Teen paralyzed by stray bullet enters adulthood
Posted October 11, 2020 12:01 a.m. EDT
MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Graduation for Marquisha Jones should have been the start of a new journey, a moment she should smile about considering how much she’d endured before making it to the stage.
She’d spent her entire high school career using a wheelchair, paralyzed after a stray bullet struck her spine when she was 14. Graduating, for many students, is a liberating experience. For Jones, it brought further limitations to life.
School was her escape from the confines of home each day. Now, without access to a vehicle that can transport her in her chair, she and her mom rarely leave the house.
In Alabama’s capital, gun violence has traumatized generations of young people — bullets forever altering the lives of so many. When Jones heard the shots ring out that night, she ran away from the windows in her aunt’s living room, tripping in the hallway and never getting back up.
In the aftermath, after months of fighting for her life, she and her mom spend their days trying to navigate the few services available in Montgomery for disabled people.
It is a short list that gets smaller as Jones gets older.
This is a problem not just locally, but a state and national problem too, said Cynthia McCaghren, director of the Children’s Center.
“There’s just less funding for these programs. ... We start serving this population with disabilities basically at birth and we work real hard to give them everything they need through the age of 21 and then at 21, it’s kinda like we are through with them and we drop them, basically,” McCaghren said.
Founded in the 1970s, the Children’s Center was created to educate Montgomery children with severe disabilities. Eventually, the Montgomery public school district took over the school, with the nonprofit McCaghren runs operating early intervention and adult programs in the same building.
What she noticed, McCaghren said, was that after students graduated from the school — where they can stay until age 21 — there were few places for them to go during the day.
“They were no options,” she said.
Families were forced to turn to nursing homes or quit their jobs in order to provide the 24-hour care their children need.
In 2012, the center launched its adult day program, which provides leisure activities to about 30 clients who otherwise wouldn’t have anywhere to go.
“We’re not trying to pick up where school system left off or trying to get these clients a job. We are simply trying to provide an environment where they can be safe, they can be loved, and they can be stimulated,” McCaghren said.
The benefits, she believes, are both emotional and physical.
“I think they live longer. I think they feel a part of the community. I think they are happier,” McCaghren said of her clients. “I think they have self-worth. It has promoted their self-esteem. In some areas it has promoted independence. They have friends — that’s a big, big deal. And they feel loved.”
The center cannot provide transportation for its clients, though, meaning it is not accessible for people like Jones.
Over the Labor Day holiday weekend, when families were gathering for cookouts, Jones and her mom sat in their living room, wishing like so many other days that they could go explore the city.
“I’m just bored,” Jones said. The only time she’d left the house in over two weeks was to see the doctor — hospital walls defining nearly all of her trips since school ended.
Simple moments, like going out to eat, strolling through EastChase, or going to an event at the baseball stadium, are the moments she and her mom wish they were given the chance to enjoy. The services that are available, she and her mom explained, are either unreliable, inconvenient or no longer available to Jones since she turned 19.
And, more than her desire to have a more active life, transportation to and from appointments has become more difficult. She hasn’t been to an occupational or physical therapy appointment since last year.
Their hope is to raise enough money through the GoFundMe account they started to purchase a van that could transport Jones, but the price tag for that is $30,000.
Montgomery police have yet to arrest the person responsible for shooting Jones.
“I just want to come face to face to let them know how they changed our lives,” Jones’ mom, Leisa Fuller, said.
June marked the five-year anniversary of the shooting, when Jones decided she needed to forgive the person who did this to her.
She doesn’t hold a grudge toward her shooter, she said, but hopes they understand, “there’s better ways to handle things than shooting. It could have been worse than what it was.”
Now, her biggest concern with the uncertainty is when she thinks about dating.
“Like when I get older and I start dating, what if I end up with the person who did this and they’re coming back to kill me, like finish the job,” Jones said.
Since graduating, Jones has been focused on getting herself enrolled at Troy University.
“People think because you’re in a wheelchair, you’re mentally disabled,” she said.
While she’d prefer to go to in-person classes once the pandemic is over, she is forced to pick a program that she can do online.
“Most people in my situation would be down and depressed all the time but I’m not really like that,” Jones said. But, “lately I have been since graduating because I don’t get to leave everyday. ... I just want to go get out of the house, go eat, go shop, go to my family’s house, to just get out more.”