Junkies beware. A modern-day mercenary is on your tail.
“This old man, this tough old union roofer, literally lifted the kid off the couch and shook him like he was a stuffed animal,” says Ceraso. “The kid started crying at that point.” He surrendered to treatment.
Ceraso says following the Fifth tradition of Alcoholics Anonymous—the one about carrying the recovery message to those who still suffer—ultimately led him to his peculiar job. No one knows the devil like a priest, and no one knows the addict like someone who’s kicked.
“I think like a drug addict,” says Ceraso, blowing steam off yet another cup of coffee. (“I was a speed guy,” he shrugs.)
Spiritually, Ceraso believes it’s his job to reach into the muck, past the elaborate fortress of an addict and rediscover the nice husband, wife or kid buried deep inside. He began facilitating interventions about nine years ago, though he didn’t think to call it intervention back then. At first, he was just giving back to the recovery community by informally working the program, helping out friends and friends of friends with their addiction problems.
“You’re involved in many of these interventions before you figure out it’s an intervention,” he says. “It was just that the family needed you, so you go over there and get with the family and the person, and together you’d convince the addicted individual into treatment.”
Now he says, “it’s a lot more planned, a lot more time and effort go into them.” Ceraso formalized his career by organizing recovery programs at his former job as an airline worker. Then three years ago, when he started working in recovery full-time as Northeast Regional Director of Treatment Solutions Network, a constellation of treatment centers, he began performing interventions regularly; he began studying it like an art form, convinced it was the next logical step in his own spiritual recovery.
“Am I a born again Christian?” he asks. “No, not with my background. I’m still doing what I can do to get into heaven.”
The packed diner is full of characters that know Ceraso, including another Vinnie, who comes by and chitchats for a while—they talk about getting their motorcycles tuned up in time for this year’s annual Toys for Tots ride. Every time his phone rings, which is every few minutes it seems, it plays the theme from The Godfather .
Though friends and family call him Vinnie, he answers the phone as Vincent. “You can’t be Vinnie on the phone,” he explains. “They think, you know, Vinnie from South Philly ,” he says, in his best Balboa accent.
He’s an intense, high-energy guy. He fields calls, takes basic info, arranges to speak again later then slips right back into conversation without missing a beat. Then he spots someone else he knows, a ghost of his troubled past.
“Judge, Judge!” Ceraso calls into the diner din, and a strikingly handsome older man comes up to the table. “This is the honorable Judge Anthony DeFino,” he gushes. “This guy saved my life!”
DeFino, retired now, was an attorney in the ’80s when a young Ceraso was running around South Philly drinking booze—Ceraso says he started drinking at 11 or 12 years old—messing with drugs and getting into trouble as a teen.
Then, in August 1986, Ceraso got picked up and was told he’d have to spend time behind bars for sure.
“I started thinking, how can I get out of doing time? I came up with this plan … to convince my lawyer to get me into treatment.” Ceraso campaigned to go to a rehab in beautiful Palm Beach, Florida, instead of the Roundhouse.
The judge agreed to the deal, but warned Ceraso that if he screwed up again, the court would get their “pound of flesh.”
“I knew what he meant,” says Ceraso. “He meant, you get arrested again, you’re going to go away.”
Ceraso coasted into rehab, pleased that he was getting one over on the man.
“It took me about a week there to realize I actually had a problem,” he says. A few weeks before his 21st birthday, when most kids ceremoniously pound shots until they black out, Ceraso got sober.
Ceraso relies on the basic foundation of the program and attends meetings occasionally, but he’s already working the program around the clock with his job at Treatment Solutions Network and moonlighting interventions. The real work of an intervention is in the prep work, and the prep work takes a lot of time.
They say the devil’s in the details. This couldn’t be truer than when planning an intervention. Prep work requires days, weeks, sometimes months of planning.
Here in the detox center of Livengrin Foundation for Addiction Recovery in Bucks County, drug addicts thrash, jerk and sweat addiction out of their dilapidated bodies under medical supervision, with the worst cases taking drugs to get off drugs.
Yaya Liem prolongs life by providing IV drug users with clean needles—along with HIV tests and referrals for training, counseling and treatment. It's a controversial job, but one he does with joy.
PW's 2015 Philly Spring Guide