidentally said I would say “hi” to his friend Wes, an inmate at Fort Dix, for him. Technically, inmates at different institutions are not allowed to communicate with each other.

I knew I wasn’t really his "fiancée” — he had not proposed or anything like that — but it did sound at times like he was penciling in the word for me, in a more meaningful sense, and testing it out. During visits, he sometimes went a step further, calling me “wifey” or “Christie Shkreli.” Although he was usually being playful, it didn’t always seem like he was joking. When I told him, for instance, how I had secured space in a crowded Manhattan federal court press room in 2010 for a-then scrappy and little-known news startup I worked for, Law360, by pestering judges, he beamed with pride. “That sounds like my wife,” he said.

Email between me and Martin Shkreli while he was at Allenwood Low.
Email between me and Martin Shkreli while he was at Allenwood Low.

However implausible, naive and vaguely sketched out it was, I found it hard not to lose myself in the fantasy. I felt like I was living a Cinderella tale about finding a “true love” who could open the door to everything I had ever wanted. Only instead of a palace and prestige, like Cinderella got, I would receive the most delicious sort of freedom any creative professional could hope for. As “Mrs. Shkreli,” I could do exactly what I loved to do — writing, learning, and fighting injustices — on my own terms, and I wouldn’t have to play by anyone else’s rules.

I imagined Martin and I as dark vigilantes, like Batman and Catwoman. But instead of “fighting crime” we would fight authoritarianism, and do things like show up randomly to criminal trials in order to attract media attention whenever we thought someone was being trampled by the system. I imagined us launching …

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