Robert Bowen / by Michael Falco


Who is Robert Bowen

Robert Bowen, late 30s, owner of Dad’s Café, was born in Cheyenne. When he was six, his biological dad “split for San Diego [and] got real bad into meth.” His stepdad’s family came to Cheyenne from Alabama (where they were “dirt poor,” “white as hell” cotton pickers) for work in the refineries. His stepdad started buying up trailers and came to own multiple trailer parks. They lived in a poorer, more diverse section of Cheyenne. Bowen describes his own early racism as a white teenager in a majority minority high school (in Cheyenne). After graduating, he moved out of his parents’ house and began a “downward spiral” into the full panoply of drugs. Since early childhood, he suffered headaches and thought little of them until his early 20s when he had multiple strokes. When he was hospitalized after a car accident, doctors discovered a brain aneurysm and sent him to Colorado for brain surgery. Post op, he had ample access to opioids – a subscription, not just a prescription to painkillers -  but he maintained a preference for meth and marijuana. He briefly cooked his own meth, but consistently grew marijuana. He served a year in Laramie County Jail on a drug (marijuana) charge. Jail “wasn’t bad,” nor was it diverse. After release, he moved (with his wife and young child) to Portland an graduated culinary school. They returned to Cheyenne, concerned for their daughter (the concern came to a head after witnessing the overdose of a homeless person; one in Portland’s large homeless population). The diversity of Portland “saved” Bowen from his early ideas about race, from “get[ting] trapped in that white person mentality.” Race is rarely discussed in Cheyenne – there’s more conversation about gender and sexuality – which he attributes to the Matthew Shepard murder. He is not interested in politics and registered to vote only when marijuana legalization was on the ballot.  .

Excerpt from interview with Robert Bowen with Kristin Murphy, 2018

Bowen: [00:33:17] And but, you know, so after that surgery, my neurologist, it's like I just I, you know, I didn't even have a prescription for Vicodins. I just had a subscription to it. And it's like, you know, I'd get ninety of them in a pop. And there for a while, it was take one and two every couple hours. Then it was like, "Oh, I'm going to take two to three." And then it was, you know, every—you know, in the mornings, I'd wake up, pop two or three of them. And I hurt, but not, because of that. It was because I needed the pills, you know. I needed the drugs for it just to not hurt.

And, you know, that went on for, shit, what was that? Almost two years that it was non-stop and I could get them whenever I needed it—whatever I wanted. It wasn't—and eventually the doctor was like, "Oh, let's start tapering down." But by that point it was okay, because I had—but then they gave me like the Ativan for a tranquilizer and then, what was it, Cyclobenzaprine for like a sedative for anxiety, so I wouldn't have any more strokes or anything, a whole medicine cabinet.

Q: So, in some ways, I’m even more puzzled that you would choose, you know, like meth, because you had the exact trajectory for the current opioid crisis, right?

Bowen: Oh, absolutely. Absolutely.

Q: Totally. So, after, you know, the Vicodin and things like that, did you go to meth? Back to it?

Bowen: [00:34:52] No, no. Because by that point—you know, I shouldn't say no. I mean I didn't, but it's like, because after that little fiasco, you know, and it's like I was—because I was always—like, I always grew pot. I always sold pot. So after that whole gig, I was like, you know, I need to get my shit together, get myself cleaned up. Like not with the pot, but with all the other shit. So, I was like, "Well, I’m gonna—" So, like, I moved to Laramie, Wyoming and I was like, "I’m going to go to the—I'm going to get a Bachelor's in Business Administration and I'm going to go to culinary school. All right. All right. And I've got to get my shit together in life," you know, and I was—and then, I was down there while I was still growing and selling pot. I was—

Q: There's space to do that in Laramie? You [unclear]—

Bowen: Well—

Q: I mean I don't know. I haven't actually been there.

Bowen: [00:35:43] You know, it's—

Q: Or is this out of a closet operations?

Bowen: [00:35:46] No, it was an indoor greenhouse type of operation. You know, I had one of those—I had a big grow tent, you know, that I could fit, what was it? I had twelve plants, you know, at all times growing in there and I lived in a one bedroom. Like, I had my indoor greenhouse in my kitchen. And then I mean I was set up for a while. I was doing well for myself [laughs] and still working and trying to go to the university. And it was going well right up until the cops knocked on the door with the warrant. And so, it's like, "We have a warrant." It's like, "I'll just show you where it's at. Come on in, guys."

Q: You're not going to be able to hide it—

Bowen: Well, no.

Q: —if it's your own kitchen.

Bowen: [00:36:24] I mean not at all, you know. It's sort of like, "What?" It's like this is the only way out and you guys have, you know, one—because there was some like—I know there was one. I want to say there was two Laramie DCI and like three or four city cops and the sheriff and one state patrol. It was wild. "Come on in." I just opened up and here you go. And, you know, there was twelve mature plants. And I'm so, so, so glad they come when they did, because had they been there a week or two later, they would have been hanging to dry and I would have been having, you know, from misdemeanor cultivation to, you know, for possession with intent. And that's what's really—

Q: I hadn't thought about that in terms of the grow cycle.

Bowen: Yeah, yeah. And you—

Q: That's just—

Bowen: [00:37:10] And, you know, and that's what's so damned weird about Wyoming is that you can have up to 99 plants and it's a misdemeanor. If you have 100, it's a felony. And if they're growing, it's a misdemeanor.

Q: In Wyoming.

Bowen: In Wyoming. You know, you can have up to an ounce of pot, it's a misdemeanor. I mean they'll still—shit, they'll still put you in jail and that's what they did to me. And—

Q: How long did you get?

Bowen: [00:37:38] Oh, what was it? Damn near a year. [laughs] Damn near a year. Because I wouldn't tell on nobody, you know. Because he wanted to know, "Well, who are you selling to?" "I don't sell to anybody."


Q: Where did you serve it?

Bowen: [00:38:56] In Laramie.

Q: You served—

Bowen: Laramie County Jail down there, yes. And it was more just kind of a holding pattern for holding for people going to the state pen.

Q: Right. As jails are supposed to be, actually.

Bowen: [00:39:09] Yeah, yeah. Anything over a year, you have to go to the pen. Anything under, you sit and wait it out in county. And so, I just, I refused to tell on anybody. And so, they put me in jail.

Q: How did you spend your year?

Bowen: You know—

Q: Because this interrupted your college, right? You were in school at the time?

Bowen: [00:39:29] Well, yeah, but, you know, it's like I didn't do well in college, you know. I think I got put on that academic probation. I think I was failing every class. Because it's like everybody tells me. They're like, "Are you autistic or high functioning Asperger's?" Because I bounce all over the place in my own brain. But if I don't find something interesting, I just—I don't give a shit about it, you know? I mean I was always cooking food. [laughs] And I thought that would be the route to go. Well, it wasn't the route to go, but, you know, the whole time that I was in jail—you know, jail wasn't bad.

Q: Was jail before or after the stroke, by the way?

Bowen: [00:40:09] After. After. After. And you know, jail wasn't bad, honestly. You know, you meet a lot—I met a lot of interesting, good people, you know, that just made shit mistakes in their life, you know. But it was odd, because sitting in there—and, you know, a lot of people, you know, I'd get [unclear]. Because it's like they had me down in the medical unit area, because of the issues and stuff that was real close to everything. But, you know, so any person new that would come in, you know, they'd be in there for a couple of days until they'd get moved to the cells or people that had issues.

I did spend a bit of time up in the general population there where there was like sixty guys in like the big common area. There was two people to a cell, you know. It wasn't overcrowded, where you know you're in there jammed with bunkbeds. I mean every two people to a cell. You know, some of the people, you're just like, "Jeez, man. I feel bad for you." You know, it's like this one character I was locked up with there for a bit, he was, what, twenty-three and he was going back up to Rawlins for twenty-five years. Because, you know, so here's this kid seventeen years old got popped with a felony, felony possession. They sent him up to Rawlins for, what, I think three years, three or four years.

Q: And Rawlins is an adult facility, isn't it?

Bowen: [00:41:31] Yeah. But, you know, it's a felony. You know, they sent him up there. Well, then he got out and it's just like well here you are, you know, twenty-two, twenty-three years old with a felony. You're never going to go to school. You can never get federal aid. You're never going to be able to get a job other than for say fast food or construction. And so, you know, he intentionally—it's like he broke into a pawn shop and stole a handgun, robbed a minimart with said handgun, bought some coke, fired off a few rounds, and waited. Because, you know, a felon with a firearm, ten years minimum—maximum, I’m sorry, minimum. Drugs and gun, that was another ten year minimum. So, he's like, "At least for the next twenty-plus years," he's like, "I know that I'll never have to worry about a place to live, seeing a doctor or a dentist, eating food."

Q: All right. So I—

Bowen: He was like, "I don't mind it."

Q: I don't know if you ever heard of Rikers Island.

Bowen: Oh, yes. Yes.

Q: So, I taught at Rikers Island and the expression there is you get three hots and a cot.

Bowen: [00:42:45] And that's it. Pretty low—I mean not low stress. I mean—

Q: No, but I mean when you don't have anything, three hots and a cot, especially when you don't see yourself being able to get anything.

Bowen: And that's with this. And a lot of those people, that was the same way. You know, it was people that are in and out of the [unclear]. I mean jail, prisons, it's not rehabilitation. It just makes you a better criminal, you know. And it's—

Interview Transcript