Russ Francome, the National Director of Clinical Engagement for Avenues Recovery Centers, laughs through the twists and turns of life that brought him to addiction treatment in this episode of Rubber Bands.
Feel the pain of a young man once called “leche caliente” as his dream of becoming a professional soccer player is crushed in an instant. Look through the lens of his experience at the lack of opportunities and unique struggles of underprivileged inner city youth, and read along with him the touching email he received from a former student.
Most importantly, learn about his treatment philosophy, why he thinks destigmatizing addiction is crucial to prevention, and why relapse does not equal failure.
00:01:44 – Who is Russ Francome?
00:06:39 – Sports potential – A previous lifetime
00:09:26 – Shlomo and the Governor of New Jersey, a sad tale of New Jersey based Cleveland Browns fans
00:11:43 – Mets World Series prediction, you heard it here first
00:12:10 – Soccer regrets and life lessons learned
00:13:46 – “Hot milk”, best nickname EVER
00:14:36 – It all comes “Crashing” down
00:17:18 – Dreams ended and the view from rock bottom
00:19:08 – A hero mom and a life saved – Hear how Russ’s mom ensured substance abuse would not become an issue
00:20:14 – A detour in life – Where next?
00:23:40 – Detour #1 – Gang affiliated youth, a learning experience like no other
00:28:05 – Lives changed – An email from a student
00:28:24 – Detour #2 – Introduction to Substance Abuse
00:30:33 – Russ’s secret: Pushing the reset button
00:33:31 – Building trust, a key to Substance Abuse Treatment
00:37:54 – Avenues Recovery, inclusivity not exclusivity
00:41:42 – Blending social work and Marketing, oil and water combined
00:45:04 – Treatment gaps
00:48:12 – Treatment Repeat – Success not failure
00:52:03 – SUD education and prevention
00:59:10 – New dreams, and dreams fulfilled
Welcome to Rubber Bands, an Avenues Recovery Podcast. Conversations about the push and pull of addiction and recovery. And now, here’s your host, Shlomo Hoffman.
[00:00:26] Shlomo Hoffman: Hey, what’s up, everybody. This is Shlomo Hoffman with Rubber Bands, conversations about the push and pull of addiction. We’re back for Episode 2 of exploring the world of addiction treatment and the heroes that make up its soldiers. These include the people that are in recovery themselves, what they have sacrificed, how they have grown, how they are healing, and their eagerness to share it with others and to give back to the community.
We are also talking to people who are involved in addiction recovery treatment – their empathy, their skill, their passion shines out from every one of the people that I talk to. Today, we have with us Russ Francome, the National Director of Clinical Engagement at Avenues Recovery Centers. We don’t know exactly what that title means, but hopefully, Russ will be able to enlighten us into what he does and how he goes about impacting the world of addiction recovery. Russ, how are you today?
[00:01:16] Russ Francome: Thank you for having me. It’s the age-old question of what I actually do versus what my title is and what it actually means.
[00:01:24] Shlomo Hoffman: Is it something that you know or just something that you’re told?
[00:01:26] Russ Francome: What I do?
[00:01:27] Shlomo Hoffman: Every once in a while.
[00:01:28] Russ Francome: That’s a good question. I kind of fly by the seat of my pants, but to a degree, I cover all outreach across the country for all eight facilities and also ensure best clinical practices throughout our conglomerate.
[00:01:44] Shlomo Hoffman: Let’s run through your background a little bit and how you got here. Are you an American? Where are you from?
[00:01:49] Russ Francome: That’s a leading question if I ever heard one. I was born in London. My father was a professor, and they met in New York while he was doing an exchange program. I was born in London and moved here when I was 11 years old, so I’ve been here a significantly longer time than I was in London, but I do have a lot of family there and a lot of connections back there still. Born in London – grew up, I guess you’d say, in New York.
[00:02:19] Shlomo Hoffman: In New York, here in the New York area? Are you a Long Island kid?
[00:02:24] Russ Francome: I did spend some time on Long Island, yes. Long Island, Queens, and I did my high school education in Long Island in Seaford. I went to college at Molloy University, where I got my undergrad. I got my Master’s Degree from Lehman University. I did get my Master’s Degree in Social Work, as well as my undergrad in Social Work.
[00:03:07] Shlomo Hoffman: Cool. Let’s talk a little bit about your childhood. Were you always that type of guy that understood people and got involved in people’s problems? Or were you just a rough and tumble New Yorker?
[00:03:19] Russ Francome: I was about to say, is that how you see all social workers? I think I was always a social guy. In my high school education, the focus was social for me versus educational. I grew up with a lot of addiction in the family. Having moved to New York at 11, obviously, assimilation in social aspects were a big focus for me.
[00:03:45] Shlomo Hoffman: So, it is an adjustment from London to New York?
[00:03:47] Russ Francome: Oh, for sure. I got the accent beat out of me nice and early. Luckily for me, I had something – how are you going to assimilate for me soccer? I was a soccer and baseball player, and I use sports as a way of making a new friends circle, and settling down, and things of that nature.
But it was difficult. My father stayed in London, and my mother brought us here. We were living with family. We lived in my aunt’s basement for quite some time. She opened her house to us, and it was difficult. It was a difficult kind of childhood, but one that wasn’t lacking in love, which is the most important thing.
[00:04:24] Shlomo Hoffman: So, you’d say middle-class, lower-class, upper-class, upper-middle-class?
[00:04:28] Russ Francome: Definitely, lower-middle-class. I think we had the benefit of having family open up their house to us. But my mom was a very hard-working single mom. She was a social worker; she was my inspiration as far as where I went with my career. She worked three jobs as a single mom on Long Island, which is not a cheap place to live, so we were the old – here’s a social work term for you: latchkey kids.
We got home from school. I was kind of able to erase all the voicemails about the detentions and everything like that – get rid of all the letters I didn’t want her to see, so it had its benefits. Yeah, the manipulation started nice and early.
[00:05:09] Shlomo Hoffman: What area of social work did your mom specialize in, and did that form your career at all?
[00:05:14] Russ Francome: You know, it’s actually funny because we’re kind of the complete opposites. My mom is very much a meet people where they’re at, and she’s a very spiritual person. She’s into holistic things. She’s more in the line of family therapy, marriage therapy, and things of that nature.
She deals with a lot of substance abuses because it touches every different angle of society, so she deals with a lot in her private practice. But I would say that it’s not, by any stretch of the imagination, at the forefront of her practice. So she’s very meet people where they’re at, get them ready to make a move and make them come to their own conclusions, and however long that takes, that’s the process.
Whereas, when I got involved in social work, it was initially gang-affiliated youth. Then, it was substance abuse treatment. I was dealing with very high-risk, underserved populations where once you had them, and you had them engaged in your therapeutic relationship, you’re able to make a more – I don’t want to say a punitive approach, but really push them a little bit more.
So we’re very different in our practices. We always butted heads on what the appropriate way to do things is, but hands-down, I would say that she is probably one of the best individual therapists and family therapists in the country, without a doubt. She’s fantastic.
[00:06:38] Shlomo Hoffman: You had a throw-in there a little bit. You said you expanded your circle of friendship through sports.
[00:06:45] Russ Francome: Yes.
[00:06:46] Shlomo Hoffman: What happened? Were you like a kid running around on the field like every other American kid, or you had aspirations in sports?
[00:06:55] Russ Francome: I was good. I think growing up in London –
[00:06:58] Shlomo Hoffman: Can we Google you and see clippings.
[00:06:59] Russ Francome: Don’t act like you haven’t already, I guess, is what I would say. So, you know the answer to that question. For me, growing up in London, my parents got divorced early; I have an older brother; we had a lot of friends locally. You asked before were we lower or middle class or whatever the case may be.
In England, we were much more middle class. My father was a professor. He worked at a local university. He was a sociology and criminology professor. He’s cool. He’s a great person. Our house backed up. Literally, the gate from our backyard went out to a park. Everyone says I sound like my grandfather used to sound now like when I say to my son, “When I was a kid, we were outside 18 hours a day.” It was like that. We played soccer from sunup to sundown.
[00:07:46] Shlomo Hoffman: When it wasn’t raining.
[00:07:48] Russ Francome: We played through the rain. We’re not soft-weather people, so we just played through it. I think, for me, that education in soccer, I was way advanced. When I came here in ’11, I was playing 16 teams. My aspirations were high. I was very good at soccer. It’s funny because I ended up being very good at baseball. I used to play cricket in London.
When we moved here, they did tryouts for PAL, and they make you go up, and you hit a little bit, you throw a little bit. They see where you’re at kind of thing. I go up, and my hands are separated on the bat, and I’m not swinging at anything down the middle. If it bounces, I’m hammering it. So, I was the last pick for PAL.
Then by my junior year in high school, I was a captain of the varsity baseball team. For me, baseball was important. Soccer was easy. It was just an instinct for me. I was always advanced as far as the other kids go, but baseball was something I actually had to put effort into, and I still love, to this day, New York Mets, who are about to turn it around. You’re shaking your head, but this is the time. Don’t jump on board and Steve Collins here with bags of money, and we’re about to turn it around.
[00:09:05] Shlomo Hoffman: Yeah. Coming from Cleveland, we don’t talk so much about teams turning it around. They just don’t.
[00:09:11] Russ Francome: Look. I’m a New York Mets.
[00:09:12] Shlomo Hoffman: Just deal with the trauma.
[00:09:13] Russ Francome: I’m a Jets fan and Nicks fan, so I know all about pain.
[00:09:18] Shlomo Hoffman: You never choose alone, to be honest.
[00:09:19] Russ Francome: Or did I. Because when we turn it around, it’s going to mean much more for me. It’s a moral thing. I can’t back out.
[00:09:27] Shlomo Hoffman: Actually, the governor – as a little aside, a cute little story – I was at a fundraiser for Governor Murphy when he was running for Governor of New Jersey. He was, at that point, the ambassador to Germany, I think it was. He was speaking about his fundraiser, and his phone goes off. He was a little embarrassed.
He tells everybody, “Yeah, you know, I once had a story. My phone went off during a fundraiser, much like this, and I peeked at my phone, and it was my son calling. It was the middle of the day. I was a little bit nervous, like, why is he calling. He should be at school. Maybe something’s wrong. So I apologized and walked off to the side, and took the call. And I’m like, ‘Son, is this an emergency?’ And he was like, ‘Yeah, Dad. It’s an emergency.’ I’m like, ‘Okay, so what’s the emergency?’ He tells him, ‘The Browns just released R. G. III.’” That was the story that he said.
At the time, I went over to him after the speech, and I told Ambassador Murphy that I was the ambassador, and I’m like, Ambassador Murphy. I said, “You want me to vote for you and steward the great state of New Jersey. Why in the world is your son a Brown’s man?” He told me like he doesn’t know. They were in Germany. They were on TV. His kid got into it and likes the Browns. I’m like if you can’t captain your family properly – they’re Brown’s fans – how can I expect you to lead a state.
[00:10:56] Russ Francome: Well, he’s got to practice. What does the great state of New Jersey ever want? Let’s be honest. He’s the perfect person to do it. He’s used to dealing with disappointments.
[00:11:06] Shlomo Hoffman: The point of life is to direct people in the right directions that will make them happy and productive and have meaning.
[00:11:12] Russ Francome: That’s true, but at the same time, who says winning is always the right way? I grew up a Mets fan. I haven’t won anything in my entire life other than when I was three years old in ’86, and that definitely doesn’t count. My son is four years old. He is a big Mets fan, and he’s going to be a winner in his life.
[00:11:33] Shlomo Hoffman: You’re doing that to your son.
[00:11:33] Russ Francome: My son now has Steve Cohen, the richest owner in baseball, and I would argue probably the top three in all major sports, and he’s about to drop off bags of money at the free agents’ doors, and our time has come. Our time has come. It’s been 37 years of pain for me.
[00:11:57] Shlomo Hoffman: Guys, his son’s four.
[00:11:57] Russ Francome: He’ll have a world series – this is recorded, right? This is going to be archived. My son will have a World Series by the time he’s ten.
[00:12:07] Shlomo Hoffman: Folks, if you could only see the light shining in Russ’s eyes when he says that.
[00:12:10] Russ Francome: I’m very proud.
[00:12:11] Shlomo Hoffman: I’m just sorry to be here when that light is extinguished.
[00:12:16] Russ Francome: We’ll see. I’m used to that.
[00:12:19] Shlomo Hoffman: Back to sports. Were you recruited collegiately? Were you planning on playing collegiately?
[00:12:23] Russ Francome: Sure.
[00:12:23] Shlomo Hoffman: Were pros any type of dream for you?
[00:12:26] Russ Francome: Sure. At 16 years old, I was on the Red Bull’s second team. What that looks like is, essentially, I guess what you consider in soccer at that time, MLS wasn’t huge. It’s still not huge and well developed, but it was like the minor league team of the New York Red Bull. At the time, they were called the Metros Stars.
I used to have training sessions with them and played scrimmages with them. I played on travel teams; I played on the national team, state team. I was very good. I didn’t put much effort into it, if I’m honest. I think I was the victim of moving here at 11 when I was extremely advanced compared to other kids.
[00:13:11] Shlomo Hoffman: On the national level, here in America.
[00:13:13] Russ Francome: England to America. That’s what it is. What do they say? It takes 50,000 hours to master something. I had played a significant amount more soccer than that by age 11. It was every day. It was legitimately every single day for multiple hours. So, for me, I never put much effort into it, and I think that’s my one regret that I guess I have is that I wish I would have put more into my development as a soccer player.
I was playing semi-pro at 16. I was getting paid to play by 16 years old, a couple of hundred bucks a game, which was awesome, and playing against men. So, that was a good education too. I played a lot with the El Salvadorian community. I got the best nickname of all time, which was [00:14:05], hot milk. That’s what they used to call me because I was the only white guy on the team. We used to go out for pupusas after. It was awesome.
The Hempstead community took me in. My mom was working three jobs, so she couldn’t take me to games, so my coach Louie Moran – give him a bit of a shout out here – very good man. Wonderful family, his wife, Sandra. They would pick me up on a Saturday night, and I’d sleep at their house. Then I’d go to a game at 6:00 am on Sunday mornings. Even though I grew up with a nontraditional household once I moved to New York, the community, at large, not the community in Seaford – the community in Seaford, obviously, took me in, but our circle was larger, and it takes a village, for sure.
[00:14:51] Shlomo Hoffman: So, what happens? Now, there’s a moment.
[00:14:54] Russ Francome: There’s a moment. I was 18 years old, just graduated; I didn’t have good grades, so I was getting recruited by some good schools, but I decided to stay local. I was going to go to the community college. We were ranked #1 in the nation. I was fixed to be a starter there when I got hit by a car.
So, I was going camping with my buddy Chris and my family. We stopped at a Wendy’s at about 10:00 at night. We were driving up to the cabin, and basically, an employee who was working there – we couldn’t eat inside. You have to eat outside because it was closed. So, we were sitting on top of his truck. I’ve got my dog out. He’s there. One of the employees went through the drive-through to pick up – I guess they get a free meal or whatever the case may be, and his feet – this is what he said. He said his feet or his sneakers were greasy, and his foot slipped off the brake and went onto the gas, and he just fully accelerated around the whole thing.
I was standing with my back turned to this car, and I hear some screeching, and I’m standing against a van, so it was very high. I turned around, and there’s a truck coming at me like 30 miles an hour. I jumped in the air. Thank God I did. Otherwise, it would have pinned me at the chest. It knocked me back onto the hood, and I smashed against the windshield, and it sent me 25 feet the other way.
[00:16:27] Shlomo Hoffman: Soccer career over at that minute?
[00:16:29] Russ Francome: It felt like it. I had a double fracture in one vertebra, which, at that point, I didn’t realize, but the actual painful part was I had a piece of headlight glass about four inches into my thigh, and that was the thing. No one knew it was there. This is the stuff – they strap you down. I’m in this ambulance.
First off, they’re surprised I survived. They didn’t believe the story when my friend told them what happened because they couldn’t visualize it. It was just an instinct to turn around and see a car and jump. That saved my life. They strapped me down because I’m telling them my back hurts, but you don’t feel pain. In moments of trauma, you can’t hear noise. It’s like white noise, and it’s almost like a pitch if anything else.
They strapped me down on my back, and they’re flying to the specialist hospital because they think, obviously, my back is damaged. And every time they hit a bump, I’d go up in the air a little bit and then crash back down on my thigh, and this piece of thick headlight glass is just pushing further into my leg. It was agony. It was probably the only thing keeping me conscious, to be honest with you.
After that, I’ll never forget. I was in the hospital for a couple of days, and the doctor came to me. I said, “When can I play?” He goes, “Your career is over,” is what he said. You’re an 18-year-old kid. You feel like you are superman like nothing bad can happen. All the sudden, boom! In the blink of an eye, your life feels like it’s over. What did I do? I didn’t take my rehab seriously. I was supposed to wear a brace for 18 months. I wore it for like a week. To be honest with you, I fell into a very deep, dark place.
[00:18:17] Shlomo Hoffman: What substance abuse was the player at that point?
[00:18:19] Russ Francome: For me, the funny part was they had me on Oxy as a pain – obviously, I was in a significant amount of pain. They weren’t able to do surgery for whatever reasons – swelling, the placement. They wanted to see if it would fix itself because I think there is some regeneration aspect to spinal injuries. My mom, being a social worker and knowing me as a person–
[00:18:42] Shlomo Hoffman: Was there history in your family at all of substance abuse?
[00:18:45] Russ Francome: Alcohol. A lot of alcoholism in my family. By that point, by 18, a lot of marijuana use, some partying, and stuff like that. A lot of alcohol use.
[00:18:54] Shlomo Hoffman: I’m thinking that was for you? But I’m talking in your family, in general?
[00:18:58] Russ Francome: A lot of alcoholism. My father, a big drinker. My grandfather on my maternal side, too. So, my maternal grandfather and grandmother, both no longer with us, God bless them. But my father is a big drinker. He lives in England, so there’s definitely a cultural aspect to that.
[00:19:18] Shlomo Hoffman: They drink fine in America too.
[00:19:20] Russ Francome: They do. My mom is very open and honest about it. During dark times in her life, she’s leaned on alcohol. There’s a lot of self-medicating in my family. There’s a lot of depression, and it seems to be pretty significant – a significant history of depression and then self-medicating with alcohol after that.
[00:19:36] Shlomo Hoffman: So, the pain pills and that kind of stuff, did that become a problem for you at that point? Or you were careful with that? It was keeping your head up there, straight.
[00:19:45] Russ Francome: Yeah. My mom handed me a couple of the Oxy when I got home after the hospital, and she dumped the rest. I’m like, “What are you doing? I’m in lots of pain.” I couldn’t believe it at the time, but she probably saved my life because based on my—
[00:20:09] Shlomo Hoffman: Profile.
[00:20:09] Russ Francome: Yeah. 100%. Addictive personality. She knew I was in a dark place based on the news I had just gotten about soccer and baseball being all over for me. It was a very smart move on her part. After that, depression, isolation; I didn’t want to see anyone, drinking a lot every day, and some drug use too. For me, I fell right in that pattern of my family of self-medication at that point.
[00:20:45] Shlomo Hoffman: So, what happens? Where are you going? You have to rewrite a new script now.
[00:20:51] Russ Francome: Which is scary. Right? You think you’ve got your life sorted out. Like, I’m going to college; I’m doing this. I’m going to play pros. This is what I’m going to do. Then, for that to change in the blink of an eye – my self-worth was based on my athletic ability. I had never put any effort into education ever up to that point. My dad was in England, and my brother, at that point, had moved back to England as well. He went to Sussex University. He makes documentaries. He’s a very successful guy, so a shout out to Will Francome.
At that point, after periods of not doing anything and being completely stagnant, my mom had one of her friends, Peter Yelton – a shout out to him too. He was a male social worker.
[00:21:44] Shlomo Hoffman: He can’t stop marketing, guys. He just can’t stop.
[00:21:46] Russ Francome: I’ve got to give people props, man. I’ve had some people who were really impactful in my life. Peter Yelton being one of them. I’ll never forget it. I was 17 years old. He drove this nice Audi. I drove a terrible Oldsmobile that was older than me. I was going out on a date, and he happened to be coming over to see my mom, and at 17, I had a good grade or something – like something very insignificant, and he throws me the keys to the Audi, and says, “Go, have a good time. Go pick up your date.” I was like, “Peter Yelton, much respect to you.”
He was a really good dude to me. He came in, and he was like, “Look. What you’re doing isn’t working. You have a lot of potential. You can do anything in your life. You’re going to piss everything away. I’m telling you that from a place of love. These are the cards you were dealt. It’s something I think of a lot. You get a crappy hand. You can either keep trying to play them, play out of it, or you can just fold and reshuffle the deck and let’s start again. This is what it is. This is your baseline.
That’s what I decided to do. My mom came into my room, and she had a dry erase board, and she goes, “What do you want to do? If you want to be doing this in five years, you’re not living with me for five years. I’ll kick you out. It’s not going to happen.” I’m like, “Fair enough.” We sat there, and I said, “I want to help people.”
Moving at 11 to another country and not having your dad around was difficult. I wish I had more of a male role model even though I had my soccer coach and Peter, who I just mentioned, I felt like people had left me a lot. I had left my dad, and then my brother went back to college. We’re very close. When he left for England, that was devastating during a difficult time in my life. I wanted to be that for other people. I wanted to be that support. I knew I could help people.
[00:23:51] Shlomo Hoffman: So, you drag yourself out of bed and do some sort of rehab. You go back to school and start applying yourself.
[00:23:58] Russ Francome: Yeah. I did. I went to a community college. I got a 4.0. I started doing social work classes. I wanted to be a teacher or a social worker.
[00:24:10] Shlomo Hoffman: Were you headed toward substance abuse?
[00:24:13] Russ Francome: No. Not at all. Adolescent work. That’s what I wanted to do.
[00:24:17] Shlomo Hoffman: So, you graduate and started working on your hours. Now, you’re working with gang-affiliated youth.
[00:24:22] Russ Francome: Yeah. I went to get my Master’s Degree.
[00:24:24] Shlomo Hoffman: What’s going on with gang-affiliated youth? Is it mostly substance abuse; is it dealing with really difficult backgrounds? Is there violence there? Are you scared going in? What’s going on there?
[00:24:34] Russ Francome: Yeah. I’m open to everything. When I worked my first job in South Jamaica, Queens, I worked at Writer’s Preparatory Academy of America, which had been rebranded because there was this massive gang fit. It used to be called Springfield Gardens. That’s the name of the school, and because of really bad press, what they did was – it was four floors, so they turned each floor into its own high school, completely rebranded it, and gave it a fancy name, even though all the problems still persisted.
To get to my office, I had to go through metal detectors. It housed New York City’s police for high schools. So there were always about 30 cops in the building. It’s a dangerous, really underserved tough area. I was given a caseload. I worked for a place called Crossroads. I didn’t work for the Department of Education, so I didn’t have the same boundary like a school social worker has. So, if I needed to, I could show up at someone’s house, and it was completely fine, which I liked.
I was given a caseload of four kids, and these were all kids generationally involved in gang activity. Basically, my job was, they were all at threat of not graduating. They were all seniors. My job was to try to get them to actually come to school. Find out what’s going on in their lives. See where I could help.
[00:26:05] Shlomo Hoffman: Now, you’re getting introduced to hard drugs.
[00:26:06] Russ Francome: Not so much. It was more like marijuana, but then when the families got involved – it was drug dealing more than drug use at that point. But then when you start to find out – I was a latchkey kid. These kids were latchkey kids too, but they dealt with much different – I got brought into my aunt’s house, but it was safe for me to go to the grocery store.
[00:26:33] Shlomo Hoffman: You had safety nets.
[00:26:34] Russ Francome: Yeah, 100%. These kids don’t have that. There’s no upward mobility in the communities. They don’t get to see – I got to look at these people and see, this person made this with their life, and now they’re a doctor or a lawyer or a teacher. They don’t get to see any of that. Half the kids I work with have never been to Manhattan. They lived in Queens. Once you sit down and talk to these kids, you realize–
[00:27:00] Shlomo Hoffman: You’re living in a bubble.
[00:27:01] Russ Francome: It’s a bubble. It’s not a positive bubble.
[00:27:04] Shlomo Hoffman: We’re living in a bubble.
[00:27:06] Russ Francome: But they were too. We live in a bubble that’s protected. They live in a bubble that’s not protected, and it’s filthy, and they can’t get out.
[00:27:12] Shlomo Hoffman: It’s like you can’t merge the bubbles.
[00:27:14] Russ Francome: 100%. So, you want to improve everyone’s world view. These kids didn’t have a view outside of their area code.
[00:27:24] Shlomo Hoffman: You didn’t have a way to look into their area code? [Inaudible 00:27:26]
[00:27:28] Russ Francome: Yeah. It gave me insight into – like, how am I going to complain about the things that have happened in my life? Where do I have that right?
[00:27:38] Shlomo Hoffman: If you hadn’t gotten hit by a car, you wouldn’t know me.
[00:27:40] Russ Francome: Well, that’s true.
[00:27:41] Shlomo Hoffman: [Crosstalk]
[00:27:43] Russ Francome: Come on. I got to meet the Great Shlomo. I’m sitting here on a podcast.
[00:27:47] Shlomo Hoffman: World-renowned.
[00:27:47] Russ Francome: You guys have got intro music and everything.
[00:27:50] Shlomo Hoffman: This is your way to celebrity. You thought it was soccer.
[00:27:52] Russ Francome: I’ve made it.
[00:27:53] Shlomo Hoffman: So, we’re headed toward substance abuse. You’ve worked with gang-affiliate youth. You’re doing social work. And your career turns.
[00:28:05] Russ Francome: My career turns. I got offered a job working in an adolescent treatment program. The gang-affiliated youth is the best job. I loved it. Like, I adored it. You got to see real change in kids’ lives where – also, they had never been around a white dude before, who actually gave a ****. The first thing you hear is like, “What does this guy know?”
The second I got four clients on my caseload within two weeks, I’ve got 30 people in my office for lunch. It’s like once you gain the respect of one of them, the rest follow like this is a safe place. It was a very rewarding, and I think I did a very good job there. All the kids that I had ended up graduating. Now, I don’t take credit for that because, unfortunately, the educational system just pushes kids through regardless.
I wish I could have made more of an impact, but I think on their lives in general – I got an email from one of them about five years ago. I don’t even know how he found me, and he had gone to school and had just gotten his Master’s Degree to become a social worker. He was giving me a shout out, which was very sweet. It was nice to hear.
I went from there to work at St. Vincent’s Hospital, where I was the Senior Alcoholism Counselor. Even though it was my first job, I was a senior counselor somehow. It was adolescent treatment. At that time, it was very much centered around marijuana and alcohol, problem behaviors, mental health issues.
But that switched, man. That was 10 or 12 years ago. You saw this drastic change in adolescent treatment, kind of going from almost a babysitting service for a kid who couldn’t cut it in high school and needed a little bit of a break. That’s what they did. They came to us five days a week. They were bussed in by the school or area they were in.
They used to bus them directly to our hospital. They’d stay with us for two hours of education, which was two [00:30:13] services – one-on-one, or one-on-three, or whatever the case may be. Then, they came into treatment. That was 9:00 to 11:00, and they did treatment from 11:00 to 2:00 every day. So, essentially, I help people five times a week. It was like day rehab.
But there was a real switch. I’ll never forget it. I got a 13-year-old kid that was shooting heroin. I was like, what is going on? Where did that come from? What just happened? It went from kids stealing – it went from alcohol, and marijuana, and robbing their parents. Then you’d get the kids that took pills from their parents’ bathroom, raiding the cabinet or whatever.
Then, it switched, like it came in out of nowhere. It went from feeling like you weren’t doing real treatment to a degree. A lot of it was gauging kids. To work with them and better then, trying to assimilate a little bit more into school and take their education more seriously. Smoke a weed before you go to school to like I’ve got to find a detox for a 13-year-old.
[00:31:33] Shlomo Hoffman: Let me ask you this? Common thread here. You had your challenges growing up. You’re dealing with youth; you’re dealing with substance abuse. There’s a common thread when we’re trying to help people break a cycle; get out of the cycle, reset – push the rest button. That seems to be like a theme. You have to push a reset button after your career dreams were gone.
You have these kids in a cycle of gangs and violence. It’s generational, and you’ve got to try to push a reset button. Substance abuse – push a reset button. This is a common-thread theme. So what’s your secret of pushing that reset button. Is it different in every situation, or is there a basic like how am I going to reach this person? I need to push his reset button.
[00:32:27] Russ Francome: I think you can’t push a reset button for someone. You’ve got to lead them to water. The first thing, and I think the thing that set me up for success in my career – my biggest skillset was building rapport with individuals that were very hard to build rapport with. You go to social work school, and they say, no self-disclosure.
[00:32:56] Shlomo Hoffman: Are there tricks? Or this has to be genuine?
[00:32:57] Russ Francome: Honestly, I think a lot of it is inert. I think you’re born with it. You develop it. For me, my skillset goes back to being 11 years old and moving from London, where I was the big fish in a small pond. I was a popular kid who was displaced and brought to another country. That’s very difficult.
[00:33:20] Shlomo Hoffman: You know what it’s like to not have your place.
[00:33:21] Russ Francome: Yeah, and I know what it’s like to see where I want to go and how to communicate with different people, and how to get past boundaries with people.
[00:33:33] Shlomo Hoffman: Barriers more than boundaries.
[00:33:33] Russ Francome: Yeah, that’s probably a more appropriate word. I think being an 11-year-old and buy the age of 13, being welcomed by your peers. Kids can be cruel, man. That first year was rough. I wanted to go back to London. I hated my mom for years. “How could you do this to me?” And have my dad, who was not understanding why we wouldn’t come back either. It was a very difficult position for an 11, 12, 13-year-old to be in.
It really set me up for success because I went through that hard time and was able to navigate through it – some positive ways and some not so positive. Building rapport with people is what I was forced to do, and it’s what I’ve adopted almost as a job in a lot of ways. Those same skillsets that I developed at 11 are what I use today.
[00:34:39] Shlomo Hoffman: How do we build trust with people that are struggling with substance abuse?
[00:34:44] Russ Francome: To be genuine.
[00:34:46] Shlomo Hoffman: They’ve been screwed by a system most of the time by a background, a system, really bad hand. People have taken things from them. Obviously, there’s an idea of taking self-responsibility, but there’s also an understanding that they didn’t have the privileges, a lot of them. They dealt with a lot of crap. We have to build trust. “I’m here for you. I’m not taking anything away from you.”
[00:35:13] Russ Francome: Right. You have to be honest. You almost have to prove that if you trust me – trust me. You’re asking someone to trust you. “If you trust me, I assure you that I will step up to the plate. I will accept that trust. I will not neglect that trust. I will do whatever is within my power to assist you.”
Then, you have to build initial rapport. Once you have that, you’ve got the trust, you’ve got the buy-in, and then from there, I think people live up to expectations. So if you have really low expectations of someone, they live down to that.
[00:36:01] Shlomo Hoffman: There’s got to be a balance because if you make the expectation too high–
[00:36:04] Russ Francome: 100%. But then, at the same time, there’s such a lack of self-worth in people struggling with addiction. Then, you have families on top of that who have no expectations on them. “They’re going to be this way forever, and I can’t expect anything of them.” When someone genuinely trusts you, and you’ve built rapport with them, and then you turn around and actually have expectations on them, that’s a good feeling for them.
[00:36:35] Shlomo Hoffman: Is that kind of the thing that happened with your mom and you.
[00:36:38] Russ Francome: Yeah. Tough love. You sound like a therapist now. I like it. You’ve got a little something going on there.
[00:36:46] Shlomo Hoffman: I’m hanging around you too much, Russ.
[00:36:50] Russ Francome: I know.
[00:36:52] Shlomo Hoffman: Like your mom didn’t give up on you. Yeah, you had to sack your career. Get out of bed, and let’s go. You have a life to live.
[00:36:56] Russ Francome: 100%. I even left out the fact that when she kicked me out of the house–
[00:37:00] Shlomo Hoffman: Why are you leaving out stuff, Russ.
[00:37:03] Russ Francome: I have a verbal diarrhea thing.
[00:37:06] Shlomo Hoffman: I thought we’d built trust here. Seriously.
[00:37:06] Russ Francome: We did. You did a good job. I trust you at this point, but even at 18, after it was like, “This is what you’re going to do…” I graduated from community college, and I was going to go to transfer, and I missed my brother, man. My mom was like, “I need you to get out of this house for a while.” I’ll never forget it. So, I moved to London for a couple of years. I lived with my brother, and he was going to–
[00:37:35] Shlomo Hoffman: And his brother’s like, “Russ, I need you to get out of this house for a while.”
[00:37:38] Russ Francome: No, it’s funny. He was going to the University in Brighton, which is like a beach town. It’s like a college town in the south of England – it’s not in London. I lived with them. We had a house, and there were eight of us in this house. They’re all going to a very prestigious university. I’m just there.
I was working. I used to take the bus every day. I ended up doing security at French Connection and was just living. It was good for me to get out of – it was an opportunity for me to be whoever I wanted to be for a period of time and let that heartbreak go.
[00:38:16] Shlomo Hoffman: What we call in the business, finding yourself?
[00:38:17] Russ Francome: Yeah. I think it was.
[00:38:19] Shlomo Hoffman: Did you find yourself, Russ?
[00:38:19] Russ Francome: I did because, at some point, I was like, “I’ve got to go back and get my life together.” All these guys I’m living with go to college and getting a degree. I’m working at French Connection.
[00:38:32] Shlomo Hoffman: [Inaudible]
[00:38:33] Russ Francome: Yeah. It’s hard to get back in the game. It is what it is. So, I went back and went to school and did really well educationally. For the first time, I actually put effort into it. I had a 4.0 on my Master’s Degree, too.
[00:38:49] Shlomo Hoffman: Yeah, you said that twice already.
[00:38:50] Russ Francome: No, I was talking about my college.
[00:38:52] Shlomo Hoffman: Russ had a 4.0. I just want everyone to know that.
[00:38:54] Russ Francome: Just to be clear, a 4.0 through community – well, it wasn’t a community college. I screwed it up before the accident.
[00:39:02] Shlomo Hoffman: If you had gone to Harvard, you would have had a 4.0 as well.
[00:39:04] Russ Francome: Post-accident, 4.0 throughout my whole educational career. Let’s just make that clear. Don’t edit that out. Let’s be real about it: transcripts to back it up and everything.
[00:39:15] Shlomo Hoffman: So here, you have your background. Now, you end up at Avenues – you end up at the great Avenues. What is Avenues? What have you found here at Avenues that is special?
[00:39:31] Russ Francome: For me and my history with the treatment world, and this goes from when I was a clinical director of a large intensive outpatient in the West Chester County referring people to treatment. So often, the treatment was fully out of network, only commercial insurance, length of stay was short.
When I met with Hoodie, and he talked to me about his vision for what Avenues was already, but what we were going to expand to be, which included accepting, having multiple – and I don’t mean a small amount, but multiple in-network contracts, accepting medicated on larger facilities. That, to me, was everything from a social work perspective, like that ethos that I’d never let go of.
It was so important because I don’t put any different value from when I worked with gang-affiliated youth, where these kids had nothing, like nothing at all. Then, I turn around, and I’m working as a clinical director of an IOP in Tuckahoe, New York, which is right next to Bronzeville, one of the wealthiest areas in the country. Very wealthy, affluent areas. I couldn’t put any difference on those individuals. I came from nothing. When we moved here, I didn’t value myself any differently.
[00:41:13] Shlomo Hoffman: You were Class 1.
[00:41:14] Russ Francome: Yeah, I’m Class 1. We were up in London. It’s a true melting pot society. I had friends from Nigeria whose parents worked for government. Then I had other friends who lived on the 18th floor of an apartment block. To me, you just see kids. I don’t see color; I don’t see finance; I don’t see any of that.
When I was able to work for a program that’s a national conglomerate, but it’s eight facilities housed within local communities. I can legitimately tell that local community in my outreach efforts that we’re here to help all of you. Not just a small subset. Not just if you have prime Cadillac insurance.
That, to me, is everything. If I was just to snatch up 20 people from that treatment center and then snatch up 20 people walking in the street outside that treatment center, I think it should look the same.
[00:42:22] Shlomo Hoffman: That’s your mix.
[00:42:23] Russ Francome: That’s my mix. We’re here to help your local community. I don’t want to just be housed here. We’re not Avenues, here we are in Ft. Wayne or Cambridge or [inaudible 00:42:31], and we’re flying people in from all over the place. We’re Avenues. We’re a Cambridge facility, not just housed within Cambridge.
To me, I think that’s the future. [Hoodie and Yaytce] and everyone here, when I sat and met with them, and they shared that vision with me, even though I was very happy in my previous job, and I loved those guys, and I loved that treatment program, and they’re still fantastic. There’s no bad blood there. It was something I had to be a part of. I just felt it like, “I need to do this.”
[00:43:13] Shlomo Hoffman: So, you have a social work background, more patients – you’ve dealt with people in the – now, you’re sort of in a marketing environment. How are you blending your experience with actually dealing with the patients, with your expertise? We call you the National Director of Clinical Engagement here, which is also an interesting concept that the markers that we want out there, that’s the vision from the top, are people that really understand treatment. They understand people. It’s not just you’re selling paperclips. You have a social work background; you’re involved in marketing. How are you blending those things?
[00:43:52] Russ Francome: When I met with ownership, we sat together, and it was, how do you want this department to look like? The first thing I hate is the word marketing. I hate sales. This is not a sales job to me. This is a community advocacy job. This is something where it needs to be done in an ethical way.
For instance, if someone that works for me ever says, when they’re talking about a client, “I’ve got this BlueCross PPO” or whatever the case may be. They’ve got the person. They’re not an insurance policy; they’re a person. That’s the ethos from the top of this organization down. I think it’s probably most important – we know that’s the ideology in our treatment centers.
It’s almost more important that the representatives we have that are out in the community have that same ethos, are pushing that same belief structure. Again, I think that there are a lot of people that unfortunately, the treatment industry can be sleazy at times. That’s what we want to stay away from.
This organization is not a heads and beds type of place. We’re here to help our local community. We don’t pressurize the people in our department. Obviously, their goal is to represent us well and to get the community to trust us and refer clients into us. But they’re not out there selling vacuums like a door-to-door salesman.
You’re a treatment advocate. You can’t ever forget that when your phone rings as an outreach person or an admissions coordinator or whatever the case may be that that’s likely the worst moment in that individual’s life, whether it’s the client or a loved one. If you don’t treat it as such–
[00:45:57] Shlomo Hoffman: There’s a sense of urgency. There’s a seriousness. We’re dealing with someone’s life here. We’re dealing with someone that just hit bottom.
[00:46:04] Russ Francome: And empathy. You can’t lose that empathy because if you do lose that, and you’re flat–
[00:46:15] Shlomo Hoffman: Then you’re selling vacuums again.
[00:46:16] Russ Francome: You’re selling vacuums. You may as well sell vacuums because you’re not going to work for us. You’re not going to work in my department. That’s not what we want. Every single person in our department, I can say they’re fantastic. They share that same ethos. They genuinely want to help people. We have an awesome outreach team across this country, and they’re a credit to their community and a credit to us as an organization.
[00:46:44] Shlomo Hoffman: What can the treatment industry, in general, where are the holes and what are the gaps. Where can we improve? This is not an Avenues question – in general, where do you think there are holes? Where do you think we can do better? And what can we do to do better?
[00:46:57] Russ Francome: It is almost an Avenues questions because I think part of the reason that I accepted to come on here and was excited to do so was I think the gap is in high-quality treatment for the underinsured. Across this country, there’s more treatment available today than there ever has been in the history of this country.
[00:47:19] Shlomo Hoffman: But there are areas that are underserved as well.
[00:47:20] Russ Francome: For sure. No doubt about it.
[00:47:21] Shlomo Hoffman: Are there enough good treatment centers that can get people and beds?
[00:47:26] Russ Francome: I think that there are a lot of good treatment centers out there. There really are. I think people go into this for the right reasons. If you didn’t go into this for the right reasons, you don’t last very long. I genuinely think that a lot of the treatment centers out there are fantastic.
I think where the gap is, comes down to eligibility for services because if you just pull up stakes and say these are the private treatment centers in this area, and you find, what’s the eligibility requirement? It’s going to be over the age of 18. It likely has to be on their parents’ insurance. It likely has to be Cadillac insurance, and what I mean by that is significant coverage to a degree, out in the network. A lot of treatment centers have some in contracts.
[00:48:17] Shlomo Hoffman: So, we’re out to prove that we can reach people and still be a financially viable organization. You can serve these people that wouldn’t be getting – would it be looking like the cream –
[00:48:29] Russ Francome: I don’t think that it should be mutually exclusive. For me, it’s yes, this is a business, but at the end of the day, I think if it runs as a good business, it runs as a great clinical product because it’s about efficiency, and it’s about outcomes, and it’s about how you’re viewed in the community. If you’re viewed as something that doesn’t have a great product, you’re not going to succeed as a business, so I don’t think that–
[00:49:00] Shlomo Hoffman: If the burger doesn’t taste good, people aren’t going to come buy the burger.
[00:49:02] Russ Francome: It depends. There are probably a lot of crappy burger joints around.
[00:49:07] Shlomo Hoffman: Open really late.
[00:49:08] Russ Francome: It’s like they say, it’s small, but exactly. I agree with you. I think how do we put a dent in this epidemic is by widening the eligibility requirement for treatment in private treatment centers because, in hospitals, you have a limited length of stay. That’s the problem.
The difference between someone who’s 26 on Medicaid and 25 on their parents’ insurance is about a month – as soon as they age out of their parents’ insurance, they no longer have the option of going to a commercial treatment center because they’re not working. They’re an active addiction; they get transferred on to Medicaid. Now, what are their options?
Don’t get me wrong. That individual has to take advantage. They may have been in treatment three times before and gone to three great treatment centers, but they’ve continued to struggle. But, to me, some of the people I love the most in this world went to treatment ten times before they got it – 15 times before they got it. If they were given up on, or they didn’t just happen to get clean at 25 or 24, and they were still struggling at 27 without commercial insurance, the world would not be a bright of a place as it is today.
[00:50:22] Shlomo Hoffman: Let me ask you this, jumping off what you just said. Conventional wisdom always says, “Doing the same thing twice and expecting different results is a sign of madness or lunacy or–
[00:50:34] Russ Francome: Insanity.
[00:50:34] Shlomo Hoffman: Insanity. There you go. So, now you’re telling me that there are people that can go to treatment centers 10, 15 times until they get it.
[00:50:41] Russ Francome: Yeah.
[00:50:41] Shlomo Hoffman: What happens? What changed?
[00:50:43] Russ Francome: It’s not the same thing. No. What changed is, they went to treatment before. So, if I go to treatment today, usually clients are always looking for the path of least resistance. Maybe I’m like, “I’m not going to go to inpatient; I’ll go to outpatient.” Or, “I’m not going to do this, but I will do this.”
You have a finish line. You have this list of things I’m willing to do, but I’m not willing to do. They haven’t fully humbled themselves to how powerful their addiction is, especially in the beginning. Your first treatment attempt is like you sit in the back of the room. You’re not going to engage. So, yeah, people say, “You went to treatment, and you were unsuccessful.”
I don’t look at it that way. The first time you went, you may have sat in the back of the room and not done anything, and you basically white-knuckled it for 30 days. Let’s say you stayed for 30 days. Maybe you left after a week, after detox. Something has to change every time. “This time I go back, I’m willing to do a little bit more and a little bit more.” And maybe they felt the consequence of their addiction a little bit more, and a little bit more, and a little bit more. And they start to see that light start to fade.
[00:51:50] Shlomo Hoffman: So, this idea that it didn’t work is not really true.
[00:51:53] Russ Francome: Personally, I don’t believe it. Going to treatment is a very difficult decision. Getting clean is not easy. It’s not. With all the support in the world, it’s not easy. It’s very, very difficult. People always have that old faithful. They know that when those emotions and the traumas and the negative self-talk when that all comes back, they know they can pick up a drink, pick up a bag, pick up a needle, whatever the case may be, and go right back to old faithful and shut that stuff up.
[00:52:30] Shlomo Hoffman: I heard Artie Lange say once say, “The biggest problem with drugs is that it really works.”
[00:52:33] Russ Francome: Yeah. 100%. If they weren’t effective, it wouldn’t be problematic if it was all negative. At the end of the day, people that use opiates, it quiets the mind. And alcohol – it’s difficult to watch someone in active addiction. There’s no doubt about it, and I think to consider someone a failure who went to treatment several times, and maybe they didn’t get it, maybe after the third time, they had 40-days sober when they left. Maybe the fifty time, they got six months.
That’s not progress? I think we have to redefine what progress is. I hate to say like relapse is part of it because relapse is understood in addiction, but it doesn’t have to be part of it. But at the same time, I think that it’s a process. If you’re so black on white about it being a result-oriented thing, that the only way to measure success is sobriety, then you’re going to have a lot of failure, and you’re contributing to someone’s–
[00:53:41] Shlomo Hoffman: And you’re not going to have people come back.
[00:53:42] Russ Francome: 100%. If they feel like they’re going to be judged, like, “You’re back?”
[00:53:48] Shlomo Hoffman: I tried. What do you want with me? This doesn’t work for me. I need a drink.
[00:53:52] Russ Francome: You’re back again. I knew you would be back. If that’s the environment you’re creating–
[00:54:02] Shlomo Hoffman: Where does substance abuse education have to start?
[00:54:07] Russ Francome: That’s a great question.
[00:54:13] Shlomo Hoffman: Are we talking about it enough in schools? Are we dealing with it head-on? Are we?
[00:54:18] Russ Francome: Let me ask you a question. When you were in school, and someone came to give a talk about addiction–
[00:54:24] Shlomo Hoffman: Nobody did.
[00:54:24] Russ Francome: –and you were 13 years old. I think they may have. I just don’t remember because I probably cut and didn’t go. Like sat in the back of the room and tried to talk to a girl instead of listening to what someone is trying to say. I think you can’t just think outside of yourself. It’s an immaturity.
[00:54:42] Shlomo Hoffman: There’s got to be a way to reach kids.
00:54:44  Russ Francome: I hear you, and I don’t minimize adolescent education, by any stretch of the imagination. Having said that, I think it comes from one-on-one interactions. I think it’s about people who are in recovery being open about it as opposed to being quiet about it. Let’s drop the picket fence a little bit here. Let’s personalize it. That guy that runs the deli around the corner–
[00:55:08] Shlomo Hoffman: He was once addicted.
[00:55:09] Russ Francome: He was shooting heroin when he was 20 years old. And look at him. He’s doing great. He owns his own business.
[00:55:16] Shlomo Hoffman: He can tell you how hard it was.
[00:55:18] Russ Francome: It shocks. It’s not an infomercial; it’s a person, and I think that’s where you get it. For me, the positive interactions I had for the male role models in my life were personal. That’s why I never agreed with social work school when they said don’t self-disclose. I think self-disclosure is the most powerful thing you can ever do under the right circumstances.
It’s not about you. That’s why they say don’t self-disclose because I’m sitting here doing an individual session with you, and [crosstalk]. This isn’t about you. You’re supposed to be the vehicle of change, not the changed agent. I think it’s about openness. More today, we see celebrities and stuff like that being honest because of their recovery, and I think that’s important.
[00:56:18] Shlomo Hoffman: You’re more on a personal level.
[00:56:19] Russ Francome: Man, it’s less about the celebrities and more about the person you know. What we do a really good job of at Avenues is identifying who the support systems are in an individual’s life. It’s not just that we’re going to communicate with the mom, dad, husband, wife, grandma, grandpa, or the kids. Sometimes, it’s the neighbor. Sometimes, it’s the co-worker.
[00:56:44] Shlomo Hoffman: You’re telling me that if you can get people from community into schools, people that they know, the gym teacher, the guy at the bakery, that could be helpful to the kid?
[00:57:02] Russ Francome: But I think it’s more about one-on-one interactions, smaller interactions, more on a microlevel. I can only speak for myself, really, but whenever I’d go to an assembly, I’m checked out the second I walked in. There are some really powerful people in this world who do–
[00:57:25] Shlomo Hoffman: Capture a room, and they’re charismatic.
[00:57:26] Russ Francome: Yeah.
[00:57:27] Shlomo Hoffman: Like you.
[00:57:28] Russ Francome: Well, I don’t know about that. I’d be nervous. It may look like I’m fine, but inside it’s different. For me, it’s less on the macro level with kids because with kids – not young kids – 16 or something like that. You have this cool – they’re too cool for school. It’s not cool to sit there and connect with what someone’s saying and become emotional or become vulnerable. Vulnerability is not the best asset, but in life, as a grownup, being vulnerable is the most powerful thing you can do.
[00:58:16] Shlomo Hoffman: It’s where the connection happens.
[00:58:18] Russ Francome: Yeah, and I think with adolescents, they are vulnerable. They’re the most vulnerable. They’re literally a walking, open wound. But they’re a walking open wound that is trying to pretend that it’s scabbed over, but it’s not. Every little interaction cuts to their core. What do they say? It takes 1,000 that-a-boys to get rid of one you’re an idiot.
For adolescents, when you’re talking about a room full of them, you may reach them. You may not see it. I firmly believe that you can reach them on an individual basis. They’ll take something out of it, but on the surface, they walk, “They’re stupid.” They’re too cool for school, but on an individual level, when they go into the bakery, and they’re high, and the baker can pull them aside and say, “I know your mom. I know your dad. It’s time to get your you-know-what together.”
Local police, not being non-punitive with these kids. I think that’s important. The police catch a kid high, what are you going to do? Send them to jail? You’re going to have a talk with them and scare the you-know-what out of them, and let the family know, and let the community rally around them. Personalized interactions from people that have a true understanding of what addiction is like I think are special.
[00:59:49] Shlomo Hoffman: It’s a gateway to real progress.
[00:59:51] Russ Francome: Yeah. Police interaction is when they have their own personal history with addiction. To think that there’s no addiction in the police force is like insane, but they can’t be open about it. I have a friend who’s an FBI agent. I know for a fact that he did drugs when he was younger. [01:00:14] As a society, why shouldn’t someone with an addiction history be a police officer? Wouldn’t they be the best police officer?
[01:00:25] Shlomo Hoffman: But you are dealing with relapse concerns. You’ve got to be really careful.
[01:00:30] Russ Francome: Sure. Relapse concerns? What about active addiction concerns? I’ve put police officers in treatment my entire career. Fireman. These people deal with trauma on a regular basis. Yes, of course, with someone with an addiction history, you have to worry about relapse, but someone with no addiction history that is dealing with a murder and has to go home and can’t sleep because they’re dealing with the trauma and significant PTSD. It doesn’t matter if they have addiction or not. They’re hitting that bottle.
[01:01:05] Shlomo Hoffman: Take the edge off somehow.
[01:01:07] Russ Francome: Well, yeah. To talk about it, it’s not always viewed as the man looking to–
[01:01:12] Shlomo Hoffman: A man looking to do –
[01:01:14] Russ Francome: Yeah. [Inaudible 01:01:15] stuff. I think that if we start to adjust the way we view – this is not a character default. If anything, it gives you insight.
[01:01:27] Shlomo Hoffman: What are your dreams for your career in the next five years? Where do you see yourself going?
[01:01:31] Russ Francome: To keep doing what I’m doing. I’d love to be on this podcast again would be the highlight of my career. This is the highlight right here.
[01:01:40] Shlomo Hoffman: When we got really big, you’ve got a line.
[01:01:44] Russ Francome: Maybe I could do like an ad or something.
[01:01:47] Shlomo Hoffman: You could do voiceover work?
[01:01:48] Russ Francome: Yeah, I could do voiceover.
[01:01:49] Shlomo Hoffman: From the big sponsors.
[01:01:50] Russ Francome: Yeah. From the big sponsors. I could hold the boom mic or something like that. Just find a place for me. That’s where I want to be in my career. Let me follow you.
[01:01:58] Shlomo Hoffman: I feel cynicism and mokery.
[01:02:02] Russ Francome: No. Not from me. Never. Honestly, in all reality, I think that where I am in my career now and working for the organization I work for who trust me and who allow me to work to my strengths and also challenge me. I never thought I’d be doing TV interviews and stuff like that. It was scary. It’s still scary, but they trusted me to do it, and it’s another wrinkle.
I’m very happy with where I am, and I can only see myself grow within this company in continuing to help as many people as I can on a macro level. I may not help people individually anymore, but I help a lot of people. My hands are in a lot of
[01:02:45] Shlomo Hoffman: Different pies.
[01:02:45] Russ Francome: –a lot of different pies, my man.
[01:02:50] Shlomo Hoffman: Give a final message. Time has run out.
[01:02:53] Russ Francome: Okay.
[01:02:56] Shlomo Hoffman: Are you tired of talking?
[01:02:56] Russ Francome: No. I just don’t even know what I said. We’ve been doing this for a while. I just like black-out. I have no idea what’s happening. I don’t know what I said. This is probably going to come out terrible.
[01:03:06] Shlomo Hoffman: What’s your message to people on the street? Anybody that can get involved that can help. They’re not doing this professionally, but they have people in their lives that they see signs, symptoms, stuff happening. Is it just a matter of getting them to the right people, or it’s a matter of how am I engaging with those people that are struggling? What can I do to make my community better?
[01:03:27] Russ Francome: I don’t think you can go in with these massive lofty goals like how am I going to make this community better. But if you know someone struggling, I think you can engage them. Put it out there, a lot of times when people are in active use they think other people don’t realize when they’re high or drunk, let them know you know, but don’t do it with judgement, do it from an empathetic place. Always let someone know you’re here for them without any kind of judgement, anything you can do to help. But also don’t allow them to continue to live their life addicted unabated. At some point you have to call a spade a spade, if someone is struggling you owe it to them from a friendship perspective to call them out. If you have the rapport, once you have rapport you can say things to people that someone without rapport can’t.
[01:02:10] Shlomo Hoffman: That’s the beauty of rapport-
[01:02:12] Russ Francome: – Hundred percent, get away with whatever you want. I think it all comes down to this, what we talked about before, if you have no expectations on someone, they’ll live down to them. But if you know someone and you love someone and you have some kind of relationship with them, and you let them know this is not good enough, you can be so much more, this doesn’t have to be, but when you’re ready I’m here for you. Come from a loving place and nothing negative can come from it. But letting them know you see it is sometimes really effective because they think they’re high and no one can see it and everyone walks around on eggshells around them and doesn’t call them out, call them out! Let them know, you’re high right now.
I got a kid, you come to my house high you’re not coming to my house-
[01:03:05] Shlomo Hoffman: -you’re getting wacked up the head-
[01:03:06] Russ Francome: No, you’re not getting wacked up the head, I’ll give you a big hug, and I’ll tell you I love you, but get out of my house. And come back when you’re not high and you’re welcome at my table any day of the week. And when you’re ready for help I will one hundred percent get it to you.
[01:03:22] Shlomo Hoffman: This could be why I was never invited [Laughter]
[01:03:23] Russ Francome: But I think acknowledging the elephant in the room and doing it in a loving way, and you’re not alone, there are people out there to help.
[End of audio 01:03:42]
[End of audio file 01:04:13]
“Strength of the Titans”
Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com)
Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0
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