Van-Dwelling to Couch Surfing: A Whistleblower’s Tale

It’s amazing how fast things change…

Three Falls Ago — I was in upstate New York at my for my Grandma’s birthday with my parents and my dad’s side of the family. I reconnected with them, having not spent much time with family during my adult life. I was more interested in advancing my career. I rose through the ranks of Countrywide and Bank of America and established myself in a stable career with a “too big to fail” corporation. By fall 2010, I realized that career and the comfortable lifestyle it provided — filled with cruises, partying and excess — was coming to an end. My morality got in the way, and I was knocked off my pedestal by upper management — seeing my family provided a reprieve from the corporate chaos.

My mom and I still had a rift. We didn’t talk much again until Christmas Eve, when I called her to tell her what happened… and what I was going to do about it. She drove up to Phoenix to spend Christmas with me, despite my many protests. We sat in my garage, and I gave her an outline of what was happening at the banks. I told her I had to go to the government and the media. She had a terrified look in her eyes as she asked me why it has to be me…I’m no closer to an answer to that question today than I was that day nearly three years ago…

Two Falls Ago – I was sitting in my empty house with my computer equipment, clothes, and hygiene supplies, drinking and lamenting my power being shut off. The life of a whistleblower wasn’t what I thought it’d be – every moment was an uphill battle. I was still attached to my material possessions, so I spent the summer using drugs and alcohol to numb the reality of my life falling apart around me.

Blowing the whistle led to me being labeled a terrorist, and I didn’t realize what that meant for my daily life and career prospects. I already spoke to the Attorneys General, and I was prepping to lose my house and car, and head down to their house to live until the tax year expired and I could qualify for financial aid. It was my first year being poor, and I learned a lot about life during my spiral to rock bottom.

A friend from high school worked at a biker bar with live country music within walking distance from my house. She hooked me up with plenty of booze, and cheese balls, pretzels, and peanuts kept me alive when food was scarce. Being born and raised poor turned out to be a stroke of luck, as I was able to outlast the Phoenix summer with no air conditioning. My roommate Alex and neighbor Joon kept my spirits up when I retreated from society and withdrew within myself to deal with the trauma caused by my life being flipped upside down. The banks hit me hard…but I had Anonymous …and we were about to Occupy a small place in history

Last Fall – I was living on a floor in a small room in a cheap apartment in Clearwater, FL, studying law in school. I moved across the country with three suitcases and my laptop, ready to change the world. I had no idea that I was about to set off a chain reaction that would change my life.

I got invited to write for Huffington Post, and was working with the editor on different pitches while working on midterms and working a full-time paralegal job for a law firm down in Seminole. I was taking the bus and walking for the majority of my day, and my home life was terrible. I decided the easiest way to dig myself out of the hole, I decided to move into a van.

While in Clearwater, I got into yoga – finding my center, and learning to balance. At the same time, I was having theological and philosophical discussions with the Scientologists I worked with. By the time the Apocalypse rolled around, I was in the middle of a complete life change. Positive thinking took over my thoughts, and I discovered inner peace…but I couldn’t stop fighting the banks.

I used my whistleblower credentials to get my foot in the door with editors throughout the internet. I built a buzz around my name. Networking with do-gooders like Lisa Epstein, Kino MacGregor, and Wendy Day gave me access to great advice and put me in touch with the right people at the right time, including filmmaker Ramin Bahrani. I wasn’t out of the woods yet, but I had a smile on my face, because I knew I’d eventually get there…

This Fall – after a falling out with the government and Scientologists in Florida, I headed to Arizona, losing my van to my government trackers in Houston. I resorted to couch surfing to survive long enough to get back on my feet. While hanging out with friends, I met a teacher and fell in love.

The instability in my life created by blowing the whistle on Bank of America faded away. My writing career is in full gear, and I’m well on my way to a respectable salary working exclusively as a freelancer. Unable to get a career in the banking industry, I found niches in foreclosure consulting, and I’ve been published in respectable financial publications. My credibility is gaining, and I’ve learned to detach myself from the results.

I’m still fighting the banks, just not in the capacity I imagined when I started my journey. Yoga and meditation taught me to look at the big picture, and I learned more effective strategies to continue my war against corruption.

A whistleblower isn’t something I wanted to be growing up; I didn’t even know what a whistleblower was. But I’ll never forget the feeling I felt the first time someone called me one…and I’ll never forget the ideals that guided me through the dark times to lead me here…

Brian Penny Versability whistleblower tie and knitted hatBrian Penny is a former Business Analyst at Bank of America turned whistleblower, freelance consultant, and troll. He’s a frequent contributor to The Street, Cannabis Now, and Fast Company, Huffington PostMainstreetLifehack, and HardcoreDroid.


Brian Penny is a former Business Analyst and Operations Manager at Bank of America turned whistleblower, troll, and freelance writer.

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