Raynell Navarre grew up in New Orleans’s Calliope Project. Navarre tells the story of being shot on multiple occasions in his youth and at one point being mistaken for dead. He describes what was missing from his own recovery and what realities he sees for the next generation of gun-shot survivors.
“The hardest part about the recovery is never knowing [if] you’re gonna run into the guy who shot you that time, when you’re gonna run across him again...
I wasn’t no violent-type person. I wasn’t the kind of person that went around picking it with nobody or carried a gun like the kids do today. I was a fair kid comin’ up. And I felt like I was, you know, being picked on. Each time I was bein’ robbed I was gettin’ shot.
...I would have nightmares at night from the things that happened to me and how it happened...my mom used to have to come in the room and grab me and stuff because I was goin’ through dreams, you know, that it was happening again...
There wasn’t no time that they would sit down and really counsel you with anything. It was mostly pills that was put in your hand. I wish I coulda got some therapy like what we’re sittin’ here doin’ now, sittin’ here talkin’ it over, you know, and lettin’ me explain myself to you instead of you tellin’ me what it was about and givin’ me a pill.
I know a bunch of young folks that’s out there in the neighborhood now that’s going through different deals, in the wheelchairs, memory’s gone, half of they face gone, you know. ‘Cause right now it ain’t no .38s and .22s -- it’s AK-47s, and big guns like that knockin’ a wall down, so you know what it’ll do to a human body.”
Roy Brumfield was shot first in 1993 and again twenty years later. He describes his difficult recovery and explains the role he believes politics and economics played in it.
“My name is Roy Allen Brumfield. The first time I was shot it was in ‘93. I was shot seven times. The second time was in ‘13. I was shot once.
...I grew up in a neighborhood that was 100% Black. I grew up in the Desire Housing Projects. All the things that happened in the inner city happened at that time, especially in the ‘90s when the ‘War on Drugs’ first happened. That’s when they first started using your criminal history to lock you out of employment, to lock you in jail, and to take you from getting’ other public assistance. It was a real testy time...
Those things escalated the violence in certain neighborhoods...we had to do whatever it took to feed our family. Once you control the resources in certain neighborhoods, people create their own opportunities. It just so happens those opportunities are against the law. So the ‘hood just went crazy. I got shot as a result of the politics at that time.
I don’t know if it was because of the amount of people that got shot in New Orleans at the time, and the hospitals and the doctors were probably overwhelmed with gunshot victims and funding was running out. I don’t know... I wasn’t being treated properly as a person with a life-threatening wound...
...I walk with a limp because I wasn’t told that I could get therapy. I found out later on that I was supposed to get physical therapy after getting shot...I found out from someone in the military...but I didn’t know how to find it on my own.
...They used the War on Drugs as an excuse to not even give me pain medication, and I had no drugs in my system at the time. When you’re in so much pain, you’re blood pressure goes crazy. There’s a lot of things they could do for to know that you’re not lyin’...that you’re actually in pain. I didn’t know that at the time, so when they told me that my pain was a part of my imagination no matter what my blood pressure said, I believed them. This was less than a week after being shot. I wasn’t out the hospital a good three days when they told me I couldn’t have no more pain medication.
The most important service was the mental service I needed. Post Traumatic Stress is a terrible thing. Flashbacks, ugly daydreams, nightmares, and not bein’ told that I’m gonna suffer from a mental condition as a result of bein’ part of a traumatizin’ situation...Not bein’ told that is an injustice, period.
To come from believin’ that you’ll never get shot to knowin’ that it’s always a possibility that you could get shot -- anger and caution and a hypervigilancy is a true factor.
And none of those things are healthy for me, but they exist in my life. They’re a part of me right now. I’m trying to live with them. It’s my life of being David Banner...It’s like being a regular person and then something turn you into the Hulk.”
Last year, Reginald Watson was hit by a car while riding his bike. The crash landed him in the hospital for months and broke the same leg in which he’d been shot years ago. He explains his double recovery and how he motivates himself to “get up and go start all over” yet again.
“My name is Reginald Watson. I’m from New Orleans, and I’m just glad to still be alive. The environment that I was livin’ in, as I got older, I realized that it was like a jungle sometimes...
The first accident I had was when I got shot. I didn’t know who did it. That was in ‘91, ‘92. I was coming from the parade one night and I had some equipment with me. Two guys came up behind me and I broke and ran. And when I ran I fell like going down a cliff. And then they put the gun to my leg and the bullet went straight through...
Everybody pulled together...It built my courage back up to get back up and just start all over again. Many times we fell off the bike. Scrape your knee up, put a little whatever on it, peroxide, and get up and go start all over again...
...But I wasn’t able to do the same things right after I was shot. I was working for Sewerage & Water Board but I couldn’t go back to doing that type of work.
I was laid up for a while...I couldn’t jump right back up... My abilities to do certain things was limited and at the time I wasn’t patient with myself. I just kept pushing my flesh, pushing my body.
Something’s gotta be done, it gotta be done. I needed to work. We lived in poverty...
...At the time, Charity Hospital, I just felt like they coulda did more, because one of my legs had become shorter than the other because I tore that ligament. And I never got a [splint]. They never measured my legs and stuff. So I started walkin’ with a limp. Even after that, it never straightened up...
The same leg I got shot in is the same leg that got broken by the car. So they had to go in the old injury and remove the screws and pins and put a plate all the way down. Without this stick; I won’t be able to hold up.
I’m still seeing a doctor for that because they told me it’s gonna take about two years for it to complete healing and restoration...I can’t walk on it
...I’m not gonna complain about how it all happened, I mean, the aftermath of what happened. I got through it, I’m alive, and I’m grateful to be here. That’s about it.”
Derrick "Sonny" Strong was shot 9 times last December. He spent two weeks in the hospital and another seven months returning for surgeries. He’s made an incredible recovery, but as he explains, the physical recovery is only the beginning.
“Being shot in New Orleans has been real crazy, you know? It’s been a long recovery. The worst thing about it is it’s harder to make money in an already-struggling economy.
But it’s still a blessing to be able to say I survived...This incident opened my eyes to a lot of things that really need to change in New Orleans. It’s an ongoing struggle: Black men always gettin’ shot, always bein’ killed. But we the ones doin’ it to ourselves.
Why? That’s kind of the question I’m askin’. What’s the whole reason behind it. You know, when I was shot, that’s the first thing that came to my mind. Bein’ a person of peace and bein’ a person of organizin’, I’m always the mediator or the one that’s tryin’ to unify everything.
So to be shot it...showed me that no matter what you do in New Orleans, there’s still gonna be the lingerin’ aspect of violence and jealousy, envy, strife over nothin’. Always gonna be there.
But, it makes you strong. That’s why we the New Orleans Saints, I guess. Because of the blessings that we have within this life. That’s all I got to say.”
(Photo credit: Thomas Walsh)
Allen Freedman was shot shortly after pulling into his driveway on a Friday in 1982. The shooting left him partially paralyzed, in unbearable pain, and addicted to painkillers. He describes the extraordinary feats of perseverance - and the impressive set of specialists - that helped him get where he is today: happy and “mentally better than ever.”
“My name is Allen Freedman. I was born here in New Orleans. I’m 64 years old. I was shot on January 15th, 1982. It was a Friday. I was coming home from work and I pulled into the driveway and somebody jumped from out of the bushes. They said, ‘Give me your wallet.’...I reached the wallet over my left shoulder and I turned and I looked at him. And when I looked at him...he from about two feet took a shot at me...”
[The doctor] said, ‘You’re not gonna die...You’re not gonna die tonight.’ But then the pain started setting in. And the pain was unbearable. What it felt like was that someone had ripped off about two or three layers of skin, put my hand in a vise grip, squeezed the vice all the way down, and then stuck it in a white hot fire.
It was the first second of that all the time. So I was gnashing teeth.
I was taking heavy narcotics, shots of morphine every three hours, and it was hardly doing anything except maybe numbing my whole body. But the pain was relentless. I told my wife...if I thought that I was going to have to live the rest of my life in that much pain, I wasn’t gonna do it. I was gonna kill myself.
...In the hospital, they were giving me the shots every three hours, and after a week it was time to go home, you know, with my hand paralyzed and still in pain, and there’s no more shots...You have a lot of support in the hospital. Everybody’s taking care of you, they’re coming and going and checking on you...You get home and this, just, loneliness, this just fear of how was I going to get through this -- I didn’t know.”
“I got 50 cards from Dr. Yang and I would go to other patients -- we’d become friends: when you’re in misery together, there’s a bonding that takes place.
And I would just say...’So, it’s 3 o’clock in the morning. Everybody’s sleeping except for you, and you’re thinkin’ about killin’ yourself. Right?’
The answer with anybody is, ‘Yeah, that’s exactly my experience.’
So I would say, ‘Before you do that, please go see Dr. Yang.’ And I would give them his card. I did that so much that Dr. Yang asked me to slow down ‘cause he couldn’t keep up with all the patients that were coming from Dr. Kline’s office, ‘cause these are the most seriously injured people on earth. These were people with traumatic injuries to nerve centers that were causing people’s lives to have...no quality at all.”
“I had stomach problems from the emotional feelings of hate and vengeance that was going on inside of me. It was making me physically sick. I really wanted to shoot the person that shot me...as if that would do any good, but that’s what I wanted at the time.”
“I can do everything now physically that I could before I was shot except I can’t write with my left hand or pick up a dime. I’m still living in pain, but it doesn’t take my joy away anymore. It’s manageable pain.
Mentally, I’m better than before I was shot. I have a great relationship with my family. My wife says that I’m her second husband, that after I went through recovery and treatment I became a different person,
so she thinks I’m her second husband but really I’m her first.
There was a lot of healing taking place on many different levels that I would not have done until I was forced into ‘em. You see, I’d never practiced forgiveness. I mean, I thought, ‘Yeah, maybe, sure, I’d forgive someone...’ Learning to be a forgiving person is one of the most important things that we can do as human beings...to understand that when other people do really bad things, that they’ve been through some horrible experiences that have brought them to that place...”
“These are some of the doctors who helped me:
- Dr. David Castle was the surgeon who treated me in the ER.
- Dr. David Kline, chief of neurosurgery at LSU, he’s a neurosurgeon.
- Dr. Dan Riordan, he did the tendon transplant and made my hand work again.
- Dr. Tayhugh Luke Yang was my acupuncturist and also a medical doctor.
- Dr. Wakeman -- I can't remember his first name -- he was a psychiatrist at Ochsner.
- Sri Sri Ravi Shankar has helped me in so many ways I can't possibly name them all.
- My AA sponsor Jerry G. -- I'll keep him anonymous -- has been crucial in my recovery.
- Des Carotty, he's deceased now but he helped me a lot.
- Becky Lloyd, she teaches yoga at Audobon Yoga
- All the people in the treatment facility in Jacksonville, FL at Lakeview Healthcare."
“If you’re addicted to alcohol or drugs, we have a place here in New Orleans where you can get help. It’s called Bridge House, and there’s lots of other places you can go. But if you get shot, I don’t know of any place where you can go where someone can kind of quarterback for you, can kind of give you the overview and say, ‘Here’s the places you need to help you do that.’
It seems like it would just make common sense that we would start something like that here in New Orleans so that everybody doesn’t have to reinvent the wheel, but that’s what’s going on right now as far as I can tell.
And remember, I had three or four doctors, maybe even five, tell me that I would be paralyzed for the rest of my life. Had I listened to them, I would’ve had a very different outcome. I had other people telling me, ‘No, you need to keep trying. Let’s go a different avenue. Don’t give up on that yet.’ That’s what we need. You need encouragement and you need someone to support you through this process - everyone does.
It’s very lonesome. And especially when you’re going through the emotion, all the emotions, that come up from being shot. I can tell you: it’s not just anger. It’s also this vulnerability, this feeling that someone took something away from me...going into this powerlessness. There’s a lot of other emotions. To have someone that could mentor me through that, it would be invaluable. And why don’t we have that?”
“We took the deck apart and I recycled it into making this really cool treehouse for my grandchildren...on the top I added a roof and...we can go up to the very top and it’s a nice place to have coffee in the morning with the birds and the squirrels and everybody’s wakin’ up...”
Tamara Jackson is Executive Director of SilenceIsViolence, which describes itself as “a campaign for peace in New Orleans, founded following the murders of musician Dinerral Shavers and filmmaker Helen Hill.” The organization provides “direct victim services, creative youth engagement, and public advocacy, working with clients and partners from every sector to achieve safe, just, and thriving communities.”
“What folks don’t realize when these crimes happen, and when a person has been a victim of gun violence. Especially if they are working, now they have to miss work to heal. And if they don’t have the job with sick time, or benefit package and they are just being paid from day to day, then they’ve lost wages, and now they can’t afford to pay their rent. They can’t afford to pay their utility bill, they may not have medical insurance, so wound care becomes an expense, with gauze and bandages and things of that magnitude.
All of that (medical care costs) can be astronomical for somebody who is just working at Wendy’s, or McDonald’s, or maybe a dishwasher in a restaurant kitchen.
They are really dependent upon their work and actually need that to survive.
We provide the bandages, whatever is needed for wound care. If they have prescriptions, if they don’t have medical insurance. We fill in the scripts at the local pharmacy. We pay for their medication. And sometimes folks lose their jobs because they are out so long, and then their employer finds somebody else. So now we’re working with this person to update their resumes, so they can seek other employment.
We changed our questions to our client intake to include education and employment because we had to capture the essence that everybody black is not unemployed and uneducated. We’ve had gunshot wound victims with bachelor’s degrees, master’s degrees, working, doing what’s right. Working, doing what’s right. Going to a job.
You drive down the street and some people, are exchanging gunfire, and a bullet strikes your back windshield and strikes you in the head or the shoulder. You minding your own business. As privileged individuals, we’ll automatically assume that that person had some business in drug activity, was doing the wrong thing, and this is why this happened.”