In his own mind, Jesse Harless refused to call himself a felon. Although he’d been busted buying opioids from a federal agent and convicted, that label is not who he was.
Harless was just 22—a bright and talented young man—and he’d simply stumbled into addiction at a young age. Luckily, he got on the road to recovery in time to save his life.
Growing up wasn’t easy. Hailing from Lawrence, Massachusetts, Jesse had a father who was addicted to cocaine and alcohol. He lost his postal job. Then he had a car accident, suffering a serious brain injury, before leaving Jesse and his mom to fend for themselves. They lived in an apartment in Lowell.
As a child, Jesse’s FIRST coping mechanism for his trauma (being the son of an addict) was thumb sucking.
“It was something that I hid from people, it was embarrassing,” the now-recovered, successful entrepreneur, 38, told The Epoch Times. “And I make the joke that I became a ‘functioning thumb sucker.’”
As an 11-year-old boy, Jesse sought to fill a void in his life.
When his mom worked for Media One cable company and got high-speed internet, Jesse dove headlong into porn and videogames seeking escape—four to six hours pretty much every day—and “fantasy” became his new addiction. “That can be trauma itself, those images, what I was seeing,” Jesse recalls. “And it affected everything, all my relationships.”
Harless got into weed and alcohol. He flunked every course in first-year college. Got caught plagiarizing.
Then, tragedy struck.
Working at Staples, he came home one night to find his mom hysterical. His father had passed away, she said. A feeling of utter abandonment came over him. He basically said “f*** it” and drove off. He called a friend to go party with “strippers” and did cocaine—his late dad’s “drug of choice”—for the first time. And for the first time he “felt loved.”
A few months later, he found heroin.
The death of his dad sent Jesse’s life careening. Then living in Raymond, New Hampshire, to get his fix of cocaine or heroin, he’d drive 50 miles to Lowell—dangerous, needless to say. He wasn’t stupid. “So, I found a way to order prescription opioids through the internet, and I did, and it worked,” he shared. “Basically, that first order came in, and I couldn’t believe it.
“I wasn’t selling it, I was getting it to self-medicate, drink alcohol, and I had a fulltime job. So, I worked my fulltime job, I took these pills, and I did this for months and months and months.”
But it didn’t last.
Jesse was about to be arrested, and he knew it.
He had a gut feeling. But his need for the drug urged him on.
“I decided to order from a different person, and that one happened to be tapped by the U.S. Postal Service, the federal agents,” he told The Epoch Times. “I went to go pick up the package, and it was a sting, and they hit me when I went to pick it up—and I knew it, too.
“They would always call me to tell me there was a package for me, and they called me this time, and they said the package didn’t come there, it went to the post office. And I knew it.”
Adds Jesse, “But I did it anyways because when you’re in that much pain, you’re addicted, you don’t care, you’re going to do it.”
Harless was arrested but was amazed when they let him go (he’d later learn why). He told the officers he’d been planning a move to Florida to make a fresh start in a warmer climate—which was true; he’d been planning a change of scenery to “manage” his addiction.
And it worked.
Until it didn’t.
Jesse moved to Florida. Bought a turtle. Bought a plant. He thought he was all set.
But within a couple of months, his plant was dead, his turtle “swimming in s***,” and Jesse was “going to die.” Florida wasn’t what he’d expected. “I went right into the belly of the beast,” he said. “I went down there and it was a hellhole of—just so many opportunities to get prescription pills down there, it was just ridiculous.
“When I picked up cocaine again, all bets were off, and I was going to die in Florida.”
He overdosed. But thank God, he survived.
Jesse recalls “a lot of little miracles” that turned his life around. One was his intuition, which prompted his returning to New Hampshire to get his old job back. He narrowly escaped serious jailtime—seven years in a federal prison. They’d been building a case against him all along.
He saw it as a sign from the universe that he’d been saved. Fear of prison helped, too.
Jesse knew the time had come.
“So, that’s where my recovery journey started,” he said, marking the day Dec. 18, 2005. He did everything the “prescription from the judge” demanded: attended 12-step meetings, worked full-time, got a court-appointed therapist, found a mentor, journaled every day, and most importantly, stayed sober—cold turkey.
He formed new habits, experiencing emotions he’d not felt before, and bought his first house—a milestone, for he’d always lived in apartments. “I was just going to prove to myself that, no matter what, I’m not going to label myself an addict, a felon,” he said. Although technically, he was a felon.
“I had to go into the marketplace as a felon and look for a job,” he said. “And I applied to Verizon corporate. They hired me even with my felonies.
“It was the best decision they made, and I made, because not only did I win every award [for company achievements] they had, it would set the framework and the foundation for me to leave the job in 2017 to start my own business Entrepreneurs In Recovery.”
Eventually becoming a business-to-business healthcare manager, on the verge of making six-figures at his “dream job,” Jesse gave all that up to help others in addiction and mental health recovery as an entrepreneur.
With his masters degree in mental health counseling, he now helps addicts in recovery find direction and purpose in life—from “highly trained professionals to those living at sober living residences.”
In 2018, Harless wrote his first book “Smash Your Comfort Zone with Cold Showers,” sharing how “cold therapy” relieved his severe anxiety after a friend suggested it to him. “Two hours later, I went to a meeting, and I felt no anxiety at the meeting,” the author shared. “And I said, ‘Okay, what is this cold shower stuff?’”
Then last year, COVID-19 afforded him an opportunity.
With ten spare months, he wrote his story “If Not You, Then Who?” revealing in visceral detail his hair-raising decent into addiction and the path he forged to recovery. And he plots a recovery plan to “turn your life around” that many have already followed.
Jesse’s book also recounts an act of gratitude.
“My judge, the federal judge, you can’t talk to that judge ever again once they prosecute you,” he told The Epoch Times.
“Well, I bumped into a father who lost his son to drug overdose at a retreat a couple years ago. I told him my story, and he says, ‘I’m a lawyer, I know I can get in touch with that judge. Do you want me to get in touch with that judge, and you can tell him ‘thank you?’”
Jesse took up his offer and thanked the judge, whose “prescription” saved his life. And the judge responded back in a letter, which Harless has published in his book.