Denton Musician Richard Haskins Attempted to Rob a Bank. He Was Also My Friend — (Dallas Observer)

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Dallas Observer

By Brian Rash

Tue. Dec. 18 2012 at 12:00 PM

On December 7, in the diminishing dusk light of the parking lot across the street from Wells Fargo on University Drive in Denton, Richard Haskins sat alone in a red, 1984 four-door Mercedes. Wearing a black Misfits t-shirt, khaki cargo shorts and a pair of low-top black Converse, he looked at the bank and pondered his rapidly accruing debt. His ex-wife had been asking him for child support for months, and he owed money to several friends.

He was having trouble of late keeping a job. He was also having trouble landing a job, ever since his arrest for criminal trespassing in July of 2012. One of his friends invited him to a pre-Fourth of July party on the roof of the building on the north side of the square in Denton. The police busted the party, and Haskins was one of the several attendees arrested.

To add to his problems, he recently found out that his girlfriend was pregnant. He needed money, and he needed it now. It would solve everything, he thought to himself. His six-year-old son would be provided for by more than just his son’s mother, and he could repay all of the friends and loved ones who were growing more and more annoyed with him. He could do right by his girlfriend.

He’d heard from some shadier friends that banks would just give up the money if he demanded it. He remembered someone telling him that was bank protocol. Sitting in the Mercedes, he began writing a note on a slip of paper. After a couple more minutes, he turned on the ignition, drove across the street, and entered the drive-through queue at Wells Fargo. While waiting, his nerves almost at their breaking point, he kept telling himself that money would solve everything.

Steve Miller’s “Take the Money and Run” began playing on the local classic rock station. It was this definitive moment that strengthened his resolve as he inched closer and closer to the front of the line.

As he pulled up to the pneumatic tube in his Mercedes, he slid the hand-written note into a blue vinyl bank deposit bag, placed the bag into the receptacle and pressed the button. The note instructed the teller to put all of the money she had into the bag and send it back to him or he would rush the door.

After roughly two minutes, he noticed no employee was visible inside the bank anymore, and suddenly realized the futility of what he was attempting. Figuring the police were on their way, he sped off and tore down Sunset Street, making a left onto Alice and then another left onto Crescent. He made a right on Carroll Blvd., then cut through the center of town, heading northeast on Mingo Street. As he was driving up Mingo, his whole body shaking, an oncoming police car passed him, and that’s when he decided he needed to get off the road. He took refuge at a friend’s house and called his father shortly after that.

He told his father what he had done, and his dad quickly convinced him that he needed to turn himself in. The next day, on Saturday at around 1 pm, he turned himself in at the county jail, but not for the attempted bank robbery. Rather, he told the arresting officers that he was turning himself in for a warrant acquired after failing to appear in court for his aforementioned criminal trespassing arrest.

He was ushered to a holding cell, and four hours later, detectives came into his cell, removed him to a private interrogation room, and exacted a confession from him about the robbery attempt the previous evening.

I first met Richard Haskins in 2003, when he got a job at The Tomato Pizza in Denton. I had already been working there for a year, and I was tasked with training him on the ins and outs of the job. After about 30 minutes, back by the dishwashing area, he decided to test me.

“Hey, you know how sometimes when you look at a person you meet for the first time, you hear a song in your head, and that’s like that person’s soundtrack to you? Like, for me, the song would be, ‘Any way you want it, that’s the way you need it, any way you want it.” He sang the lyrics to Journey’s “Any Way You Want It,” and I started laughing a little.

“OK, yeah, sure,” I responded.

“Well, the song I hear in my head for you is…”

He proceeded to sing the entirety of the Applebee’s theme song in the style of Chris Farley or Jack Black. He then said, “Sorry. I’m fat.” In that instant, we became fast friends.

From then on, he would ask me on two occasions to sub as the guitar player for his band, The Wee Beasties. I was one of four witnesses at his 2006 Halloween wedding at the Denton justice of the peace, and two years later, he served as the emcee at my wedding. We played together at Wake Up ’04, a short-lived music festival held at the fair grounds of Denton, and at this show, emulating one of his heroes, GG Allin, he peeled and stuck a banana up his ass, then threw it into the small crowd, part of it landing on my mother’s pants.

For a few years, my then-girlfriend and I were regulars at his son’s birthday parties in the suburbs of Corinth. Usually we gifted his young son some sort of kiddie musical instrument. I did odd jobs for him at his studio, Black Bottle Recording Studios, and he paid me generously when I was having trouble finding another job. When it came time for me to record an album, he recorded it for me at something like a 90 percent discount.

Then, around the beginning of 2010, he enlisted in the Navy, and was shipped off to Illinois for basic training. I received one letter from him during his stint at basic, and all it said was: “Please write back as much as you can. This is so much harder than I thought it was going to be.”

About a month after that, I learned that he had been discharged from the Navy after being diagnosed with severe bipolar disorder. He returned home to a dying marriage (albeit largely due to his own infidelity), and was staying at the Super 8 Motel in Denton, off Teasley. I visited him one night while he was staying there, and the medication he was on made him so distant, so bleary-eyed and slurry, that I hardly recognized him. He dropped at least 100 pounds, though in fairness, much of it was due to the strenuousness of basic training. Shortly after my visit, he elected to go off of his medication for good.

This was, I believe, the start of his downward spiral. From 2010 to the end of 2012, I didn’t see him much, and I would hear about his exploits from people in the scene; some exploits ambitious and brilliant, furthering his status in the music world, and some exploits impetuous and sophomoric, the type you might expect from a people-using junkie.

In July of 2011, I met him at J&J’s Pizza to give him $400, money I had spent months collecting and had allocated specifically for Richard so he could launch the album he recorded for me two years prior. I don’t know what he did with the money, but I never saw him again after that, and so I wrote him off. Never were we to be friends again, and that ended up being fine with me.

The next time I heard anything about him was Tuesday, December 11. The Denton Record-Chronicle reported that he had turned himself in to the police on December 7 in connection with an attempted bank robbery at a Wells Fargo on University Drive. (In fact, he turned himself in the next afternoon.)

Despite his sometimes reckless and immature behavior, attempted bank robbery was not something that I, let alone anyone, would have expected from him. He is not a violent person (aside from when he’s performing on stage, and that’s all schtick anyway), nor was he particularly felonious in any other regard.

I visited him at Denton County Jail the following Saturday, December 15, and when he walked in to the visitor’s atrium dressed in the standard issue orange jumpsuit that read “Denton County Jail” across the front, he looked confused. He scanned all the visitors on the other side of the glass partition but didn’t recognize me. I waved and he suddenly realized who I was. He walked over to my area, sat down on the stool and picked up the phone to talk to me.

His face was sunken and sad. He seemed on the verge of tears and said, “I’m damn glad you came to see me.” His tone was apologetic and contrite throughout the 20 minutes I was allowed to speak with him. He asked me if we could be friends, and I said that I didn’t think so, and that I just wanted to talk with him about what he had done.

“I feel like everything I touch, I fuck up,” he said through the crackling, tinny phone. He said that he didn’t belong there, and that all he wanted to do the whole week he was in jail was cry, but he couldn’t because the inmates would have seen his weakness and messed with him even more than they already were. He related that he was being intimidated by many other inmates regularly, and that he couldn’t wait to get out.

“It took me forever to get a phone card,” he said. “But when I finally did, I just memorized the number and tore it up and threw it in the trash because I didn’t want anyone to steal it.”

He said that his bipolar disorder and the fact he took himself off his medication, which included Lithium and Celexa, has a great deal to do with his current situation.

“My son would visit,” he explained, “and it got to the point where… I knew that I loved my son, and I knew that I loved him being there, but my emotions were so dead [because of the medication] that I did not take joy in playing with him. I did not take joy in seeing him smile. I knew that I was supposed to, and that scared the living fuck out of me. I couldn’t write songs because I had no emotions anymore, and it scared me. I lied to everyone and told them that I was still on the medicine, but I wasn’t, and things just got worse and worse and worse.”

The same day that I visited him, his father, Richard Sr., showed up to the county jail to bail his son out. Later that night, I called the number Richard had given me to memorize when I was speaking to him (you are not allowed any kind of recording devices or pens when you talk with an inmate, at least not at Denton County), and Haskins answered the phone.

He agreed to speak with me the next day, and during that interview, he couldn’t stop crying at various points. It was hard to believe that this was the same person I was first introduced to nine years ago; the same person who has worked with music legends from Greg Ginn to Brave Combo; the same gifted punk front man who frequently played for captive audiences numbering in the hundreds, sometimes even thousands. The Richard Haskins that I was speaking to now was a broken man. He was lost, and wearing the same clothes he had on when he turned himself in: the Misfits shirt, shorts and Converse. He said that all he had to his name were his clothes and a dollar in his pocket. He said that his situation was bleak and that he was looking at hard prison time ranging from two to 20 years, and that was only if the crime didn’t go federal.

Richard Sr. still holds out hope for his son. “He was trying to get back on his feet, and was having a hard time getting a job, and he just got desperate,” he said outside of the jail, just before he bailed his son out. “I haven’t seen any paperwork that says he’s bipolar. All I’ve heard is stories. I think he’s just a young man that lost his family and hasn’t been able to figure out yet what’s going on. But I don’t want to say anything to hurt Richard, and I don’t want to say anything to hurt anybody. I think Richard, he lost a lot, but I think this is the point where he’s reached bottom, and he’ll get back out of it. I think that if he’s committed this crime, and he’s confessed to it, then he’s man enough to go through the court system and then move forward.”

Some of the last words Haskins said kept echoing through my mind as he walked away. “I’m just sorry to everybody, you know? And not just because of this, but everybody that I’ve affected negatively over the past few years with what’s been going on with me. I’m sorry that, for whatever reason, it just feels like I’m no good, like I just can’t get it together. And I feel like [that about] a lot of people, especially my son. I’m sorry to him.”