This 61-year-old Boston native began using drugs at age 15. Tortured by addiction for decades, he used drastic measures to support his habit, and sought treatment countless times. This is the story of how he finally beat his demons—without rehab.
Steven Lancione is tall and handsome, with salt-and-pepper hair and an easy grin. He speaks directly, with passion and sincerity. To look at him, you would never suspect he once had a secret life working for the mob, and a drug addiction that controlled him for decades.
Born to a hard-partying mother and absentee father, Lancione grew up lonely and neglected. Left largely to his own devices, by age 15 he discovered that drugs could at least mask the persistent feelings of emptiness and pain.
“Certain drugs… they make you feel warm and comfortable,” he said. “All the way through my life I never really felt those things because my mother was always out doing her own thing. So I was probably searching for something that would give me comfort.”
He started off smoking marijuana and then graduated to mescaline, or LSD. In his 20s his drug of choice was cocaine. By the time he reached his 30s he had moved on to opioids and heroin.
“At the beginning it was a little exciting. But it grew into the most painful, lonely, and dark experience of my life,” he said.
While he was still a teenager, Lancione’s mother started dating an ex-con recently released from prison after 25 years on a murder charge. Together, the couple planned robberies and started smuggling marijuana from Jamaica. But they knew if they got caught, the prison sentence would be harsh. Instead, they decided to send 15-year-old Lancione to traffic the drugs, since as a minor, the charges would be reduced. For a while it worked, until his luck ran out.
“I had pantyhose on under my pants stuffed with marijuana, and I got arrested at Miami airport and put in jail until trial. They eventually sentenced me, and from that point on I had a record,” says Lancione.
By his early 20s, Lancione was doing jobs for the top echelons of Boston’s organized crime syndicate, where he was eventually making $5,000-$10,000 per day. Working for the mob also meant a non-stop supply of drugs—especially oxycodones. Without them, he could barely get out of bed.
One night, Lancione was partying at a nightclub where he met a pretty blonde nurse named Roberta. The two became inseparable and it wasn’t long before Lancione proposed marriage. Though Roberta knew he dabbled in drugs, she had no idea of the extent of his addiction, or his ties to the mob. They were married, and eventually welcomed a son and a daughter. But Lancione’s secrets began to unravel. He knew he would have to find a way to escape the crime world, yet the mafia wouldn’t let him go easily and it was sure to put his family at risk.
Luckily, just as he was planning his escape, the FBI arrested some of Lancione’s top bosses, and their underlings scattered to avoid prosecution. It was just the distraction Lancione needed, and he grabbed the chance to get out.
It was a chance to start a new life. His first attempt at legitimate business was real estate, and he was a natural at it. But the money came fast, and was more than enough to support his drug habit. Family life could not curtail his addiction, and it was costing thousands of dollars per month. He would try to quit sometimes by going to his basement for days until the withdrawal symptoms eased. Once he even went to a rehab center. But he would never stay sober for more than a week afterward.
“Our family life was very unstable,” said Roberta. “I spent most of my days trying to keep things in control, trying to keep outward appearances going, making sure everything was done and trying to raise the children and cover up Steven’s drug abuse.”
A registered nurse and addictions counselor, Roberta knew that her husband’s addictions were driven by a deep void and unresolved emotional pain. Even though she learned all the methods of curing addiction, she knew they wouldn’t work for Steven.
“I would pray daily to God and say ‘please just give him something to fill the void he’s feeling that’s making him use [drugs],’” she said.
A Glimmer of Hope
Roberta eventually found the answer to her own prayers. She was flipping through the local newspaper one day when she came across an article about a seminar taking place at the library that taught people Falun Gong, a traditional Chinese meditation practice.
She knew Steven was interested in spirituality, so she clipped the article out and gave it to him, encouraging him to go.
“The little bit that I knew about Falun Gong sounded just what Steven needed,” she said. “Exactly what our whole family needed.”
Steven agreed to attend the seminar, where he met two Falun Gong practitioners—a soft-spoken doctor and his wife. They told him to come to Boston Common the next day if he wanted to learn the Falun Gong exercises and meditation.
Steven did show up, and after searching in the park he got lost and almost gave up before finally finding the group of meditators. As he walked towards them, he was overcome with emotion by the simple look of tranquility and peace on their faces.
“I just intuitively in my soul knew that that was true strength. And I just knew this was it,” he recalls.
“I literally skipped out of the park like a little kid. I just knew by looking at them sitting there that that was the answer.”
As he started practicing and reading about the principles of Falun Gong in the main text of the practice, “Zhuan Falun,” he was drawn to its tenets of self-cultivation. Cultivation in Falun Dafa includes the refinement of body and mind with gentle exercises, meditation, and upgrading of one’s character by following the principles of truthfulness, compassion, and tolerance in daily life.
Long groomed to be a criminal and drug smuggler by his mother, Steven found solace in the guidance of simple upright principles. As he tried to follow them more and more, he found a sense of peace and comfort inside.
“My understanding is that if you truly practice the principles the way they are supposed to be practiced, it unlocks something deep in your soul and spirit which is very powerful. And when you tap into that power you become very sure of everything,” he said.
But it quickly became clear that following truthfulness, compassion, and tolerance wasn’t as easy as it seems, especially controlling anger, he says.
“I never understood forbearance at all. As an American man, it wasn’t even considered. If something happened to you you would always try and fight back, or figure out a way to gain revenge over someone,” he said. “Since practicing Falun Dafa I now understand forbearance and if you can truly practice forbearance it gives you strength.”
A Life Transformed
As Lancione focused on upgrading his character, and enjoyed a new sense of calm stability in life, almost without noticing, he lost the urge to use drugs at all. First he stopped for a week, then it turned into a month, then a year.
Roberta noticed the changes in him immediately. His demeanor transformed from moody and sullen to light and upbeat. He became dependable and started helping around the house more. Normally shifty and secretive, he was now honest with her. They could talk about family problems calmly, without fighting.
“Before practicing Falun Gong Steven always had a good heart and wanted to do what was right but never knew how to achieve that. He would constantly veer off and disappoint the family. We couldn’t trust him,” Roberta said.
“Since practicing Falun Gong his spirit is so light, he’s fun to be around. I feel safe when he’s with the children. He’s truthful, he’s predictable, he’s responsible. Our life just goes very smoothly. It’s like a dream come true.”
His parenting style also transformed. Normally short-tempered and easily frustrated, he became more tolerant and patient with his kids. Before, when he was watching his son Steven Jr. play sports, his competitive nature would explode and he would scream at his son for making mistakes or not giving it 100 percent. Now, he has apologized to his son for his past anger, and vowed to never treat him that way again.
In his teens, Steven Jr. had started down the same path as his father—dabbling in drugs, gangs, and crime. To Steve and Roberta’s delight their son also took up the practice. It became a regular sight to see father and son sitting in meditation together in the living room or reading “Zhuan Falun” and discussing their understandings and experiences.
“His behavior was transformed. Not only has he stopped taking drugs, but drinking, swearing, smoking, lying, cheating—he’s given them all up. Truly a remarkable change. Everyone who’s known both of us is truly astonished,” said Steven.
Roberta was floored by the changes. After seeing how powerful it was in her husband and son’s life, she began to recommend the practice to her clients at the drug rehab center.
“In the emergency room where I work now, I see young boys coming in who remind me of where my son was. So I tell them his story. I give them pamphlets about Falun Gong. Although I’m not a practitioner myself, I know what a beautiful practice it is and what a gift it is,” she said.
It’s been over 15 years since Lancione last used drugs. As he talks about how his life has changed, he chokes back tears.
“It gave me the comfort and stability I needed my whole life,” he said.
“I feel that my family deserves the rest of my life to remain solid, clean from drugs, calm and peaceful. I now have another chance with new wisdom, understanding, and life lessons.”