He says he has “done time in every prison in the State.” As an addict on the street, he has been shot five times, done his share of armed robberies, OD’d more than 20 times, lived for months at a time in the back seat of an abandoned car, lost his trucking business and his wife and three children. “But,” Israel Cason says, at age 51 and seated at his desk in his office at 2901 Clifton Avenue, “there comes a time in an addict’s life, as I told The Sun in an interview in 1999, when if he’s lucky and lives long enough, he says, ‘I’m tired.’” It seems to have taken all of those life experiences and losses to bring Israel Cason to where he is today—a recovering addict who is founder and chief operating officer of “I Can’t We Can” (ICWC)—a program that takes in a complex of transitional houses, apartments, and businesses (with gross sales in excess of $250,000). ICWC has provided treatment to approximately 7,000 addicts since 1997 and has a high rate of success in assisting addicts in their goal of becoming productive citizens.
The “I Can’t We Can” community is made up of 20 transitional houses scattered throughout the City where actual recovery programs are carried out; each is open 24 hours a day. “And sometimes suddenly,” Cason says. “Guys come in stabbed and bleeding, women come in pregnant and crying. We turn nobody away. Everybody is personally assessed and assigned.”
A day in a transitional house consists of three meals and three meetings a day. The meetings are 10:00 a.m., 2:00 p.m, and 7:00 p.m., and it is at the meetings where the addict become part of what Cason calls “our
therapeutic community.” “I teach from a text book, ‘Learning to Live Again,’ by Terrance Gorski, but the addict is expected to commit him or herself to our way—which is to understand that there must be an active relationship with the life force itself. It’s that force that gives one’s life meaning and purpose. The idea of ‘divine intervention’ is bound up with ‘I Can’t We Can’ treatment. An addict must have something larger than him or herself to believe in. We’re about saving lives by winning souls.”
ICWC is able to add a very practical dimension to its treatment program. It provides work opportunities for its residents in businesses that it owns and operates—in trucking, catering, moving and hauling; it also maintains a barbershop and a recording studio.
But if ICWC is about lives and souls, it is also about answers. “I know what it took to save my soul,” Cason says. “It wasn’t people. It was, it is, divine intervention.”
Abell salutes the “I Can’t We Can” program for many reasons—its unique approach, grass roots orientation, been-there-done-that leadership; but mainly because it’s working.