McClendon was smart, shrewd, visionary, and dogged—and he had trouble following rules. On occasion, when a gamble on a new gas field worked out, that helped him. But just as often, it hurt. His contrarian push into shale drilling revolutionized the global energy business and made him a billionaire. His disdain for convention attracted regulatory scrutiny, angered shareholders, and cost him his job running the company he built.
Early one morning in April, Michelle Lyons pulled up outside her daughter’s elementary school in Huntsville, seventy miles north of Houston. Set deep in the Piney Woods, Huntsville—which is home to no fewer than five prisons—is a company town whose primary industry is confinement. Many parents who were dropping their children off at school that day worked for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, Huntsville’s largest employer.