When Martin Shkreli was thrown in solitary confinement at Allenwood Low in 2019 for simply placing a letter to his lawyer in the wrong mailbox, he was f*cked. No amount of ranting about Kafkaesque absurdity, either verbally or through written complaints to the warden, was going to get him out. His lawyers sending a strongly-worded letter on his behalf didn’t help either.
Arguably, there was only one person who had the knowledge, tenacity and persuasive skills to get prison administrators to acknowledge and remedy their mistake: That was me. (Note: Incident and adjudication report are provided below the paywall.)
For more than a month, I investigated what happened, tracked down decision-makers, and drafted numerous letters and emails. No one bullied me or forced me to do those things, or even asked. Unlike Martin’s lawyers, I also wasn’t receiving compensation for my efforts.
I just did them because I wanted to. I was annoyed at the prison for meting out such a clearly arbitrary punishment. Also, I cared about Martin. I wanted to make sure he was OK, both physically and mentally. Solitary confinement, after all, is widely considered by global authorities to be torture.
My gadflying worked. The facts I unearthed reached smart and reasonable minds somewhere in the bureaucracy. The nonsense “infraction” against Martin was expunged, tossed in less than 30 seconds by an adjudication officer when he was finally able to take a look at it (after Martin was stuck in solitary for several weeks). As soon as Martin was released back into the general population, the captain of security himself, replying to one of my numerous pesky emails, let me know.
If “power” was all about getting individuals and even very stubborn institutions to respond to your demands, and act as you wish, then I had plenty of it. Martin had none. Following that episode, among others where I flexed my talents, Martin was in awe. “You’re my superhero,” he told me earnestly.
It was so obvious that I wore “the pants” with Martin in certain contexts (including to federal prison administrators) that I felt like I’d been thrown into an alternate universe as people started declaring there was a “power imbalance” and that I had “Stockholm Syndrome.” So many rando observers, who had never met either of us, made these claims after I went public about our relationship in ELLE that the line became the “narrative.”
At first, I was so irked by those assertions that I could barely see straight. I was like Jean Grey, of the X-Men, struggling to suppress her vastly powerful and destructive alter-ego the Phoenix. I wanted to reply by snarling and hissing like…