His Best Shot

Temple University Hospital's trauma outreach coordinator Scott Charles wants to do everything for young gunshot victims. Keeping them from returning to the emergency room is a good start.

By Kia Gregory
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 5 | Posted May. 30, 2007

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When he started the program, Charles would sit at his desk with his head in his hands and cry. He'd cry over Lamont's life and the 24 bullet holes that ended it. "I kinda knew this kid," he says, referring to his inclusion in the lengthy audio project Charles worked on in 2005.

When veteran Temple trauma surgeon Amy Goldberg learned of the project, she fought the hospital bureaucracy to bring a full-time intervention program to Temple University Hospital.

In those early days she even chastised Charles: Don't cry, she said, do something. Charles accepted the job and created Cradle to Grave.

"I try to humanize Lamont for those kids," he says. "I want those kids to see themselves in him."

Charles, 39, married father of two, degree in psychology from Penn, five years of service learning experience, sees himself in all of his gunshot patients.

He grew up in Sacramento, Calif., as he paints it, "a biracial kid with a white single mother in a Mexican neighborhood," and a father who loved women, including Charles' babysitter and kindergarten teacher.

When Charles was 9, his father died of a heart attack.

His oldest brother died of AIDS. His next oldest brother overdosed in a flophouse. Another is a crack addict who's in and out of prison. His late cousin was a pimp. Gangs ruled the neighborhood where he grew up.

"It was a real violent place," says Charles. "You got gut-checked constantly."

It was a world of extremes--you did real well or real bad, Charles explains. His uncle was among the first black fire chiefs in the country. His aunt and uncle own a newspaper in Sacramento, and after Charles, a recovering drug addict, got clean, they took him in.

"If it wasn't for my uncle, I'd still be out there," he says. "It's one thing to tell somebody to get their stuff together. But you have to give them the tools."

That's what he tries to do at Temple University Hospital--open windows and hand out tools. The task weighs heavily--heavily enough that he sees a therapist, and often feels trapped between effectiveness and futility.

"I know out of 15, 20 kids, I'm lucky to have an impact on two," he says. "The rest are contaminated by the violence around them. I'm trying to do things based on logic and common sense. But this thing is nothing like we're used to. It's like a monster."

The intervention part of Charles' job starts in the hospital rooms of those who've survived the physical trauma of getting shot.

"I try to make them realize there's nothing tremendously special about why they got shot," he says. "There'll be 400 individuals at the hospital just like them lucky enough to survive."

He also explains that probably half the victims are under 25. And that statistics show a one-in-seven chance of getting shot again.

Then he offers what he calls the shtick of his intervention: If you were struck by lightning, and there was a one-in-seven chance that when it rained you'd get struck again, would you go outside?

"I'm trying to give you an umbrella," he says. "I'm trying to get you out of the rain, out of the circumstances that got you here."

Through conversation he also tries to learn details, and whether the shooting was random or part of a feud. Universally, Charles says, gunshot victims say it was random. They were walking to the store or they were robbed.

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1. Ms. Long said... on Oct 10, 2008 at 03:16PM

“I know it is crazy out here in this world my daughter was a victim of this war thank god she survived but it is really taking a toll on her and i cant do nothing about it i am in the proseed of getting her into some kind of therapy real soon because she is holding a lot of stuff inside but i am glad that she was introduced to the program i just want her to look at her sissuation a little better than she does because she is very lucky and if she can really she what other people are going through that wasnt/isnt so lucy like her than maybeshe would look at life a littlle different”

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