FEATURE STORIES

Out of the Crossfire -
Saving One Life at a Time


by Christine Grote
March 2008

 

The Crossfire

John Baker lay face down on the ground in the dark early hours of the morning with a gun at his head.  He had just dropped a friend off after a night at the bars when two cars pulled into the apartment lot behind him and boxed his car in.  Masked gunmen jumped out of the cars and told Baker to get on the ground.  At first Baker, assuming it was undercover police, thought, “Oh God, I’m caught,” and decided to cooperate with them.  From his position on the ground Baker heard the sound of a gun being cocked.  He looked up over his shoulder and boom; the guy shot him in the head point-blank.

The assailant took off running.  Baker reached up to grab his head.  He could hear a ringing in his ear and saw a puddle of blood on the ground.  He jumped up, ran to his friend’s apartment, and started banging on the door yelling, “Call the police.  Call the police.”

When his assailant saw Baker on his feet and realized he wasn’t dead he got out of the car and came back.  Baker started running and the guy started shooting.  A bullet went right through Baker’s shoulder.  Baker kept running.  Blood was gushing out of his head and his shoulder.  He was running and praying, “Oh God, please don’t let me die.” 

He didn’t know how much blood he was losing.  At the top of the street he ran into another apartment complex and started banging on doors telling the people to call an ambulance.  He ran to the top of the stairs and heard the guy come in behind him.  The assailant climbed the stairs and shot Baker in the stomach.  Baker fell down and started kicking, knocking the gun out of the guy’s hand.  The assailant picked it up and tried to shoot again, but the gun was jammed.  By then Baker could hear the sirens.  The assailant took off running, and Baker passed out.   

The year was 1995. 

Baker was shot a second time in 2001.  Although he admitted that back in 1995 when he was shot he had been “living the life style” and “basically doing the same thing that everybody in the neighborhood was doing,” by 2001 Baker had cleaned up his life.   He was working and making a good salary.  But when he started “hanging out in the places where he used to hang,” and people saw him wearing nice clothes and driving a nice car they didn’t believe he “wasn’t hustling anymore,” he said. 

In 2001 Baker was living at his grandma’s house and was returning home after another night out.  A female friend at the bar was concerned that he had had too much to drink and followed him home to make sure he got there alright.  That’s why he didn’t notice the other car tailing him.  When he parked and went back to thank her, his friend looked behind him and started screaming.  Baker turned around and thought, “Dear God, not another ski mask.”  

He didn’t have any drugs on him and he didn’t have any money in the house.  He thought he was going to die.  “They’re going to kill you regardless,” Baker said.  “They’re going to kill you if you got it or if you don’t got it.”

Baker threw out a punch and then took off running.  The next thing he knew he was down on the ground, instantly paralyzed by a gunshot in the back.  It didn’t knock him out but he couldn’t move.  The bullet nicked his spinal column and then moved on through his abdomen wrecking havoc.  At University Hospital in Cincinnati, Ohio, Dr. Jay Johannigman operated on Baker that night and saved his life.

Initially doctors told him that he would be paralyzed, but eventually Baker regained the use of his right leg and is able to walk by using his left leg “basically like a crutch,” he said.  He was hospitalized for 5 months.


Out of the Crossfire

Doctors at the University Hospital Trauma Center in Cincinnati, Ohio, see a lot of victims like John Baker—repeat customers.  Two of the doctors there, Dr. Johannigman and Dr. Kenneth Davis, decided to do something about it.  In a May 2006 interview with City Beat, a local newspaper, writer Margo Pierce spoke with Johannigman about the patients they were seeing over and over again.  “We were extremely frustrated putting them back together, knowing that we did not have the resources to offer them more,” Johannigman said.

Johannigman and Davis found a program in Baltimore, Md., that was reducing the rate of recidivism for gunshot victims.  This intervention program resulted in victims who were more likely to be employed and less likely to be perpetrators or repeat victims of violent crimes. The doctors brought the idea of this program to Cincinnati.  The program gained the support of Cincinnati’s University Hospital and the Cincinnati Bar Foundation pledged to raise a quarter of a million dollars for a 3-year pilot program. 

Dr. Jennifer Williams, Ed.D., NCC, PC was hired as Program Director and Out of the Crossfire was born.  It’s mission is to end the cycle of violence by linking survivors of gunshot and other violence with community services to help them not only heal, but also to develop the skills and opportunities to reshape their lives.   

Out of the Crossfire opened its doors at University Hospital in August of 2006.  The staff currently consists of Williams and several volunteers.  Some, but not all, volunteers are hospital employees.  Four RNs at University Hospital volunteer their time to help with the administrative work.  One of Williams’ volunteers is a supervisor at the hospital.  Williams said, “Had Crossfire been in existence six or seven years ago, he would have been a client.  He’s been shot multiple times on multiple dates.  He’s my stereotypical at-risk client.”  His name is John Baker.


A Stereotypical Client

In 1995, after he was shot, John Baker woke up in the hospital.  His head was swollen from the gunshot wound and he thought it was permanent damage, but when the swelling went down all he could see was a little scar.  The bullet remains lodged in his skull today.  The bullet that struck his abdomen was removed and the one in the shoulder had passed through.  Baker felt lucky to be alive and thought, “Okay, this is it.  It might be time to back away from this stuff.” 

Although he said the shooting was the aftermath of an altercation his friends had gotten into at the bar and that he doesn’t believe it was drug-related, he admits it was a result of the lifestyle.  “It was the clubs that you went to.  Eighty percent of the drug dealers went to the clubs that I went to.  It’s the whole.  It’s like a whole circle,” Baker said.

After the shooting, Baker “slowed up,” he said.  “That brush with life kind of woke me up.  I was like, ‘Hold on, man.  It’s over.’”   The police questioned him at the hospital and automatically assumed the incident was drug-related because it happened in Bond Hill, District 4, where Baker had a reputation.  Baker never saw his assailant’s face and no arrests were made.

Although Baker’s dad wasn’t very involved in his life as he was growing up, he came to the hospital to visit him.  Baker remembers his dad telling him, “You’ve got to change your life around.  You’ve got to leave the streets alone.”  The father of one of his friends, who had been known for being in the streets, also visited Baker and told him, “You’ve got to walk away from the streets or you’ll get killed.  It ain’t worth it, man.”  Baker said it was the first time he realized the severity of what he was doing.

So he started to turn things around.  Baker cleaned up his life, and looked for a job.  He started going to church and “kind of got saved that year,” he said.  He started going to Bible Study and learning about God and life.  He got away from the streets.  Baker started building a relationship with his father.  He also had a son on the way.  He said, “I was really, really nervous inside and frightened.  I was like, wow, I need to be here for him.” 


Capitalizing on the Moment

Out of the Crossfire tries to take advantage of that moment when gunshot victims wake up to the reality of what they are doing.  Williams explained that the hospital is “one of the places they’re really safe to be vulnerable,” as opposed to out in the community or if they’re locked up where they have to have a “tough-guy image” and not show any vulnerability.  “It’s a dual kind of a role where we can maximize the opportunity,” Williams said.  “We have a captive audience physically, in that they may actually still be on IVs, but also, this is a safe place.”

Williams goes to the bedside and introduces Out of the Crossfire to the victims of violent crimes.  If the patient is open to it, Williams then conducts a social history interview to determine the client’s needs which may include education, job training, mental health or substance abuse counseling.  Williams goes out into the community to find the services needed and then links the patient with those services.  Her ultimate goal is to help the individuals break the cycle of violence and create a life-style that keeps them from returning to the hospital as victims of violent crimes, or from getting in other trouble with the criminal justice system.


Fast Money

Baker knows just how hard it is to break the cycle of violence.  He had cleaned up his life after the first time he was shot, and said that in  ’96 and ’97 he “was doing real good,” living with his baby son’s mother out in Forest Park “away from all that crap.”   His brother had helped him get a job as a carpet cleaner.  But when he and his son’s mother broke up, Baker moved back to Bond Hill.  “That was a mistake,” he said, “big mistake.”  He said his dad told him “Don’t move back to the neighborhood.  There are too many of your friends out there doing too much of the stuff that ain’t right and you’re going to wind up back on the same track.”  His dad was right.  Baker started backsliding and got back into the streets again.  “I started hanging with my buddies and started getting that fast money again.”

Although Baker didn’t like what he was doing, he said, “You couldn’t resist the money.  It was so much money involved in it.  And when you don’t have anything, I mean it’s not excusing it or justifying it, but I think that’s the problem with most of these young guys out here at 14 and 15.  Their moms aren’t in their lives.  Get a young kid out here that’s 13 and he’s got $1000 in his pocket, man, it’s hard to tell him ‘no.’”

 

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University Hospital, Cincinnati, Ohio

University Hospital in Cincinnati, Ohio

 

Dr. Jennifer Williams

Dr. Jennifer Williams
Read RED! interview with Dr. Williams