A Former Secret Service Agent on Finding Your Bravery in Unspeakably Scary Times
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As a former interrogator for the Secret Service’s polygraph unit and a special agent assigned to sitting and past presidents, including Barack Obama, George W. Bush, and Bill Clinton, Evy Poumpouras has long prioritized the safety of others. Her efforts to save people in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks in N.Y.C. earned her the Secret Service Medal of Valor Award, which has never left her parents’ basement. “What I did on that day was not for accolades; it was just what I was supposed to do as a human,” she says. “That was the greatest moment of impact in my life. Now I live by thinking, ‘If I die tomorrow, have I done everything I want to do?’”
Since leaving the Secret Service in 2012, Poumpouras has done plenty, earning her master’s degree in journalism, teaching criminal justice at the City University of New York, and co-starring on the Bravo series Spy Games. Now, with the release of her first book, Becoming Bulletproof, she hopes to teach others to be brave while staying safe. “True power comes from how you choose to let your environment and experiences shape you,” she says. “That’s what makes you resilient too.”
Growing up in Queens, N.Y., Poumpouras was interested in the arts and never dreamed of a career in law enforcement. But she also wanted to make the world a safer place, so when she was 23, she signed up for the police academy. “No one supported my decision,” she says. “It was soul-crushing.” Weeks into training for the NYPD, she contemplated quitting. She felt like she didn’t belong and was berated for wearing makeup to class. (It was against academy rules.) “I’m a very feminine person, and I wasn’t going to let go of my authenticity and speak or carry myself in a masculine way just to fit in,” she says. After five months at the academy, she accepted an offer to join the Secret Service but balked at its gender-specific physical-testing requirements. “I adhered to the men’s standards and qualified at their level,” Poumpouras says. “That way, no one could say, ‘She graduated but only did what the women had to do.’ ”
While Poumpouras served on President Obama’s personal detail, she also protected members of the Cabinet as well as visiting foreign heads of state. “You were responsible for their lives, so if anything happened to them, it fell on you,” she says. “That’s a very heavy thing.” Not to mention that she herself wasn’t immune to danger. “No one is completely impenetrable,” Poumpouras says. “Even my bulletproof vest covered only the vital organs in my upper body; everything else was still exposed. I had to be OK with being vulnerable, and that, in turn, made me stronger and more confident.”
Moments of Reflection
For Poumpouras, being complacent isn’t an option. “I’m constantly self-assessing and thinking about what I can do better,” she says. “I know I’m going to make mistakes, so I can’t beat myself up when I do. I’ve also tried to embrace failure, because once you know who you are — weaknesses and inadequacies included — you can navigate anything.” Above all, Poumpouras aims to look back on her decisions with pride: “When I’m 80 years old, I want to be able to say, ‘I did something greater than just serve myself.’ We all come into this world and take from it. What are you giving back to replenish what you took? How you serve humanity — now, that’s legacy.”
Poumpouras's book, Becoming Bulletproof, is out April 21, 2020.
For more stories like this, pick up the May issue of InStyle, available on newsstands, on Amazon, and for digital download April 17.