At only 26, amateur musician and aspiring filmmaker Jason Pfaff has had a long history of substance abuse. His older sister, Kristin Pfaff, bassist for the Courtney Love band Hole, died of a heroin overdose in 1994. Then, he voluntarily entered a drug-treatment program about a year and a half ago.
Now a student at Fulton-Montomery Community College in Johnstown, Jason Pfaff is living drug-free thanks to the St. Jude Retreat House in nearby Hagaman.
The Western New York native and Williamsville East High School graduate will be in Clarence playing Saturday at Harvest of Souls: Mocha and Music, an anti-drug benefit to benefit the St. Jude Retreat House, in the Clarence Center Coffee Company. We talked with Pfaff by phone from his home near Albany.
What makes the St. Jude Retreat House special?
The St. Jude program is not like a rehab, it's completely different. It's not AA-based or a 12-step program - they don't believe that alcoholism or substance abuse is a disease. It's more of a pragmatic program that teaches about personal choice, responsibility.
It's not a medical facility - just alcoholics and drug-addicts helping each other.
Why hold a benefit here for a treatment facility in Albany?
There is a strong need for programs like this. What they teach is a permanent solution to alcohol and drug addiction. They believe there are certain things you can do to change your life forever. And they have a 95 percent success rate. My mother (Janet Pfaff of Williamsville) put (the benefit) together. My mom has been involved with things like this; my sister's death is her motivation. She also speaks at schools.
The philosophy at St. Jude's sounds radically different from conventional rehab. Do you think that's why they're successful?
I strongly believe drug abuse is not a disease, it's a choice.
As far as all this drug business goes, which is a huge epidemic - especially with heroin and ecstasy - we shouldn't ask how we can punish people for using drugs. We should be asking how we can help people find happiness. The real epidemic is unhappiness.
Did your sister get the help she needed?
No, my sister never made it to a substance-recovery program. But St. Jude could have helped her.
What's next for you in your continuing path to happiness?
I'm starting an online mentoring service. Kind of like a big brother/big sister type of thing for people with substance-abuse problems. I hope to speak at schools as well. I'm getting things started through my e-mail address, firstname.lastname@example.org.
What will you be playing Saturday?
Complete improv. Some of my own music. We might get together once to practice before the show. I play drums, Val Ventro (who also went through the St. Jude program) plays guitar, and Dave (McLeary), a keyboardist I've never played with, performs weekly at a church in Williamsville.
We're really just experimenting with this. There may be other events like this that we'll collaborate on in the future.
Harvest of Souls: Mocha and Music will take place from 1:30 to 5 p.m. Saturday in Clarence Center Coffee Company, 9475 Clarence Center Road, Clarence. Also performing will be Suzanne Switzer, Doug Fisher, Karen Ziders and Becky Davis. There is no admission, but donations will be accepted.
The St. Jude Retreat House can be contacted at www.soberforever.com.