Woman who faced 120 years in prison is on TV helping others
Her manicured nails, blond hair and big hoop earrings that dust her shoulders have her ready for her close-up, yet this TV show scene has Alexandria “Allie” Severino helping her friend with some of the dirtiest work there is.
“Uh, is that a cockroach?” she asks, helping the friend clean out the trunk of a car, in preparation for a trip to drug rehab.
In her 28 years, Severino of Delray Beach has seen — and lived — just about every part of what has caused South Florida’s drug deaths to skyrocket and sober homes to proliferate.
At 17, she had faced 120 years in prison for drug dealing, but a lucky break got her sentence reduced to six years of probation.
She has been homeless and used drugs. And for most of the past 10 years, she has earned her living in one way or another in the region’s exploding drug rehabilitation industry.
Now, Severino is the co-star of “Dopesick Nation,” a new TV show on Viceland, a cable channel that debuted in 2016 under the creative direction of Spike Jonze, the filmmaker.
The show, which airs at 10 p.m. Wednesdays, takes Severino and a co-star behind shopping centers, in parks and along train tracks. They try to help recovering addicts by getting them to rehabilitation, or a place to live after drug rehab.
Interspersed with shots of the area’s beaches and luxury yachts, viewers see characters drift in and out of Allie’s orbit as she visits some of the roughest-looking areas in Palm Beach and Broward counties. Sometimes she’s summoned by phone. Other times, it’s a friend calling.
“It’s a lot about the forgotten people,” Severino said. “We’re showing what’s going on.”
The drug overdose epidemic killed more than 72,000 Americans last year, an increase of almost two-thirds when compared with deaths in 2013, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
South Florida was particularly hard hit because the sober home industry saw an opportunity to bring people closer to Florida’s alluring sand and surf, fresh out of drug rehabilitation. In June, authorities announced 124 people in South Florida held as part of a nationwide crackdown on fraudulent health care billing and other crimes.
In recent years, many clients found themselves in an atmosphere that left them vulnerable to relapse.
Severino’s co-star, Frankie, is a recovering addict from Toledo, Ohio. In keeping with the Alcoholics Anonymous tradition, he goes by his first name only.
The pair offer an up-close, street-level view of the drug epidemic, said Pat McGee, the showrunner of the TV docuseries. “We go where Frankie and Allie take us, and we don’t know where we’re going to be,” McGee said. He calls them “two people who have been suffering, battling and sometimes winning this fight.”
A few years ago, Severino got a call from a West Boca High classmate who now works as a movie producer in New York City.
The classmate noticed how Severino had created Fresh Start, a magazine in Palm Beach County for which she wrote articles and sold ads.
Severino focused on drug recovery, a timely topic amid the rise of the drug-rehabilitation industry. Her phone number has been passed around widely among those on the street and in recovery groups, which keeps her phone vibrating constantly.
“She was covering all the questions we had: what to look for when you go to rehab, what questions you should ask,” said the West Boca classmate, Jaime Manheimer, 28, an executive producer for the show. “So we asked, ‘What do you think about doing this?’”
The camera followed Severino around for three years. And during filming that lasted through this spring, she had encounters with hundreds of people. Four times she administered Narcan, the antidote that reverses opioid overdoses.
“It’s scary,” she said. “Here are these L.A. film people, are they going to exploit these people? I’m being vulnerable because they are following me with cameras 13 hours a day.”
At one point, Boynton Beach revoked the production’s film permit because they were filming at a time and place they had not filed a permit for, according to Chuck Elderd, commissioner with the Palm Beach County Film Commission.
McGee said he still thinks about how they were filming one day and heard about someone in distress.
“When we got there, Allie administered CPR, chest compressions and worked with 911 and essentially brought him back to life,” he said. “It was one of the most amazing experiences I’ve ever been a part of.”
Severino first got involved with drugs in the late 2000s. She was dealing in oxycodone, Roxicodone and ecstasy, and using some of her products, she said. She remembers working part-time at a party supply store, where she could meet people who wanted to buy.
Her rationale at the time was that she was making money while “giving people a fun time.”
But it all came crashing in when she looked up from her phone on June 28, 2007, to tell her buyer the grand total he owed.
It was a sting. She found herself face to face with the cops.
“They had been watching me for months,” she said.
Her case drew headlines because of the severity of her charges, and the decision that she would be considered a youthful offender instead of getting the maximum she faced. Judge Jorge Labarga, now on the Florida Supreme Court, told her he and the prosecutor were “sticking our necks out for you.” She said the comments on that news story made her determined to turn her life around.
She was able to get in at South County Drug Abuse Foundation in Delray Beach, despite having no insurance.
Getting that chance is why she believes that everyone needs a second chance, and sometimes third and fourth chances, too.
After working as a real estate agent didn’t work out, she started the magazine.
Sensing more opportunity, she also was part of an investment in a sober house in Lantana, which was open for 18 months before it was sold to another operator in 2015.
Her work there involved driving the “druggie buggy” — or getting clients to services and errands. That was allowed then, but new rules the Florida Legislature passed last year stopped the practice because of how some sober-home operators were getting illegal kickbacks for referring clients to other service providers.
She recalls once taking a call from a number she didn’t recognize. On the other end of the line was a man who said he was using drugs at his sober home and needed to get out, she said.
She drove up to the sober home with a friend, “and these two females jump in my car and say, ‘Get us out of here.’” The urgency of the situation had them zooming off before they could wait for the man who called to come out, she said. They were able to get the women into a women’s rehabilitation.
Severino had a run-in with the law in 2015, accused of driving with a suspended license and illegally having four Xanax tablets. She said it came from trusting the wrong folks: She was driving a drug patient’s car, unaware of the contraband. She resolved it by pleading guilty to possession of drug paraphernalia, receiving credit for one day served, records show.
She is studying business at Palm Beach State College. And her current employer, Daylight Detox and Recovery Center, is one of the treatment places mentioned on the TV show. “She helps us determine if people are serious about recovery,” said Sarah Uzzi, operations director for Daylight.
Severino also is featured in “American Relapse,” a documentary film co-directed by McGee. It won best documentary at the Rhode Island Film Festival last month, an award at the Montana International Film Festival this month, and will be featured at next month’s Orlando Film Festival.
Severino said she hopes that people will find out what she did at 18 years old when she got her second chance. “Having a purpose helps,” she said. “And making your bed every morning.
“When I make my bed, I say a little prayer every morning, ‘Dear God, keep me out of trouble today.’” And going to bed, “I say, ‘Thank you, God, for keeping me out of trouble today.’”