Ten years ago, Garren James lay on the cold floor of a jail cell in Broward County, Fla., staring at a phone on the wall. He knew it wouldn’t ring for him – after stealing from his family, friends, and girlfriend to fuel his drug addiction, he’d be hard pressed to find anyone who would be willing to spend money to bail him out.
“You will always be a hopeless, helpless drug addict,” he said to himself. “You will never, ever, ever, ever have a normal life again.”
What James could never have imagined was that, in a decade, he would star on a Showtime reality TV show for the seventh season in a row, revolving around a successful business he had built from the ground up: A male escort agency for women named Cowboys 4 Angels.
A former model who developed a drug habit while attending fashion industry parties, James found himself living out of his car for a time after being blackballed for missing jobs. “Addiction becomes cunning, baffling and powerful,” he explains, “And it really, really, really makes you rewrite your morals. The behavior is, I need to get high. That’s the only thing that I can think of right now, right here, is I need to get high and how am I going to do that, and who do I need to screw over to get it?”
After many drug-related felonies, James found himself locked up with no one left to turn to. The public defender presented him with two choices: four years of prison or receive help for his addiction. James chose the latter and went through a recovery process that resulted in a part-time job at an art gallery. It was there that he met the woman who would become his girlfriend; she ran a women-for-men escort service. James recounts, “She would ask me to do favors, like, ‘Can you run to the bank?’ ‘Can you do this? There’s a girl coming for an interview,’ and, really, I just saw the whole business and learned it from A to Z.” One day, she said to him, “You should start an agency, men for women.” When he did a quick search online to see if such an agency already existed, James found men for men, women for men, but no men for women services.
James created a website. And then, nothing.
“For a while, we got no calls. And magically, one day, I got a call from “The Tyra Banks Show,” and they wanted to do a feature on a male escort.” Thinking it was a prank, James hung up. When the show called a second time, he realized it was a serious offer – and opportunity. “When we were on ‘The Tyra Banks Show,’” he says, “when that show aired, we were in the top 10 Googled search sites in the nation.”
Immediately after, however, he began to receive doubtful phone calls from the press. According to James, reporters accused his company of being fake and said his employees were, if anything, men who secretly saw men – because, as James summarized their reactions, “there’s no woman that would ever hire a man.”
Along with the bad press came the controversial use of the word “escort.” James says, “You know whenever you say the word escort, [it] seems dirty. So what I try to do is just say I own a companionship service. I send men on trips with women. We send them to events, weddings.” James is also clear that Cowboys 4 Angels does not sell sex, and he says that prominently on his website. Despite his effort James finds that “a lot of our emails and call per day are, you know, telling people sorry, that’s not a service we provide. You’re welcome to keep looking.”
Over the years, James has interacted with many women who have used his services, some whose stories he never expected when he first started Cowboys 4 Angels. “I had no idea that I was going to get women who lost a spouse, and that hadn’t been on a date in years and needed a kickstart to go back into the dating world. I had no idea I’d get a call from a woman saying that she’s dying of cancer and always wanted to go to India and needed somebody to go with her.”
“Don’t get me wrong, we have plenty of women that just want to have a fun night. I’m not trying to say we’re like, we’re saving the world every date. … [It’s just] some of the stories are, for me, the ones that I always remember and make me continue to do what I do.”
When James thinks about the success of his business, he can’t help but think about the women he’s hurt with his addiction. “When you have an addict, the person that usually gets hurt the most is obviously the family members,” he says. “And for me, the person that I hurt the most was my mother. I remember her praying over me, I remember her crying over me. I remember she took me to the hospital once on an overdose. I remember her visiting me in every jail, in every treatment center. For me, today, to have hurt her and my sister, and other women and girlfriends that I basically manipulated and hurt and used through my addiction… It’s become like a full circle: My job is to make women happy.”
When asked if he thought he could have created his company before his sobriety, he replies, “Prior to being in recovery, I could’ve never run this agency like I do now. There’s no way possible.” Now 10 years sober, James has recently started visiting prisons in order to share his story of recovery with inmates struggling with addiction. Before then, however, he never publicly mentioned his troubled past or that he was in recovery: With September being National Recovery Month, he wishes to change that. “I’m really, really tired of just the press [talking] about fentanyl and all of these deaths, and the rising death tolls. And if that’s all that we put out there into the universe, then that’s all the drug addict is gonna see, is that I’m gonna die soon.”
“We need to put out more of these stories about a hopeless, helpless, drug-addict crackhead with seven felony convictions [who] can turn his life around, and give up that desire to use drugs and alcohol, and find a new way of life. … So I’m here, right now, to tell you that there is help out there, that you can find a 12-step program, that you can find a detox, that you can find a treatment center. And like, if I can do it … If I can do this, anybody can do it.”