Relapse of a heroin addict

Cary Quashen holds James by the collar to get him to pay attention and look up after a heart-to-heart discussion with housemates at rehab about James' behavior. Katharine Lotze/The Signal

James Fusca, SCV heroin addict, who touched the hearts of thousands after they read his story – how he hit rock bottom, the ensuing family intervention and his pledge to change – was momentarily kicked out of rehab 10 days into his stint.

Allegations of his smoking weed, talking about weed, talking back to counselors, skipping group sessions, laughing in the face of authority and calling rehab stupid “got his ass kicked out of rehab” – for 10 seconds.

Then, 10 seconds after being officially kicked out of the Action Family Counseling rehab center in Piru for bad behavior, Action Director Cary Quashen tossed him a life line.

“Is that what you want?,” he said, his face sweating from yelling so much and now, nose touching sweaty nose, waiting for an answer

It was the quiet end of a brutal 30-minute, no-holds-barred, full on, confrontational group session during which rehab staffers and rehab guests had put the boots to James – verbally.


The session begins when a scowling surly rehab staffer opens the door to a tiny room where eight addicts wait shoulder to shoulder for James.

James sits in the center of the group. Quashen pulls his chair so close to James, the two have to move their knees out of the way.

Rehab housemates tell James Fusca their feelings about his behavoir since entering rehab on May 5. James has struggled with the idea of staying totally sober after completing the program, and counselors described James’ attitude problem as interfering with their work and that of the housemates’. Before the May 22 confrontation, James had his bags packed and was ready to leave. Katharine Lotze/The Signal

He hands James a note to read out loud.

James mumbles quietly but is then jolted when Quashen yells. “That’s not loud. I want them to hear you down the f—ing street.

James starts again in a louder voice, but Quashen is louder.


James shouts. “Rarely have we seen a person fail who has thoroughly followed our path.”


He repeats even louder: “Rarely have we seen a person fail who has thoroughly followed our path.”

Having yelled the phrase four times, Quashen tells him to continue reading.

“Those who do not recover,” says James. “are people who cannot or will not completely give themselves to this simple program.”

Quashen stops him.

“A what?”

“A simple program,” James says in a regular voice.

Simple program

Group members weigh in as Quashen turns to them one by one.

“Barry. Simple program, right?” Barry: “Yes, sir.”

A young woman is asked how long she’s known Quashen. Eleven years, she tells him.

“And you’re back here again,” he tells her. “Simple program,” Quashen then flashes an image  on his cell phone at James.

“This girl died. Simple program,” he says.

Cary Quashen holds up a photo of an addict who died over the weekend as he confronts James Fusca about his behavior in rehab. James has allegedly had an attitude with counselors and housemates, causing friction. In addition, he’s been struggling with the idea of staying totally sober, and giving up marijuana in addition to heroin. Quashen did not hold back, and threatened to kick James out if he didn’t commit to staying sober. Katharine Lotze/The Signal

Quashen then demands a fifth reading from James: “Rarely have we seen a person fail who has thoroughly followed our path.”

When he’s asked about rules, James admits he’s not been following them.

“You’re following nothing but your own rules,” Quashen tells him. “We don’t play that here.”

Quashen jumps to his feet. He’s yelling again.

“If someone says ‘stand up’ you stand up.” James stands up.  Spit is flying out of Quashen’s mouth.

“If someone says ‘sit down’ you sit down.” James sits.

“If someone says roll over, you roll over. we don’t tell you to do anything in this place unless it’s going to save your ass.”

James reads the “rarely” passage a sixth time but Quashen isn’t finished with the dead girl – same age as James, same rehab, same relapse.

“Look at her. she’s dead. she just died. she was your age. she was here. is that what you want?”

James balks.

“Then, what the f— do you want? Why are you here? Tell us. Convince me, convince them why we should not throw you out.”

James offers quietly: “Well, I want to stay off heroin. And, uh, well…”

“You know what? F— you. Good bye,” Quashen stands up.  He’s done. Then, he pauses. He throws James life line.

Second chance

“Stay off heroin? What about the other drugs?”

The answer James gives is mumbled and ambiguous “Well, that all falls into, well I’m -”

He’s cut off.

James hugs a rehab housemate who was named his new roommate moments before. James identified him as the housemate he respects the most, and in an effort to change James’ behavior, Cary Quashen asked for them to be paired as roommates. Katharine Lotze/The Signal

“Change your speaking right now,” Quashen tells him. “Why are you here?”

James: “I want to stay off drugs.”

Quashen calls on the group. “He wants to stay off heroin but wants to keep smoking dope with his buddies. What’s going to happen?”

Rehab addicts give answers rooted in their experiences.  No. It won’t work.

“Are you able to be honest with yourself,” Quashen asks.

At first, James says he thinks so, but then says ‘no.’

“Then I’m wasting my time with you, aren’t I?”

Quashen is yelling again.

“You’re not following the program. You’re playing us.”

He turns to the group.  “Somebody say something.  Make it good because I have no patience right now.”

Bad attitude

The surly staffer who brought James to the group is glaring. “What did I say this morning when I woke you up? I told you pack your bags and get out of here because you have an attitude problem.”

“The problem isn’t the drugs, it’s you,” the staffer tells him. “It’s your behavior. It’s your attitude. You’re feeling good physically because the drugs are out of your system.”

“But, your bad behavior is coming up and you’re dragging people down with you and, I’m not going to allow that. I called Cary and asked him if I could throw you out because I don’t want you to harm these people.”

James shakes Quashen’s hand after agreeing to stay in rehab. Katharine Lotze/The Signal

The talk turns to self-respect and loving one’s self. Group members listen.

Quashen asks: “How many people in this room have thought about killing themselves?”

The arms of everyone in the room go up in silence.

A man about 30 compares rehab to jail: “Maybe you do need jail time. Maybe you do need an ass-whopping. Do you want that?”

James tries to be funny. “No, grandmother.”  The quip doesn’t go unnoticed.

“That’s your attitude right there,” the staffer says. “That’s what’s going to get your ass kicked.”

James rolls his eyes.  The counselor sees it. “He’s flipping us off.”

Woman in her early 20s: “It’s all about what you put into the program.”

Woman in her mid-30s: “You think you can just smoke weed, but you can’t.”

At one point, James tells the group he’s not worth it and that it might be better to give his bed to someone deserving.

Bags packed

Quashen is not buying self-pity.

“So here’s your deal. I’m going to ask you one last time. What happens to you depends on what comes out of your mouth. Do you want to be sober?”

“Yeah, I do,” James says, quietly.

Quashen needs more.  “Are you willing to do whatever someone tells you to do to stay here?” Another pause.

“You’re willing to throw everything away because you want to smoke some weed. I have no more patience for you.”

Quashen turns the staffer.  “I want his stuff to stay packed.”

James Fusca walks out the backdoor of Action Family Counseling’s Piru rehabilitation facility on Monday, May 22, 2017. Katharine Lotze/The Signal

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