Smiling and huge and grossly immature, a teenage Greg Skrepenak sat in the bleachers at the Kings College gymnasium. The occasion, I believe, was a speech concerning one war or another by then Congressman Paul Kanjorski. The hulking GAR High School kid had assembled with other Wilkes-Barre city school students for the event.
Skrepenak sat with Raghib “The Rocket” Ismail from Meyers and Bobby Sura, his basketball teammate from GAR.
Reeking with potential and brimming with hope, blinding storylines brightened the lives of these three working class kids from Northeastern Pennsylvania hard coal country.
The Rocket went on to football acclaim with Notre Dame, a multi-million dollar contract in Canada and a finish with the Dallas Cowboys. Sura set college records in Florida and played with the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers in the National Basketball Association. Skrepenak starred as an All-American in Michigan and played for the Carolina Panthers as well as the storied Oakland Raiders.
But Skrep, as he was known around the Valley, ultimately distinguished himself above and beyond his superstar peers.
After retirement from the pros, the Rocket became an evangelist of sorts and a professional bull rider. Sura basically disappeared after a fight at the Woodlands in which he said he was not involved and police concurred. Skrep ran for and was elected to a responsible position of public trust as a Luzerne County commissioner.
Had Skrep played this game properly, abiding by the rules and upholding the public trust, he might have gone to the state house instead of to the big house.
But Skrep scored a federal prison sentence in West Virginia where strains of “take me home country road” echoed off the walls of his skull as he tossed and turned his 6-foot-8-inch frame in a hoosegow bunk and dreamed of the Heights where he lived and loved and learned nothing about integrity.
Now the big man has returned.
His mother picked him up from a recent day at work as a clerk at a buddy’s law firm, according to a published report, and brought him back to the house where he is living under house arrest with mom and dad.
Skrep lost weight and is humbled by his experience, the lawyer told a reporter.
Skrep said he couldn’t talk about his experience yet chastised the reporter, asking why the press couldn’t just leave him alone.
Let me explain it to you, big man.
We can’t leave you alone because you spent too many years expecting our attention.
You and you alone became a celebrity. You and you alone begged us to watch. You and you alone pledged that we could trust you. You and you alone then betrayed the public trust you swore to uphold. You and you alone willingly became a gangster. You and you alone used sacred public service to benefit yourself and your buddies who always thought they were better than anybody and everybody who depended on you to help their often pitiful struggle.
No, Skrep, we will not leave you alone. And you better understand that you will take hits all your life because you are now and always will be an ex-convict who threw it all away.
Amid his failure, his weakness and denial, I wish him well. I believe in rehabilitation and redemption. But, as a former state prison counselor, I also understand the delusion under which the majority of former inmates live their lives after being released from prison.
Too many of them continue to blame others for their faults and dysfunction. Too many refuse to accept real responsibility. They talk about their “mistakes” rather than their crimes. And they desperately grasp image rather than substance. And, of course, they all too often continue to hang out with a bad crowd.
In Skrep’s case, that simply means coming home, where he is staying for the remaining couple of months of his sentence.
Skreps’s father is a hothead with a temper he cannot control. At least he was out of control the last time I saw him, as he put his face close to mine in court following his son’s sentencing and threatened me with violence. I calmly looked him in the eye. I waited but nothing happened. The head of the Scranton office of the Secret Service and an assistant United States attorney witnessed Skrep’s father’s childish display of macho stupidity.
“That was a threat,” the prosecutor said out loud.
But I declined to press charges because I didn’t want to add to the Skrepenak family’s heartache by putting another bad seed into a jam that was entirely self-created.
Skrep and his dad still need therapy. Maybe the whole family needs counseling. Let’s hope they’re up to this terribly emotional task.
Just like that long ago day in the gym, the future awaits.