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By Melanie Bavaria

Cheat Sheet

Cradle 2 Grave, plus gun violence in Philadelphia

  • Philly hospitals save the lives of 80% of gunshot victims
  • Over the last 10 years, Temple has treated more than 4,000 people for gun injuries, 50 percent of whom were younger than 25
  • Nearly 10,000 students have gone through the Cradle 2 Grave program
  • In 2015, there were 280 homicides in Philadelphia, up from 248 in 2014.

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The Citizen on guns and gun violence

Dying is Easy

A Temple Hospital program, Cradle 2 Grave, shows students that guns do more harm than just killing

The first thing Scott Charles asks the group of teenagers that have gathered in the lobby of the Temple University Hospital one Monday morning in December is how many of them know someone who has been shot. About half of them raise their hands. For the 13- and 14-year olds from John Bartram High School in South Philadelphia, the sheer prevalence of gun violence is not shocking; it’s a fact of their life.

But no amount of street smarts could prepare them for what they witnessed at Temple that  morning, as part of a scared straight gun violence prevention program Charles runs called Cradle 2 Grave. Over the next hour, students watched as Charles and Temple’s emergency room doctors reenacted, in graphic detail, what it takes to save a gunshot victim. The students cringed, and turned away in horror; one ran from the room to get sick. This was shocking to them—which was the point.

“Dying is the easy part,” says Charles, a community outreach coordinator at Temple who has worked with at-risk kids for decades. “We want them to understand that really when it comes to gun injury, particularly in Philadelphia, where we save more than 80 percent of gun victims, this isn’t a question of dying. This is really just about the degree to which one will suffer. That is really the story of gun injury in this city.”


VIDEO BY MELANIE BAVARIA


Over the last 10 years, Temple has treated more than 4,000 people for gun injuries, 50 percent of whom were younger than 25. At the same time, Charles has led nearly 10,000 students, in bi-weekly groups from high schools and middle schools around the city, through the harsh reality of being among those stats. Now, as the gun violence rate is on the rise again, Temple hopes to bring the program to every public school student—and to take it national.

A California native who has a masters degree in psychology from Penn, Charles started Cradle 2 Grave in 2006, after he took a group of eighth-graders to the ER for what he’d planned as one-off field trip. There, he met Dr. Amy Goldberg, the chief of trauma and surgical critical care, who insisted the field trip needed to be a regular program. That was the year 10-year-old Faheem Thomas-Childs was gunned down outside his elementary school.

“That was the catalyst, the tipping point, the thing that put me over,” Charles says. “I wanted to create programs in the city that would reduce the likelihood of children being murdered here.”

Before taking the Bartram students into Temple’s trauma bay, Charles tells them the story of Lamont Adams, a young boy from North Philadelphia who was one of 35 school-aged gun violence victims in 2004. The medical stuff will come. But before then, before it’s all technical terms and graphic imagery, he needs them to understand: When this happens, it happens to someone with a life story not so different from their own.

“That was the catalyst, the tipping point, the thing that put me over,” Charles says, of the shooting death of 10-year-old Faheem Thomas-Childs. “I wanted to create programs in the city that would reduce the likelihood of children being murdered here.”

On September 22 2004, 16-year-old Adams wrote what would be his own obituary. Over dinner with his grandmother, Jennie Clark, who had raised him since infancy, the teen scribbled on a paper napkin, “Lamont Adams, son of Daneen Adams and James Edward Mathis is gunned down in North Philly.”

Later that night, Lamont assured his grandmother it was nothing to worry about, just some writing. But the truth is that he knew people were after him. Not long before, Lamont had left a dice game early after going on a winning streak, getting out of there just before the police broke it up and took one of the young men into custody for an illegal gun possession. The other members of the dice game thought that Lamont had snitched and they’d been making threatening phone calls ever since.

The night after the napkin incident, Lamont left his house in North Philadelphia for the last time. He had nothing in his pockets, not even the keys he would have needed to get back inside. A block later, near 26th and Cambria Streets, he looked over his shoulder just in time to see a man fire four rounds of a .45-caliber handgun into his back. With Lamont lying on the ground, the assailant came up to him and shot him 10 more times at point-blank range. The bullets traveled through Lamont’s body and left divots in the pavement.

A nearby police officer rushed Lamont to Temple Hospital, where he was admitted to the trauma bay at 9:15. It’s there that Cradle 2 Grave picks up Lamont’s story.

One of the Bertram students is chosen to be Lamont, lying on the hospital bed while Charles covers him in red stickers, denoting the location of the bullet holes. The last two stickers go on the young man’s palm and here, Charles pauses. He says it’s these two bullet wounds that bother him the most. These are the two that show that despite all the other evidence—the obituary, the empty pockets—Lamont wasn’t ready to die.

“Nothing he’s experienced in television or movies or in videos would have prepared him for the pain of this,” Charles says. “And he’s begging this young dude to show him some mercy.”

From there, Goldberg takes over, detailing the intensive medical producers the hospital employed to try to save Lamont that night. Methodically, she explains how they snake a scope into his mouth to install a breathing tube into his airway to supply oxygen. How they insert a catheter into the femoral artery in the groin to supply fluids to replace the lost blood. How they make an incision on either side of his chest to drain the blood and air that might be collecting in his chest. How they slice open his breastbone, all the way to the bottom of the table, and use a Finochietto retractor—essentially a lever that acts as a rib spreader—to crank open access to his heart. How they’re confronted with a heart that sustained multiple gunshot wounds, which they staple closed while clamping off the aorta. How they massage the heart in an effort to get it pumping again. And ultimately, how, despite everything, Lamont is pronounced dead at 9:29 pm—14 minutes after he arrived.

“It’s irresponsible to have something like gun homicide being the leading cause of death for young black men in the city of Philadelphia and they don’t know what it means when you don’t die,” Charles says. “They only think of death as this great escape and the fact is, most of the time they’re not that lucky.”

The lights in the trauma bay are bright and hot; at this time of the day many of the kids haven’t eaten yet. Combined with the intense descriptions of what happens to a shooting victim, Charles says it’s not uncommon for a student to pass out during this portion of the program. On that particular morning, a young girl rushes out of the trauma bay to be sick.

The students are still absorbing what they’ve seen when Charles starts the classroom portion of the program. A series of exercises designed to emphasize the impact a homicide has on the people left behind—thinking about who would be in the room to hear the news of their death—is paired with ghastly graphic images of real gun injuries treated at Temple. The photos come with warnings, and at some point, all of the kids cover their eyes.

It’s a grueling couple of hours for everyone. But Charles and Goldberg do not soft-pedal the realities of gun violence, on the victim and the family. There is, they say, too much at stake.

“It’s irresponsible to have something like gun homicide being the leading cause of death for young black men in the city of Philadelphia and they don’t know what it means when you don’t die,” Charles says. “They only think of death as this great escape and the fact is, most of the time they’re not that lucky.”

Even at just two hours, the program seems to make a difference. Students from some of the schools complete a survey before and after attending the program and, according to Goldberg, “their proclivity or their tendency towards violence had dropped after our Cradle 2 Grave program.” But with homicide figures on the rise again this year, there’s always more that can be done. With more money for the program—which, at present just covers Charles’ salary—Goldberg would like to conduct a more qualitative study to see the impact it has on students.

She’d like to partner with the school district public schools to make Cradle 2 Grave part of a larger violence prevention curriculum that would allow them to better “measure behavior change, not just attitudes.” And because gun violence is a national problem, Goldberg is hopeful that other cities might be inspired to follow their lead.

“We definitely feel it could be implemented in other cities,” she says “We think we have a template of something that works and would be more than happy to work with Detroit and Chicago and L.A., to share with them what we’ve seen work here in Philadelphia.”

What works is taking the drama and nobility out of gun violence, and grounding it in brutal reality.

“We really wanted to make sure that we adequately showed them what happens when someone gets shot,” Goldberg emphasizes. “And we realized that the only education that was being provided was what the kids were seeing on movies or on videos or on different video games. And as a nation, we were doing this population a huge disservice by not really providing that education as to what can happen when you are shot.”

 

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