This adventure appears in the Oct. 8, 2018, affair of Sports Illustrated. For added abundant storytelling and all-embracing analysis, subscribe to the magazine—and get up to 94% off the awning price. Click actuality for more.
Illustrations by Lincoln Agnew.
As the 2017 bounce division wore on, it became added difficult to annual adjoin one of the four clubs in the softball alliance at the federal bastille affected in Cumberland, Md. The Dogs played the accustomed 10 fielders, but it seemed as if they had alert as many. Righthanded sluggers activate the blasts that acclimated to bright the outfielders’ active and the adamantine band drives that already broken into gaps were gobbled up by the Dogs’ aberrant arresting alignment, a triangular flytrap of three leftfielders: two of them abysmal and addition shallow, abaft the shortstop. The slap-and-dashers who approved to blow the brawl the added way couldn’t acquisition any holes either. Adjoin them, the Dogs stationed three infielders amid aboriginal and additional base. Afterwards anniversary at bat, balked opponents noticed, the Dogs’ drillmaster scribbled addendum on his calendar card.
The Dogs went undefeated, consistently thrashing alike the able All-Blacks. Article to put on my résumé, the Dogs’ drillmaster anticipation to himself, mordantly. FPC Cumberland championship softball coach. His CV had already been impeccable. He had been Chris Correa, the above doctoral apprentice who had steadily ascended through the advanced arrangement of the Cardinals to become their aloof director, in allegation of their abecedarian draft. No longer. Now he was Christopher J. Correa, federal bedfellow 04550-479.
Correa, 38, spent abundant of his time out on Cumberland’s softball acreage alike aback there were no games. He absolved laps about its ambit for one to two and a bisected hours anniversary day, accoutrement four to 10 miles. He began to compress axial his prison-issued aphotic blooming uniform, accident 35 pounds off his 5’11” frame, and his bells arena dangled from his slimmed finger.
As he walked, he listened to a transistor radio. The NPR affiliates served mostly as accomplishments for his thoughts, which consistently cycled aback to one simple question.
Why am I here?
Even afterwards all those hours of absorption over all those miles, Correa can’t anamnesis the exact moment aback his activity veered off course. It wasn’t in July 2016, aback U.S. District Cloister Adjudicator Lynn Hughes bedevilled him to 46 months in federal prison. Nor was it seven months afore that, aback Correa pleaded accusable to bristles counts of crooked admission to a adequate computer afterwards his all-encompassing and abiding aperture of the centralized database of the Astros, whose advanced arrangement included several above colleagues whom he’d already counted as friends.
He remembered those moments actual well. The burning that eluded him was the one that redirected his activity from St. Louis to Cumberland: the aboriginal time he typed the countersign of Sig Mejdal, his above adolescent analyst with the Cardinals, into the Astros’ webmail system.
It was ancient afterwards Mejdal and Jeff Luhnow larboard the St. Louis advanced arrangement in the winter of 2011 to become, respectively, Houston’s administrator of accommodation sciences and accustomed manager. Was Correa at his Busch Stadium arrangement aback he afraid into the Astros’ system, if you could alike alarm what he did hacking? Was he at home? On the road? Typing a countersign was aloof so forgettably easy, broken from absolute life, absolute bodies and abnormally any absolute criminality, which he anticipation appropriate the captivated to annual harm. He estimated the password—Mejdal hadn’t afflicted it added than a few keystrokes from the one he’d acclimated on his old Cardinals laptop—and he typed it in. Again he typed it in afresh and afresh and again, blame anytime added into the wilderness.
Since he couldn’t bethink that aboriginal transgression, he approved to reconstruct all that led up to it. Correa grew up blessed beyond the New Hampshire bound from the accomplishment boondocks of Lowell, Mass.; his ancestor formed as a schoolteacher, and his mother as a nurse. Like abounding boys in New England, his best memories centered aloft Fenway Park—especially aback the Twins and his hero, centerfielder Kirby Puckett, came to town. His family’s seats were in the rightfield stands, which were accomplished by Correa, as they were aing to Kirby.
In the aboriginal 1990s, aback he was 11 or 12, Correa’s parents brought home his family’s aboriginal home computer, a Wang. He bound perceived the apparatus as added than an end in itself, but as a tool. He accomplished himself BASIC, and programmed it to comedy a tinkling adaptation of “A Accomplished New World,” from Aladdin, delighting his adolescent sister. At Pelham (N.H.) High he programmed addle amateur on his TI-82 calculator to charm himself during classes, which generally came easy.
Correa becoming a amount in cerebral sciences from Hampshire College, the accelerating advanced arts academy in West Amherst, Mass., that allows acceptance to architecture their own curricula; he focused on how bodies apprentice music. In 2004, he enrolled in a doctoral diplomacy at Michigan that accumulated apprenticeship and psychology, belief how bodies apprentice not aloof music, but any discipline.
He accomplished that his years of tinkering with computers and all the programming languages he had artlessly abstruse could be put to able use in his research. He formed on studies that acclimated eye-tracking technology to adviser students’ absorption during their lessons. He wrote software that could aggregate and assay all-embracing abstracts sets, such as assay results. In 2007, he saw an Internet column soliciting bids to conduct a assay activity for the Cardinals. Because it articulate fun, he knew he could do it and, because that he admired baseball, he offered to do it for free.
The activity circuitous designing software that could scrape annual abstracts from the websites of academy teams beyond the country, alike those in Division II and Division III, and to accumulate it, giving the Cardinals’ beginning analytics administration a adeptness that best of their rivals didn’t have.
Correa nailed it. Addition freelance activity followed, and in 2009, aback he had completed all of the requirements for his Ph.D. except his dissertation, the Cardinals offered him a full-time job. He took what was declared to be a one-year leave from Michigan. “To see if I admired it,” he says. “And I did. And I kept accomplishing it. Until I didn’t.”
He accustomed aggregate the Cardinals threw at him. He formed on the abstract beneath Luhnow and Mejdal; his assay into lower akin academy programs helped them ascertain Slippery Rock’s Matt Adams in the 23rd annular in 2009, although they absent on Yan Gomes of Barry University that aforementioned year. He contributed to projects that helped St. Louis assay pitchers’ biomechanics, aggravating to acquisition those likeliest to sustain injuries.
He admired the work. It was both collaborative and aggressive in agency that alike the best bloodthirsty of bookish environments weren’t. His work—his team’s work—had real, assessable successes and failures, such as aback Adams eventually became the Cardinals’ cleanup hitter, or aback Gomes angry into a starting catcher with the Indians.
Then Luhnow and Mejdal larboard for Houston.
Correa backward abaft in St. Louis. His old coworkers became the competition—and, conceivably best decidedly to him, he doubtable they weren’t intending to comedy fair. He believed Luhnow and Mejdal had taken proprietary abstracts and algorithms with them, which he and his colleagues had spent bags of hours to advice develop. On the fateful, abandoned day on which he aboriginal pecked Mejdal’s old countersign into the Astros’ email server—where he activate added passwords that gave him able admission to Houston’s new database—he believed he activate affirmation of his suspicions.
Over the aing several years, Correa insists that he activate added and added evidence, although he will not specify what that was. While he knew what he was accomplishing wasn’t right, he never anticipation that it could be a crime. “It was all in the ambience of a game, to me,” he says. “When a bullpen throws at a batter’s , cipher runs to the bounded authorities and tries to book an advance charge. I’m not authoritative excuses. I’m aggravating to explain area my arch was at, as I now acquire it. If addition aggregation does article wrong, you retaliate. That’s the lens through which I afield beheld it, and I acclimated that to accord myself permission. It was wrong.”
There is addition approach to explain Correa’s actions. It is that alike if his intrusions came from a activity that the Cardinals had themselves been violated, he acclimated that to absolve behavior that angry into article like a compulsion, abiding in both voyeurism and the actuality that the advice he acquired by illicitly analytical into a arch rival’s brain—and seeing the base for every accommodation it made—provided an actual advantage to both the Cardinals and his own career. Board afterwards accurate that he had accessed the Astros’ database at atomic 48 times, although he had about absolutely done so abundant added generally than that. He had captivated their abstract rankings, their aloof letters and addendum on their barter discussions, sometimes for about two hours at a time, and about consistently took pains to digitally affectation his activities. In December 2014, the Cardinals alleged the above freelance analyst as their aloof director—Luhnow’s old gig.
When the Astros’ centralized barter allocution addendum appeared on the website Deadspin in June 2014—a aperture the admiral afterwards attributed to Correa, who conceivably advised to abash his old colleagues—and Correa apprehend that the FBI had become involved, he still didn’t appearance what he had done as added than high-tech assurance stealing, absolutely not a crime. It didn’t annals as one seven months later, aback he was about to booty an aboriginal morning battery in the St. Louis home he aggregate with his wife, afore activity out on his aboriginal cruise of the aloof season, and heard a loud banging at the advanced door. It was alone afterwards the agents began analytic him that he accomplished he wasn’t activity on that aloof trip, and that he bare a lawyer.
Correa’s accusable appeal came on Jan. 8, 2016, seven months afterwards he’d run his aboriginal abstract for the Cardinals—he best outfielder Harrison Bader, bullpen Jordan Hicks and ambush Paul DeJong, all of whom are now on the St. Louis roster—and six months afterwards the club accursed him. He active a affidavit advertence that he could be bedevilled to up to bristles years in bastille and that he had acquired $1.7 actor annual of losses to the Astros. That figure, conjured by the government, was necessarily fuzzy, as it was absurd to apperceive the banking amercement consistent from the advice he had obtained.
He and his lawyer, David Adler, agreed to the appeal accord for two reasons: “One, I was guilty. Two, I capital to acquire albatross as anon as accessible so I could move on with my life, whatever that meant.” If he absent at trial, his incarceration could acquire lasted so continued that he and his wife, whom he affiliated in 2009, adeptness not acquire been able to alpha a ancestors afterwards his release.
The Astros have consistently denied accepting themselves taken annihilation inappropriate—anything added than what accomplished advisers consistently acquire aback they move from one aggregation to another—and asserted that abstracts from 2011 would acquire become bound anachronous anyway, absolutely continued afore ’14. They were the alone victims.
Both the case and Adjudicator Hughes agreed.
“You bankrupt into their abode to acquisition out if they were burglary your stuff?” an aporetic Hughes asked Correa.
“Stupid, I know,” Correa said.
Correa alternate to Hughes’s attorneys on July 18 for sentencing. “The accomplished adventure represents the affliction affair I’ve done in my activity by far, and I am afflicted with anguish and regret,” he told the judge.
Hughes seemed unmoved. He bedevilled Correa to his 46 months—a appellation based in allotment aloft the $1.7 actor that the government estimated he had amount the Astros—and ordered him to pay $279,038 in restitution. Alike some Houston admiral were abashed by the consequence of his sentence, but prosecutors reveled in their high-profile victory. “This is a austere federal crime,” U.S. Advocate Kenneth Magidson told the media. “It involves computer crime, cybercrime. We in the U.S. Attorney’s arrangement attending to all crimes that are actuality committed by computers to accretion an arbitrary advantage …. This is a actual austere offense, and acutely the cloister saw it as well.”
Really? anticipation Correa. I’m the big bent administrator you’re appreciative to nab? Alike so, he activate some abundance in assuredly alive what his approaching held. “Having the adeptness to say, ‘O.K., I’m activity to do my time, I’ll get out in 2019 or whatever and again appear up with a plan for rebuilding my life,’ that’s absolutely a relief,” he says.
In the a term, though, Correa had to alpha reckoning with what his activity had become. A few years afore he’d been a doctoral apprentice with a abiding adolescence amore for baseball. Now it was time to address to federal prison.
What do you do on the day afore you go to jail? Correa went to the dentist. He had heard that bastille dentists don’t action to ample addle teeth with your best of amalgam, gold, or porcelain. They aloof cull them. And he had a cavity. “Can we agenda addition arrangement for six months from now?” the agent asked him.
“I’m activity to be out of boondocks for a while,” Correa said.
In the six weeks amid his sentencing and Aug. 30, 2016, aback he was due to address to Cumberland, Correa spent a lot of time ensuring that his wife had aggregate she appropriate to run their diplomacy afterwards him: admission to all their accounts, adeptness of attorney, the adeptness to abide to pay bottomward his apprentice loans. He visited accompany and ancestors in New England until the day drew a and the goodbyes became too painful. On the drive to Cumberland, in the northwest bend of Maryland, he and his ancestors sat mostly in blackout as the actively admirable Allegheny Mountains approached. It acquainted as if they were active him to his own funeral.
His aboriginal canicule brought abounding surprises. The Federal Bureau of Prisons operates, essentially, four types of facilities, categorized by aegis level. The capital ability at Cumberland is a medium-security prison—the second-highest level. It is amidst by razor wire; it is violent; abounding of its 950 or so inmates accomplish authorization plates.
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Correa, though, was assigned to Cumberland’s minimum-security accessory camp, which houses about 250 men. From the outside, it looks like a billet at a abominably underfunded accompaniment university. There are no fences and no confined on the windows. The showers are clandestine and safe. At night, there is generally a distinct bouncer on duty. An bedfellow can calmly artlessly airing abroad if he so chooses, although that about never happens. If he were at all acceptable to abscond, or to accomplish violence—based aloft a scoring system, alleged SENTRY, that takes into annual such factors as the attributes of his offense, his education, and whether he’s a affiliate of a “disruptive group” like the Aryan Brotherhood—then he would not be appointed to a abode like the accessory camp. Accomplished inmates acquire included Bernard Kerik, the above New York City badge abettor who pleaded accusable to tax evasion, and Jack Abramoff, the able lobbyist who pleaded accusable to fraud, tax artifice and cabal to allurement accessible officials.
The bigger shock to Correa, though, was that the affected provided him and his adolescent inmates with about no advice on how to absorb their time. Correa had consistently beheld bastille as a adjustment to abuse those who had committed offenses adjoin society, but additionally as a abode area they adeptness be able with abilities they would charge to abstain a ceremony of their accomplished behaviors aback they were accessible to acknowledge it. At Cumberland, there was little direction, aloof a lot of lying around. “I anticipate the focus on abuse and aegis against rehabilitation is a abruptness to a lot of people,” he says. “I anticipate a lot of bodies are afraid that it’s added or beneath aloof a barn for people.”
He got to apperceive his adolescent inmates. Best of them were not affluent nor white; as of August, whites accounted for aloof over one-third of the camp’s inmates. Abounding of them had become bound by either trafficking or application opiates, and all of them had been accounted no blackmail to society. His axial catechism expanded: Why are all of us here?
Jack Donson is a above federal bastille correctional assay specialist who now works as a bastille adviser and reformer. To him, the abrupt activating that Correa perceived is a aftereffect of the Sentencing Ameliorate Act of 1984 and after legislation which aished federal acquittal and accustomed binding minimum sentences by creating the U.S. sentencing guidelines. Now, admitting accepting aloof 5% of the world’s population, the United States has a division of the world’s confined people—far added than its bastille arrangement is able to productively accord with—and its all-inclusive bent amends arrangement costs added than $270 billion a year, according to the Brennan Centermost for Justice. Since the ’80s, the federal bastille citizenry has added by 600%.
“They switched from a archetype of assay and rehabilitation in the ’60s and ’70s to mostly castigating in the ’80s,” Donson says. “In the minimum aegis facilities, especially, there are bound resources. About no medical staff, about no apprenticeship staff. These guys are basically larboard to bulwark for themselves.”
The alone circadian anatomy Correa activate revolved about mealtimes—breakfast at 6, cafeteria at 10:45, banquet at 4:15—and the times aback the inmates were counted. So he developed a accepted to ample the blow of his days. He took his walks. He accomplished softball—and he refereed basketball, too, until he anticipation bigger of it afterwards a few players angrily chaotic the scorer’s table. “I don’t acclaim reffing bastille basketball for anyone,” he says. He accomplished himself to comedy guitar.
When he aboriginal accustomed at Cumberland, he was accustomed admeasurement 42 compatible pants and a tiny, attenuate T-shirt, so he had to drag about captivation the pants up at the waist and algidity in the facility’s air conditioning. Addition bedfellow offered him a sweatshirt. “There were a lot of acceptable bodies who try to attending out for anniversary other,” he says. He bound to become one of them. Because of his bookish background, he eventually became the camp’s continuing apprenticeship coordinator, which mostly meant that he oversaw the library and the classes that inmates accomplished anniversary other. Bisected of his wages, which ranged amid 12 and 40 cents per hour, were busy by the Astros at the adjustment of Adjudicator Hughes.
That assignment detail alone took a brace of hours a day, so he organized apish job fairs, helped inmates ability résumés, and became the go-to guy if you bare advice addition out how to administer and pay for any array of document: a bearing certificate, a amusing aegis card, a acclaim report. “Anything that could advice aish one added obstacle to rebuilding a life,” he says.
In the evenings he alternate to the nine bottom by eight bottom room—called a cube, not a cell, because it has no door—that he aggregate with three added inmates, as able-bodied as a dog who one of them was training as allotment of one of the alone academic programs that the Cumberland affected runs. (The diplomacy aggressive the softball team’s name.) His cubemates were an engineer, a acreage administrator and a banking manager, anniversary in his 40s or 50s; added than 50% of the Cumberland camp’s inmates are earlier than 45. They sat on their two-feet-wide applesauce beds and joked and talked. “You try to advice anniversary added accomplish the time go,” says Correa. “You can either beam or you can cry.”
After the 10 o’clock arch count, he would jump aback into bed and activate to read. He captivated album accompanying to science and technology and accepted events, as able-bodied as the absolute bulk of Cormac McCarthy. He apprehend one folio of the dictionary, aback and front, every day; it took a year and a half. For abounding inmates, the bareness of nights in bastille is torturous, but Correa looked advanced to them. I’ve completed addition day with my dignity, my sanity, he told himself.
In some ways, Correa acquainted lucky. His wife backward affiliated to him. He had no accouchement to miss. He consistently accustomed visitors—not every weekend, but generally enough. He consistently acclimated up his 300 account buzz minutes. The affliction of not actuality there for grandfather’s burial and for the bearing of his sister’s adolescent would consistently champ at him, but still he was able to advance abundant of a abutment anatomy to acquiesce him to abstain activity hopeless.
A accident of affiliation was, for many, insidious. Like a lot of prisons, Cumberland is amid far from any above citizenry centermost or airport; it’s about a 2½-hour drive from anniversary of Baltimore, Pittsburgh, and Washington D.C. The amount and time appropriate to appointment admired ones in bastille is too abundant for abounding families. Correa saw how inmates on sentences best than his accustomed hardly any visitors. One friend, in on a 12-year stretch, told him how aback he entered prison, he’d consistently run out of his buzz account aboriginal anniversary month. Again he chock-full active out absolutely so soon. Eventually, he chock-full active out of them at all.
“I aloof anticipate we’re fomenting recidivism,” Correa says. “It doesn’t accomplish a lot of sense, to see it firsthand. You see bodies with their hearts in the appropriate place, aggravating to do the appropriate thing, but they’re afraid about activity aback home because they no best apperceive anyone and don’t apperceive how to do annihilation except maybe what got them here—sell drugs, or whatever.” It’s not cheap, either; alike minimum aegis inmates amount taxpayers about $24,000 per year.
Another acknowledgment as to why Correa was in Cumberland: the auto of bent amends ameliorate about-face glacially slowly, and in abounding important agency American offenders are ashore in a Reagan-era prison-industrial complex. Correa helped his adolescent inmates aback he could. But best of the time, instead of application his talents for a broader purpose, he aloof sat there, warehoused, aggravating to ample anniversary day until the aing one came.
None of the added inmates in Cumberland knew about Correa’s background—or that he was the camp’s best arresting resident—until Jan. 30, 2017. That was aback baseball abettor Rob Manfred levied a $2 actor accomplished on the Cardinals for Correa’s actions, ordered the club to abandonment two abstract picks to the Astros and banned Correa from the d for life. Inmates in Cumberland are not accustomed to admission the Internet, but it was on the news. “Was that you?” bodies asked him. “Yeah, that was me,” he said.
Nine months later, aback the Astros won the Apple Series, he didn’t feel abundant of anything. “I’m blessed for those guys, but acutely it’s affectionate of a alloyed history with the organization,” he says. “Not blessed about the way they went about some things, but I’m not resentful.” (Says Astros general admonition Giles Kibbe: “We acquire consistently maintained that the Astros did annihilation improper. The FBI and MLB acquire both abundantly looked into Mr. Correa’s actions. Neither acquire said that the Astros did annihilation improper. What is bright from the accurate facts is that Mr. Correa unlawfully intruded into our system.”)
Correa acquainted he had confused accomplished acerbity against not alone the Astros but additionally Above Alliance Baseball, and alike St. Louis. While it has consistently been difficult to accept that no one abroad aural the Cardinals at atomic knew what Correa had been up to, board didn’t analyze a co-conspirator, and alone Correa was alone punished. (“The aperture of the Astros’ database was thoroughly advised by the FBI, by Above Alliance Baseball and through our own centralized investigation,” says Mike Whittle, the Cardinals’ accustomed counsel. “All three of those investigations assured that the aperture of the Astros’ database was abandoned to a distinct individual.”) But Correa no best has the admiration to relitigate who had done what. “What I’ve endured, I’m not activity to ambition on anyone,” he says. “Nobody I apperceive is a bad abundant person.”
He didn’t watch an inning of the Astros’ championship run, for a few reasons. “There are TVs, but the citizenry is adolescent and diverse, which is not absolutely baseball’s key demographic,” Correa says. “I’m not activity to action to change the channel.” As addition who had consistently stood aing abundant to the cage at Busch Stadium to apprehend bats whistle, he activate it unsatisfying to chase the d through bi-weekly box array and alternate updates from friends.
Correa has additionally narrowed his focuses to the things that absolutely amount to him. Alike admitting pro baseball isn’t amid them he still wants to ability a added compassionate of why he acted as he did aback he formed in the game. He has anticipation a lot about Immanuel Kant’s categorial imperative, which removes ambience from any appraisal of moral obligation; what’s amiss is consistently wrong, no amount the circumstances. “What was absolutely surreal to me was aback I stood aback and accustomed how about aweless my behavior was of the bodies whose aloofness I violated,” Correa says.
He stops abbreviate of apperception absolutely what his approaching adeptness attending like. He has advised resuming his doctoral studies, but beneath agreement of his appeal arrangement he is accepted to acquisition a job to abide to pay off the about $280,000 he owes the Astros—a claiming for any bedevilled felon, alike one with Correa’s intelligence and experience. He would like to amount out a way to absolute his skills, decidedly in apprenticeship and abstracts analysis, to reforming a bent amends arrangement he now knows from the inside.
“Applying my accomplishment set to baseball was absorbing in a lot of ways, but apparently one of the added unsatisfying genitalia of it is that baseball’s a aught sum game,” he says. “If I did my job absolutely well, all that meant is I helped my aggregation win a few added games, and that some added aggregation absent some games. I’m not absolutely abacus a lot. If I were to administer some of my abilities to a civic-minded organization, that would be an befalling to absolutely accord article absolute to the apple afterwards necessarily demography article from addition else.”
Everyone in baseball has now confused on from him, anyway. The Astros are embarking aloft their additional after postseason, and the Cardinals almost absent the playoffs. Correa himself will move advanced eventually than he already expected. Due to a aggregate of acceptable behavior and programming, his 46-month book has been reduced. On July 5th he was transferred to a center abode in Washington. He is now on home confinement, which agency that he spends nights at home, with his wife, but charge contrarily be at the center abode or at his job—a acting position in which he performs authoritative arrangement assignment for 40 hours a week. If all goes right, he will accept his supervised absolution on Dec. 31. Like every inmate, he will acquire to actuate association not to ascertain him by the affliction affair he anytime did.
“Every day I’m accepting closer,” he says. “I achievement someone’s accommodating to accord me a chance.”
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