...here, amid the frozen and fallow fields, is a fitting place for Skilling to begin his penance. This town of almost 10,000 is steeped in the values Skilling long ago traded for the arrogance and greed that dominated his tenure at Enron.
It's a town where, according to the latest census data, the average citizen makes less than $27,000 a year. In Skilling's world, that's more of a rounding error than a salary.
Tucked 14 miles down the Laura Ingalls Wilder Historical Highway from Interstate 35, it's worlds away from the Houston of Skilling's glory days.
The economy here is tied to a handful of industries, from catalog publishing to electronics manufacturing — real companies producing real products, the sort of asset-laden businesses that Skilling mocked in his days running Enron.
Many of their warehouses and factories are just a stone's throw from the prison yard where Skilling will take his exercise, a reminder of how business ought to be conducted.
One side of the yard borders a row of wood-frame houses, the homes of hard-working people who will pass Skilling's new residence on their way to honest jobs.
They, too, will be a reminder of why he is here. [...]
Across the country, average Americans depended on those [stock] markets for their pensions and their savings and, in some cases, their livelihoods. They expected honesty. Instead they got Enron, one of America's premier public companies that, under Skilling's steady hand, became a financial ruse.
Skilling is serving 24 years and four months in part because, as U.S. District Judge Sim Lake noted, his crimes destroyed the lives of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people whose finances will never recover.
Thousands more suffered losses both direct and indirect. Enron was a blue chip stock that blackened mutual funds, index funds and public pension funds. [...]
Those in Washington who wish to roll back the reforms that followed the demise of Enron and other corporate fraud should come here, to towns like this one, and explain to the people who've entrusted their futures to the market why their investments don't deserve protection from the kind of dishonesty that Skilling and his Enron cronies unleashed.
It's fitting, perhaps even poetic, that the coda of Skilling's career brings him here, that one of the most notorious of America's corporate criminals would serve his time in a town that stands as a living reminder to all he eschewed. [...]
Perhaps as soon as today, Skilling is supposed to begin his new life as Inmate No. 29296-179. He will slide into obscurity as the curtain closes on the greatest fraud in American business.
But the lessons of Enron remain. If Skilling were to wonder why his penalty is so stiff, he'll need only to look out the window of his new home.
The answers will be all around him.
Loren Steffy, The Chronicle's business columnist, has done a great job over the years covering this story, culminating in today's pitch-perfect commentary.