Clockwise from top left: Chiasson, Rajaratnam,
Skowron, Longueuil (Photos: Bloomberg)
On May 13, Level Global Investors co-founder Anthony
Chiasson was sentenced to more than six years in prison.
He'll be joining a small but growing number of incarcerated
hedge fund professionals thanks to the government's aggressive
prosecution of insider trading cases. Galleon Group founder Raj
Rajaratnam is serving an 11 year prison sentence. FrontPoint
Partners portfolio manager Chip Skowron is in for five years.
SAC Capital Advisors PM Donald Longueuil is nearing the end of
a 30-month term.
They and others from the industry had elite legal help, but
were they ready for life inside the big house? What type of
personal transformation is possible once behind the razor wire?
And is there anyone to help this relatively fortunate
That's where Jeff Grant comes in. As founder and
director of the Progressive Prison Project in Greenwich, Conn. and
head of prison ministries of the First Baptist Church in nearby
Bridgeport, Grant has devoted his life to helping prisoners.
While he has focused on poor communities, Grant has
increasingly worked with people accused of white collar crimes,
including hedge fund managers, in learning to cope with life in
Grant's advice comes from personal experience. In
2006, he was sent to a low security federal prison for 14
months after pleading guilty to federal criminal fraud
charges. A corporate lawyer, Grant operated an office in
Mamaroneck, New York. In the aftermath of September 11, 2001,
he fraudulently claimed to have a Wall Street office that was
hurt by a decline in business following the terrorist attacks
in order to obtain a low-interest $247,000 loan under the U.S.
Small Business Administration's Economic Injury Disaster Loan
program (he repaid the government $365,000 as part of his civil
settlement, including penalties).
Grant is writing a book entitled "The Art of
Surviving Prison" due out this fall. Absolute
Return asked him about his work and how it relates to the
hedge fund community.
Absolute Return: How did you
become involved in helping prisoners?
Grant: The most
obvious answer is that I served time in Federal prison for a
white-collar crime, and I had to work my way through my own
feelings of shame and remorse. This put me in touch with
others' feelings about these issues, too. Prison served as a
time of transformation that influenced me to attend Union
Theological Seminary and then to my calling in prison
There are a few lessons about prison that I think
might be helpful to hedge funders. It might be comforting to
know that I never really felt threatened, but there was a big
difference between not feeling threatened and the realization
that prison could be a very dangerous place. I realized that I
had a few things going for me in order to survive. First, I was
old. At 48, I was older than most of the other inmates and was
outside of my fellow inmates' need for bragging rights. Second,
I had a skill. Once word got out that I had been a lawyer, this
was a highly sought after commodity, although I never accepted
any money or favors. Third, I learned, albeit the hard way,
that the best way to earn respect on the compound was to simply
pay respect to everybody. Respect was the absolute most
important thing in prison. It came in all kinds of shapes and
sizes, and was expected in all kinds of ways in return. It was
a wolf pack and I was the omega.
I walked 3,500 miles around the exercise track in
one year there. Whoever wanted to walk and talk with me could.
It was a rich beautiful experience in a very stark and barren
How did you begin working with hedge fund
It happened quite unexpectedly. I live in Greenwich, where
there are many hedge funds, and word got around about my
personal experience and my work in inner city prison ministry.
I had been moonlighting in helping white-collar types on an ad
hoc basis for years. Then one afternoon last year I received a
call from the friend of a hedge fund manager who had less than
five weeks before he was to report to Federal prison. Nobody
had ever discussed with him and his family anything that they
would need to survive the ordeal ahead. The three of us met
together in a diner and it was eye opening because I realized a
trend--there were a lot of white-collar families with little or
no places to turn for experienced and compassionate
I founded the Progressive Prison Project in Greenwich as a
direct outgrowth of my inner city prison work at the First
Baptist Church of Bridgeport, and as Vice Chairman of Family
Reentry, a nonprofit serving the ex-offender community of
Fairfield County - the disparity between how they the legal
system treats the rich and the poor is a well documented issue.
But I was also hearing these other stories about the isolation
felt by people accused of white collar crimes, and the issues
of their families' who had done nothing wrong but were
suffering scorn and ridicule in their communities. I felt that
if I could bring people and stories of all communities closer
together, everyone could benefit.
I understand you can't use names, but can you
characterize those from the industry you've worked with and
what their situations were?
I am meeting with an ex-employee of a large Stamford-based
hedge fund that's been in the news a lot. He's been notified as
the target of an investigation, so it's likely he'll go to
prison. Earlier preparedness is always a good thing. For him it
was first things first: he needed assistance in finding
substance abuse counseling for alcohol and drugs and a rehab
program. There are marital concerns: whether his marriage will
survive. That's always the case, by the way. There are also
some broader psychiatric issues. And last on the list is
vocation. How is he going to make a living? How is he going to
support his family? What are they going to do during the
Another hedge funder, the guy I met with in the diner, told
me that he had what he called an army of professionals and had
everything covered. As the conversation unfolded it became
clear that although the lawyering and many of the other
professional pieces had been handled well, nobody had ever
discussed with him, or his wife, how to survive the prison
experience and then put their lives back together on the other
I asked him, for example, if he understood that once he
surrendered he would be a prisoner of the Federal Bureau of
Prisons, and that it was possible that he would be placed into
the solitary unit for days or weeks before he was put on the
main compound. Did his wife know how to track his movements if
he was transferred to another prison? Did anybody prepare his
wife for her first visit to the prison visiting room, so that
she wasn't sent home due to wearing the wrong clothing? Or
because of incidental drug residue on her clothes or money she
might bring in to buy him food in the vending machines? He
looked dumbfounded. I suggested that he start taking notes. We
called the waiter over and asked for a stack of place mats and
a pen. We talked for the next four hours.
What do you usually help them with?
Mostly, I help with the isolation they experience from being
cut off from their community, and from their inability to find
any prison-related or other services to give them good,
dependable information and support. It's not their fault. There
are actually many more criminal justice and prison
ministry-type services available in communities like Bridgeport
than there are in places like Greenwich.
My basic advice is to mind your Ps and Qs. Be very
respectful and manage your day pretty closely. There was one
very well known hedge fund guy in particular who had a very
gregarious personality. He decided he would be authentic to
himself. It worked out great for him. In being authentic he was
able to be friendly and engaging in a non-threatening and very
real way. The things that made him successful in the hedge fund
world actually made him so in prison. I wouldn't say that would
work for everybody, but his particular manner was not very
threatening to begin with. It was very engaging. He was able to
befriend everybody. He didn't use wealth or power as his
calling cards. He used humor and vulnerability. He was clearly
in the midst of some sort of spiritual transformation that made
him more vulnerable in a positive way.
So being vulnerable can be an asset?
It's counterintuitive. In a minimum security prison, there's
a lower ratio of guards to prisoners. You actually have to be
more aware of your surroundings. Everything is dramatized on
TV. What happens in prison most of the time is very boring. You
get to read a lot. But once in a while something happens that
is outside of the ordinary where you have to pay a lot of
attention to it. For those things you have to be prepared. And
unfortunately in prison those things are way outside the
What are some of those dangers?
In a minimum security prison there are gangs. They are not
allowed to rove or collect, yet they are there. It's mostly for
mutual protection. There's generally no pressure to align with
a gang when you show up. Outliers in terms of age or
socioeconomic background are pretty much left alone.
You can still do something wrong. It's unfortunately easy to
maintain an attitude of entitlement that wouldn't be looked
upon favorably. Bumped up against people of lesser economic
circumstances could lead to an issue. It could be on the chow
line. It can be getting a haircut. It can be at the infirmary.
Anywhere people have to wait their turn and where they're not
doing that, for example.
Once you draw attention to yourself, then you can get hurt.
I've seen people get beat up. I've seen people get killed. I
never saw a hedge funder or doctor or lawyer or stock broker
get killed, but I did see gang members get killed in prison.
And I was in a minimum security prison. It was the first time I
had ever seen someone get killed in my life. So I help people
understand that something like that can happen in a moment with
no notice whatsoever. It's terrifying.
When people go to prison there's kind of an egalitarianism
that takes over and a relearning state where the things we were
supposed to learn in kindergarten get relearned. Please and
Respect in prison is mostly a matter of learning what not to
say. It can be an incredibly counterintuitive assignment for
the types of people who become Wall Street executives. It is a
real comeuppance when they learn that nobody cares about what
they have to say about anything, or that if they do it can be
for the wrong reasons. In one case, a former hedge funder made
the mistake of talking about the sale of his Hamptons property.
I think you can imagine some of the difficulties.
Can they use their money to buy
Not that I know of.
These guys must lose a ton of weight and get into
That's generally true. I lost 60 pounds in prison. That was
from my walking and a very specific daily regimen that I
embraced. I did pushups and got to the point where I could do
75 in a row. I can only do 35 to 40 now. I've put back on a
little of the weight [laughs].
How do Wall Street skills usually translate in
I assume by Wall Street skills you mean intellect, ambition,
independence, wit, ability to form quick connections. These
skills are not only in large degree useless, they are probably
counterproductive. More useful are concepts like respect,
restraint, care, self-care, compassion, community,
transformation, and spirituality. If I had to choose one to
remember in prison as I mentioned above, it would begin and end
with respect. Of course, respect in prison means something
quite different than in a world where people got mostly
everything they wanted.
Here's my story about how I learned respect in prison: One
night, when I was only there about three weeks or so, I was
lying on my bunk with a pillow on my face just trying to get
some sleep. Or some quiet. Three Latinos were holding a
conference of some sort right outside the entrance of our cube.
It sounded like they were screaming and yelling at one another.
I couldn't take it so I sat up in bed and screamed for them to
"shut the f--k up." Of course they ignored me. I was lucky that
was the end of it. My cellie was sitting on his bunk and stared
me down before he asked me if I was trying to get myself
killed. I just stared back at him. I told him I couldn't take
the screaming anymore. He looked at me and calmly explained to
me that those Latinos were people. Instead of screaming, he
suggested that if I simply peaked my head into the hall and
asked them politely to keep it down, or move their meeting to
another location, they probably would have obliged.
Are there parallels between your work with those
from poorer communities in Connecticut, like Bridgeport, and
wealthier ones, like Greenwich?
The difference is in the communities, not in the people.
Places like Bridgeport have an embodied experience of crime,
criminal justice and prison. People there live with it in their
midst and understand its intricacies. For some, there is no
shame in being arrested or going to jail; it's just part of the
deal. In Greenwich, however, prison is so far from the daily
life and experience. It's like a deer getting caught in the
headlights. I have found that the only way to minister to those
suffering in Greenwich is to bring the two communities closer
together so that the experiences and lessons learned by one can
be of service to the other. That's what makes the concept of
The Progressive Prison Project so powerful.
Here's a piece of useful information that I picked up in
Bridgeport that can make a huge quality of life difference
immediately. When a hedge funder first gets to prison, his
senses are likely to fail him to the point where he is likely
forget his own address and phone numbers, and his family's and
friends', too. Yet, in order to fill out phone call and visitor
request forms, he will need all this information. What to do? A
couple of days before he reports to prison, he can mail himself
the names, addresses and phone numbers. Prison may be a
difficult place, but they have to deliver the mail.
Any other tips?
Maintenance of a solid long term address and home is
important. When it's time to be released from prison, you have
to get released to a home. The problem is that life goes by for
the family on the outside. Typically the hedge fund guy in
prison isn't in control of what happens on the outside: the
family moves, children get married. If there's an ability to
control one stable piece for as long as that person is in
prison, say an apartment--something--then he's likely to have
stable place to come home to which will ease the way for him to
be released early and be able to come home early. If a hedge
fund guy lives in Connecticut, goes to prison in Pennsylvania,
and his wife moves to California, it's very difficult to get
early supervised release because he doesn't have a place to
come home to in his home state. These are issues that can be
considered in advance.
They need advice on getting family in to see you without
getting turned away from the visiting room line. It's not an
easy thing to know before you go through it. For example, if
females are wearing undergarments with wire bras, they will be
thrown off the visiting line and sent away. The metal detector
will detect it. It could be perceived as a dangerous object and
they won't check what it actually is. There's also the drug
scanner, which can be used randomly and detects micro amounts
of various forms of drugs. You need new or recently washed
clothing. Washing up. Not touching money. Not eating breakfast.
Not anything where you might come into contact with something
that has trace residues of drugs. Money contains huge amounts
of trace residues of drugs. Literally when people come to visit
they sleep overnight, they get washed up and go right to the
line without touching anything and try and get through without
these scanners picking up something that might incidentally be
on their clothing.
What do you hope for those from the hedge fund
industry during their time in prison?
Great leaders who have spent time in prison have written
about two things they have been able to control: their bodies
and attitudes, and their ability to help others. This has been
absolutely true in my experience. It is my hope that anybody
who is, or might be, heading to prison, uses their time wisely,
as a time of great personal transformation in devoting part of
each day to mind, body and spirit; and in commitment to helping
What books do you recommend to these guys?
The seminal book for me was "Man's Search for Meaning" by Viktor Frankl. I
also recommend "Letters and Papers from Prison" by Dietrich
Bonhoeffer. If people can get through it, "The Gulag Archipelago" by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn.
Nelson Mandela's "Long Walk to Freedom." The hedge funds guys like
all of them. I would rather they identify with the concept of
captivity than the concept of being criminals. There's a
transformation within the captivity that they can embrace and
learn and grow from if they choose to. Other people have. They
don't have to view themselves from the negative.
Have you watched any significant
I was called a few weeks ago by a former hedge funder I
hadn't met with in a couple of years. He looked like the weight
of the world was off his shoulders, had lost thirty pounds, and
had a smile ear to ear. He looked nothing like the guy I
remembered. He told me that he had been to prison and wanted my
help in finding a new career. Without the monkey on his back of
his old life and former problems, he felt free. Now, he's in
school to become a drug counselor.
That's a noble goal for a lot of ex hedge funders, and it's
one of the professions that are open to them. I also know a
hedge funder who has become a social worker. There are a lot of
Maybe it's a case of viewing the glass as half full, but
almost all I see are great transformations. Stock brokers who
are now drug counselors, atheists who have found God, absentee
fathers who have renewed relationships with their children. Why
not? Most white-collar criminals can't go back to their old
live and careers, so what choice do they really have? Why not
embrace a completely new life, with new options and new
opportunities? The most fortunate are those who figure out that
their attempts to solve problems in isolation did not work, and
that they no longer have to go it alone. They figure out that
some of us have been there before them and are willing to help.
I feel blessed to have these families in my life.
This interview was condensed and edited.