Suza Lambert Bowser: Writer, Actor, Director, Filmmaker, Teacher, Mother, Felon, Prisoner

Thursday, January 31, 2013
Suza Lambert Bowser at Arcata Scrap & Salvage during the 2010 filming of her indie film, Flea. KLH | Eye

Suza Lambert Bowser at Arcata Scrap & Salvage during the 2010 filming of her indie film, Flea. KLH | Eye

Kevin L. Hoover

Eye Editor

ILLINOIS – A 61-year-old Arcata resident traveled to New Hampshire last week to visit her 85-year-old mother, possibly for the last time. The next day, she surrendered to authorities in Ottowa, Illinois to begin serving a six-year prison sentence.

Suza Lamber Bowser, most recently known as the creative mastermind behind the independent film Flea, had been arrested for transporting about 100 pounds of cannabis through LaSalle County on Feb. 16, 2012. She was charged with possession of marijuana with intent to deliver and marijuana trafficking, both of which carry a mandatory sentence under Illinois law.

In a negotiated plea deal, Bowser, 61 admitted to carrying 12 pounds of marijuana valued at $33,000, and was sentenced to six years in prison. With good behavior, she could serve half that time, followed by three years supervision.

Bowser was ordered to pay $36,100 in fines and costs, less the $15,000 cash bond she had put up for her bail. The rest is to be paid within one year of her release from prison. She forfeited the motor home she was driving when arrested as well as $25,840 cash she had been carrying.

Bowser told reporter Dan Churney that the arrest had ruined her finances, causing her and her husband to get a divorce in order to separate him from her financial consequences. She said it was the first time she had trafficked in cannabis.

She’ll first be incarcerated in Dwight Correctional Center, a maximum-security facility for women. She hopes to be transferred to the minimu-security Decatur Correctional Center.

Last Thursday night, on the eve of her prison spell, Bowser was spritually girding herself for hard time. “Everything’s crazy, but I’m in a good place,” she said. “It’s surreal to me.”

Her practical concerns ranged from the profound to the creative to the trivial.

Bowser’s biggest source of anguish was her inability to console her three children. “That’s my number one painful feeling,” she said. “I have hurt my children.”

She said she foresaw creative opportunities in the looming ordeal, and was forming up ideas for expressing her prison experiences. “I feel like I’m on the brnk of this Michael Moore adventure,” she said. “I don’t want to give away the title of my book.”

Bowser’s arrest follows an emerging trend previously noted by Arcata Police, where locals are intercepted east of California, often in the Midwest, transporting large amounts of cannabis, cash or both. Sometimes, though not in Bowser’s case, the out-of-state arrest leads back to a grow house back in and around Arcata.

Bowser characterized the LaSalle County State’s Attorney’s Felony Enforcement (SAFE) unit as a predatory entity which targets passers-through. SAFE, she said, wrangles funds for LaSalle County via asset forfeiture as part of a profitable, big-business enterprise.

Her legal misadventure started with the right-hand tire of her RV gong over the fog line, giving SAFE an excuse to pull her over. “The next thing I know, I’m sitting in their vehicle,” She lamented.

“The whole system here is absolutely corrupt,” she said. “Everybody already knows the deal.”

She said that when she related her plight to LaSalle-area cab driver, he told her, “Honey, you would have been better off going in a bank, shooting the teller and robbing it.”

Bowser said she could have contested the charges, but that would have been an expensive, high-risk gamble. “If I was 25, I might have fought it,” she said. “But I don’t have another 30 grand to put into it. I’ve already dropped $30,000 into Illinois.”

She said everyone she discussed the case with told her, “If you fight it, you’ll lose.” Losing, she said, entailed a 12-year mandatory sentence.

Bowser dismissed any suggestion of being a poster child for Illinois’ prison-industrial complex. “I’m not Aung San Suu Kyi or Nelson Mandela,” she said. “What I am is just me.”

She said she wanted to enter prison alone, and without wrenching goodbyes from family members. “I can be a better soldier, and more dignified,” she said.

She does enter the Big House with a gale-force wind of well-wishes at her back. She started a blog,, which will be maintained by her sister. The nascent blog is already loaded with expressions of support and encouragement from friends.

“I’m overwhelmed at the emotion and love,” she said. “That’s what’s killing me now.”

One supporter, she said, told her that her jailers would find themselves outmatched by the irrepressible Northern Californian creative dynamo. “I’m not sure Illinois knows what it’s gotten itself into with you,” the friend said.

Her near-term issue was the appalling prison couture she would soon spend three-plus years wearing. “I hate orange. I never wear orange,” Bowser said. “And it’s stripes!”

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