Liberty City Gun Violence Survivor: The Mental Part Is A Very, Very Tough Road
Most people who get shot survive. That’s true here in South Florida and across the country.
WLRN has been reporting on gun violence survivors and some of the emotional and physical challenges that persist long after bullets tear through their bodies.
Desmond Hanks, 32, was shot eight years ago in Liberty City. A bullet pierced his leg and another went through his arm and landed in his chest.
Doctors initially didn’t remove the bullet from his chest. They worried taking it out could cause more harm.
About a month ago, Hanks looked down at his chest and saw something kind of round poking out—it was the bullet. He rushed to the hospital where it was removed.
Hanks spoke to WLRN reporter Nadege Green about the day the bullet was removed and what it means to survive the visible and invisible injuries from being shot.
They ended up giving me something called Lidocaine and they injected it in my chest around the area of the bullet. And that hurt so bad. They cut it out and it popped right out. I touched it. It brought me back to a place like, wow, you know, I'm a survivor. I remember it being night. I was coming from a friend’s house I was going to my mom's house in Liberty Square better known as the Pork n Bean projects.
When he got to his mother's house two men were waiting outside. They told him they were looking for his sister and that they were going to kill her.
So we getting, you know, to exchanging words. We're going back and forth or whatever. Where I'm from, all I know is fight. I don't know if it was the adrenaline talking or if I was angry, but you know it's like, "If you're gonna shoot me, shoot me or whatever." It was people outside. They were just screaming, you know, "Go in the house." I heard, "Desmond, duck!” So I’m like, “Duck?” And all you hear is shots go off. I end up lifting up my right arm and I seen blood dripping out. And I'm like, "Ah man, I'm finna to die." So I just really started panicking. You know people around me telling me to sit down on the ground, you know call the ambulance. It was a guy I'll never forget it. He was like, “You guys have to get him in a truck” and get me to the nearest hospital because by me waiting on the ambulance to come I'm not going to make it. So I remember my dad coming outside and lifting me up and he had help because I'm a heavy dude.
Hanks blacked out during the ride. When he woke up, he was in the trauma unit at Jackson Memorial Hospital. That’s when he found out the bullet that went through his arm also pierced through his chest and landed inches away from his heart. He was also shot in the leg.
The pain was very unbearable. Oh my God. It's bringing back flashbacks, the pain was so bad. It was so bad. My whole life changed. I was diagnosed with something called sciatica which is permanent nerve damage, so my nerves that were in my arm and my leg were torn. This is pain that I'm going to deal with for the rest of my life.
And there was something else happening to him that he couldn’t quite understand, but it wasn’t the physical pain.
I wasn't sleeping at all. You know I'm just up all night and I'm just thinking someone is trying to get me. I'm hearing voices in my head. I just felt like I wasn't here. The mental part is a very, very tough road. You’re a prisoner in your own mind. You’re scared of police sirens; you’re scared of loud noise. It just takes me back and I'm reminded, “Yeah, you were shot.”
Two months after his shooting he told his doctors about how he was feeling and he was referred to a psychologist. Hanks was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
It was before Christmas of 2010 when I found out about PTSD. So now it’s a different ballgame now because I don't even know what PTSD is, so now I have to research and educate myself on it and as I'm reading it's like, oh yeah, that fits me I was going back and forth seeing a psychologist. She gave me different exercises to do— reading, riding bikes. Nice sceneries peaceful sceneries like the beaches and somewhere in my house at the time I could just go to and be there for a moment. Stuff like that it helped.
Around the same time he was starting to understand his PTSD diagnosis, Hanks was seeking justice. He wanted the people who shot him to be held accountable. Five months after the shooting, and a few days before his birthday, he got a call from the Miami police detectives working his case.
And it was like, "Mr. Hanks we have an early birthday present for you." And I said, "Well what is it? And he said. "We got em. We got em." The system gave them eight years. I almost gave them a lifetime in my mind because I couldn't move forward without thinking about these two young men. Before all of this you know I was like a little hot head. I was you know fighting everywhere. I kind of felt like this was a message for me like sit down.
Hanks says he replays the moments before being shot all of the time and he wonders if there was something he could have done to deescalate the situation. Fighting, he says, was almost his default growing up in Liberty City. Hanks is gay and remembers being bullied from the time he was in elementary school.
Being called gay boy, sissy After being shot, it was like, why me? Why did it have to escalate this way? I'm learning now eight years later. I'm learning now to not let this situation become me.
But there was that one constant and really painful reminder— the bullet he still had lodged in his chest.
I couldn't bathe properly every time I got to that area where I had to wipe my chest I had to just let the water hit it. I couldn't be active at all with this bullet in my chest I was very nervous like of someone hit it and it goes deeper in my chest or it caused more injury and I had to be rushed back to the hospital so I just had to be very cautious.
And even hugs hurt, especially tight hugs from women.
Sometimes I'll forget and they hug me and I'll scream and they won't know what was going on. You know it's because their breast was pressing against the bullet in my chest. I'm very happy that is that its gone. I can be free again. Laying down, oh my God! It feels so good to lay down on my chest. For eight years I wasn't able to lay down on my chest.
He says he tries to manage his PTSD day by day. Crowds are still scary for him, but after the bullet was removed, he and his boyfriend went to a bar for the first time in a very long time.
It’s just one day at a time. Every day of my life I try to cope with it. It messes you up for the rest of your life. It really does. It's not a day that you don't think about what happened to you.