He goes by the name “Bullet” on A&E’s The Extractors, but today Evan James is standing in front of a room of colleagues, friends and industry professionals at Pasadena Recovery Center’s monthly speaker series. He has some explaining to do. “I’m not running from the law—not anymore. So it’s not because of that. Everything’s good with me,” he jokes. The nickname is, in fact, is really just an homage to his past, a time where he used to run with the street gangs of West Los Angeles. (More on that later.)
Despite a spotty criminal record, Bullet is still roaming where he once ruled—only this time he’s busting down doors to motel rooms and running down dark alleyways with the law on his side. That’s because instead of finding ways to fuel his own addiction, he’s now saving the lives of those who are. As a stocky, bearded New Yorker with a rough accent and exterior, and someone who self-describes as “not really a suit-and-tie guy,” Bullet is the perfect person to do this kind of job.
Now, through The Extractors, viewers at home have a front seat ticket to this high-speed experience. Each episode follows Bullet and his team of extreme interventionists on a new mission to find and “extract” a struggling addict in his or her most vulnerable conditions and present a very tough proverbial fork in the road.
What gives a guy like Bullet the right to do that? Simply put, he hasn’t gotten to where he is today without going through a few extreme interventions of his own.
A Zigzaggy Path
Growing up in Harlem, Bullet had what he describes as a “charmed childhood.” It wasn’t until his sister Valerie started getting into drugs and soon began influencing him when his parents began to fight. “I used to hear my parents fight and scream and yell,” he recalls. “It never got physical, but as a youngster—12 years old—I could feel the beginning of the end of this relationship.”
Sure enough, one day, his mom left and never came back. Bullet then eventually moved to Los Angeles with his dad (or “Hollywood,” as he envisioned ) and, to his chagrin, found it nothing like what he saw in the movies. He soon found himself caught up with different gangs and his dad switching him from high school to high school had little effect. “By October 26 of 1987, smoking a little weed and drinking some old 8 had turned into smoking rock cocaine to the point where I was robbing and stealing, in and out of jails and institutions.”
Bullet’s lowest point in his addiction was also when he experienced his greatest intervention. He recalls, “I had commandeered a gas station—a 76 station bathroom on the corner of Sunset and Las Palmas—and at this point, I was weighing about 150 pounds; I was spitting up blood every time I took a hit. And I’ll never forget right in front of me, there was a splintered, fractured mirror that I would look into, which was rather apropros of what my life had become.” The cocaine wasn’t even working and that night, Bullet decided he was going to die. He walked out with his arms stretched on Sunset Boulevard, hoping to get hit by a car, but when that didn’t happen, he went to a church he knew of on Hollywood Boulevard and Martel instead.
There, he saw a group of people congregating out front, drinking coffee and smoking cigarettes. It was a Narcotics Anonymous meeting, and it was also the last day Bullet ever got high. He says, “The reason why I never got high again is because I have never, ‘til this moment, felt that I have the right to disrespect the magnitude of that moment that God led me to that meeting. And that’s not to say there haven’t been a lot of trials and tribulations within my recovery that certainly could have tempted even the strongest person, the strongest program. But, nevertheless, nothing has taken me out.”
Not even the harshest of critics who are uncomfortable with his team’s harsh and unconventional intervention model. To those groups of people, Bullet responds in a deeply personal way. “My sister is no longer here; she died of dirty needles. If my parents would’ve known about people like us, maybe Val would still be here today.” This is also exactly what he says in the opening credit sequence of the show. “If it was your son or daughter, we’re exactly who you’d want to call.”
In Reel Time
Having premiered on April 17, The Extractors is currently halfway through its first season and Bullet describes the show as nothing less than “a great opportunity” and “accurate and honest.” His sole motivation for being part of the production was so “people who normally wouldn’t be able to get help would be able to.” That, and to bring more visibility to his non-profit organization TAPS, the only one in the world that facilitates interventions, rescues teenagers from life-threatening situations, transports them, locates runaways and perform extreme interventions.
So far, the only downside in doing the show for Bullet is not having enough manpower to help everyone who needs it. “If we have 800 submissions, we want to help 800 families,” he says. “But we understand that the network has to do their due diligence and do background checks and make sure of things, and a lot of that.” In the meantime, him and his team will just continue pursuing those who are falling through the cracks of society and extracting them from the claws of addiction just in the nick of time.