Friday, July 22, 2005

July 23rd

On July 23rd, 1996, Kenny drove drunk at speeds of over 100 mph, eventually crashing head-on with another vehicle. He wasn't wearing a seatbelt, and the impact ejected him through the back windshield of his car where he bounced off the spoiler, landing 60 feet down the road. Kenny is now a paraplegic.

On July 23rd, 2000, Kenny's friend Jennifer was shot by the boyfriend of the woman she was living with. The shell exploded in her neck and spine, leaving her paralyzed from just above the waist all the way down. She was 18.

On July 23rd, 2004, Jennifer married a man she thought would always be there to support her. He stayed by her side through various surgeries and recoveries. But she hasn't heard from him now in five days.

Tomorrow, on July 23rd, 2005, these three anniversaries will occur, and these people will remember the days their lives were changed forever.

Today I had the privilege of meeting and photographing both Jennifer and Kenny. It's days like today that make me love what I do as a photographer, and it's days like today that make me immensely thankful for the health I have and the family I was born into.

Jennifer is currently living in a local motel with her pitbull Rose. She lives by herself in a wheelchair with the help of a visiting nurse once or twice a day. She is 23 and has already suffered through a shooting, paralysis, numerous surgeries, a failing marriage, a miscarriage, and unbearable physical and emotional pain. Her income is about $520 a month, derived from a Social Security and Medicaid check. Her bedsore has hung around for the last few months, and is bad enough to prevent her from having a real job. The last five years of her life have been spent being disappointed in the people she thought were her friends, and adjusting to the reality of a disabled life.

"I can deal with it or be miserable for the rest of my life. I have to deal with it," Jennifer says repeatedly.

Kenny is able to exercise a little more independence than Jennifer. He drives a car using only his hands, with controls he rigged himself. He has adapted to wheelchair life with a matter-of-fact perspective that comes from reflection over the last 9 years.

"It's probably a good thing I'm paralyzed," he says. "If I wasn't, I'd most likely be in jail or dead. Probably 75% of my friends ended up that way."

Being in a wheelchair, however, hasn't exactly prevented the jail time completely. In April, Kenny was picked up for various drug possessions and a handgun possession. The cops also found his marijuana plants which Kenny claims he grew purely for the medicinal effect.

Both Jennifer and Kenny swear by marijuana to ease their frequent muscle spasms and neuropathic pain.

"Nothing else works like that does," Jennifer says. "If marijuana were legalized, I would only have to take a small fraction of the pills I take now."

She takes 35 pills a day, the majority of which are for pain management. She keeps the narcotics in a small safe so no one will steal them.

Jennifer spends her days in the dark motel room, with her dog Rose as a sole companion.

"If I didn't have her, I probably wouldn't be alive today," she says in all seriousness.

She rolls her wheelchair outside to smoke an occasional cigarette, and to let the dog out. "My days are hell."

Goals for Jennifer include getting into a new rehab program at the local hospital, and being fitted for some leg braces. She has plans to complete a two-year program in graphic design.

Kenny says he gave up drinking a few months ago, and drugs just recently. His focus now is on getting past his legal difficulties, and moving on. He wants to learn drafting at a local college.

**Note: this is a true story according my interpretation. These quotes are from my memory only - not any notes I took. For the (more complete) real news story written by the reporter who accompanied me, see The Daily News-Record's website tomorrow.

**Note#2: Update on July 23rd. I just checked the DNR's site myself, and I guess they didn't run the story today. But it should happen sometime this week.

Originally uploaded by emster214.
Jennifer was shot 5 years ago by the boyfriend of the woman she was staying with. She now lives by herself with the help of a visiting nurse in a local motel with her pitbull Rose.

Originally uploaded by emster214.
Jennifer's pitbull Rose pauses from chewing on her toy to look up at the camera. In the background, Jennifer and Kenny sit in their wheelchairs. They were both injured on July 23rd, but of different years. Tomorrow marks the anniversary of their paralysis.


Lori said...

Emily, seriously dear, you should write. I've edited your stories, and they were always good--and the one you just recounted on your blog was good. I know you probably don't want to report, but at least do some photo essays or something where you can write some text. You can definitely benefit from your multiple abilities.

jshelley78 said...

Excellent blog and great post. Thanks for taking the time to communicate the stories of people that gives us glimpses past the externals and superficial coatings into the brokenness and beauty of others.

Emily said...

Thanks Shelley and Lori!

Lori, I don't know if my stories were necessary good, they just shone in comparison to some of the others... (I'm thinking of a first name, four letters, starts with T ends in D.) I'd like to do something that combines writing with photos... guess that's why I started the blog. But anyway, the paper I'm working at has just recently started these things they call "photo columns." Each one has a photo with a few brief paragraphs of text to accompany it - columnish sort of writing. I'm hoping to do a few of those before I leave.

Jamie Dawn said...

What a moving and disturbing story.
I'm glad these two people met each other. I hope they can help each other deal with their problems.

Pecos Blue said...

Wow hard core. Sure makes it hard for me to have a bad day. Thank you. Good writing.

John said...

Emily, I have to echo everyone else here. It’s a wonderful thing (and a powerful ministry) to be able to listen to people’s stories and tell those stories (both in photos and in words) in all their humanness. This is an excellent post; thank you for sharing it.

mlwhitt said...

Emily that is one of the most interesting and best written blog entries I have read. I agree with Lori you really should write professionally. What you wrote was very touching and the photos very moving.

Jamie said...

Hey thanx for the comment. Its funny but one of your stories (The Mime) has the same idea of what I was talking about. Nice to know I think just as others do. amazing work by the way. My girlfriend does professional photography in Chicago.

Avery's mom said...

intresting story, thanks for sharing. It makes a person greatful for the good things we have, the simple things we are able to do....WHat a crazy coinsedence of july 23. I hope these two are able to get some help to fight their emotional battles

Marie said...

That was a beautifully written post, Emily. Thank you for sharing this. By the way, I'm here via Michael's blog.

TheMartins said...

That was amazing! Thank you so much for sharing that with us! I agree with everyone else.

Steven said...

Absolutely breathtaking post. The photo of the dog,! I have a cousin now in a wheelchair because of an accident in a rainstorm. It has definitely made me see the world in a different light.

girljane said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
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Daniel said...

Emily hi i hope you still read these i guess this is the only way to communicate.

i have put together a foundation that deals with Spinal Cord Injury Treatments.

if you do get this please check out

i found these pictures and would like you to pass this site on to Jennifer.

i just created a blog account just to get this information to you and have no other reason to keep it. you can email me at

if i can help i will i can talk to you or Jennifer about treatments or if you have any questions.

I hope you still communicate with Jennifer and hope this brings hope for her.


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