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Sound Authors interview with Dr. Kent GustavsonMarch 25, 2009
To hear the podcast of this interview, visit http://www.soundauthors.com/missy-jenkins-author-of-something-for-the-pain.htm
Dr. Kent: Welcome to Sound Authors! Today spring is starting across the world, thatís a neat event always in our lifetime. March 20th. Got four guests on the show today. The end of the show weíre going to have a group called the Imani Winds, and they do sort of a mix of jazz and classical music thatíll be fascinating to talk to the clarinetist of that group. And Iíve got three authors on the show. Of course, weíve had on before John Gilmore, and he is coming on to speak about his book Inside Marilyn Monroe. And then also author Paul Austin, whoís the author of Something for the Pain. Heís going to talk to us about being an ER doctor. And my first guest on the show today is Missy Jenkins. She was a victim of a school shooting way back in 1997. Sheís going to share with us a whole bunch of details about her life and her triumphant story. Welcome to the show, Missy.
Missy Jenkins: Thank you.
Dr. Kent: So tell me about this story. Itís been beautifully reviewed, itís done so well. Tell me about it. It came out in October.
Missy Jenkins: Well, it begins with everything that I went through in the school shooting, what I experienced in the whole incident. And then it kind of goes through my life before. I have a twin sister, so I talk a little bit about me and my twin sister, and then it kind of goes into everything that I had to deal with, you know, to learning how to use a wheelchair to even coming face to face with the guy who shot me later on in my life. Just kind of how Iíve grown from that day until now. I set goals for myself and try to choose to be happy instead of being angry about the situation and trying to make the best of what I have.
Dr. Kent: It really strikes so many of us when we watch these school shootings. One just happened in Germany, and itís such a horrible thing. Talk to that for a minute.
Missy Jenkins: Every time I see a school shooting that happens, thereís been plenty thatís happened after the one thatís happened to me, it just breaks my heart that it keeps happening over and over again. I think Iíve seen some similarities in these different shootings, whether it be that the shooter warned that something was going to happen, or even to the point of someone saying something that sounds the same as what I heard. Like describing the gunshots, like firecrackers. Itís just kind of heartbreaking to me that it keeps happening through the years, and I just wish that there was something we could do to stop these things, and to keep them from happening in schools, where thatís the last place that anybody should feel unsafe.
Dr. Kent: Tell us a little about your journey from that moment. Of course, I canít even imagine coming face to face with the shooter that had done something like this to me. Tell us about your process of self discovery and of forgiveness.
Missy Jenkins: Well, I spent about five months in the hospital just learning how to use a wheelchair and just kind of recovering from my injuries. It was a lot of work. I felt like a child, having to learn how to do things over again, from sitting up, to even learning how to put my clothes on. Putting my clothes on took 45 minutes the first time I tried to do that. But as time went on, the more I did things, the more and more easier it got to me to be able to do certain tasks. I still, every day, encounter something new that Iíve got to try to get past. But, Iíve done my best and Iíve set goals for myself. Like, going to college. I went to Los Angeles and learned how to use the brace that allowed me to walk across the stage for graduation, and to actually use it at my wedding, standing up and saying my vows to my husband. And then now, being married, and September the third of í07 I had my son, and now Iím a mother in a wheelchair learning how to take care of a child. Right now heís just about to be nineteen months on April the 3rd. So you know, everything, itís a challenge. The other day I was having a chase with my son, and being in a wheelchair and trying to go as fast as you can running after a child whoís fast. Itís difficult, but every day Iíve had to kind of take it a little bit at a time and just get better at it.
Dr. Kent: My father is in a chair a lot of the time because of a car accident that happened years ago, and I know that issues of the handicapped accessibility, things like that, this country is better than a lot of countries. But thereís a long ways to go in awareness. Talk to that for a minute.
Missy Jenkins: Oh yeah, definitely. When I first got into a chair, in the town that I lived in the movie theater didnít even have spots where someone in a wheelchair could sit. I remember having to sit in the aisle in the theater, and I donít know how many times I got knocked into while I was sitting there. Luckily now there is a movie theater that has seating for those that are in wheelchairs that they can put their chairs, and itís made it easier. But you know, itís just like in the beginning, it was a lot to have to see. Even some of my friends, it was kind of funny, theyíre just used to being with me, me being in a chair, and they might be with other people and say, ďI canít believe that, thatís so un-wheelchair accessible,Ē and then somebody will say, ďWhy is that such a problem?Ē I donít think that you realize it until youíre put in that position, whenever you see those kinds of obstacles. I remember even downtown in our city some of the ramps on the curbs, the curbs in the different areas, you could only see a pile of pavement at the end where someone could get their front wheels caught and cause them to flip out of their wheelchair. Just different things like that, even when it comes to doors that donít have the button to push for the doors to be wheelchair accessible. Me being a paraplegic, Iím able to use my arms to open doors, sometimes with difficulty, but I can do it. I canít imagine somebody who was a quadriplegic that was trying to get through a door, and didnít have a way to do that. So you know, thereís still a lot of things that arenít accessible. One thing that I run into that drives me insane is going to hotels. Hotels donít understand, and some of them, they kind of equip them for a lot of people that are elderly, which is needed, but then sometimes they make the beds so high that someone who is paralyzed canít even get into the bed. Or they make for the bathrooms, you ask for a shower chair, and theyíll bring you a shower chair that has no back to it. Iím paralyzed from my chest down, and I canít balance myself on something that doesnít have a back to it. So just even small things like that that Iíve run into that are still not the same. Luckily I had my twin sister with me when I went, and she was able to help me get in and out of the tub. But if I was by myself, I wouldnít have been able to do it.
Dr. Kent: With folks that have disabilities itís worth fighting for a long ways. The most highly built story in here, of course, is where you go in to meet the shooter who killed some people in that school shooting, and you confronted him. Talk about that.
Missy Jenkins: Confronting the shooter?
Dr. Kent: Yes, Michael, I guess, is it Michael?
Missy Jenkins: Yes, I confronted him, I think I did speak with him December of 1998, and at that time when I spoke to him it was a sentencing, and it was mainly like the victims to get up and say something to him. At that time I was able to speak to him and he was never able to say anything back to me. Later on, July of í07, I decided to go to the penitentiary where he was, in Kentucky, and speak to him face to face. That was very helpful to me to go to that meeting. When I went, I really thought that he was going to be handcuffed, and in the orange jumpsuit, and actually that wasnít the case. He wasnít handcuffed, he was just sitting at a table waiting for me. We talked, and we had a good conversation. He answered all my questions I asked, and one in particular was what he remembered that day. And I also told him everything I remember that day. It was like one of those things where it felt like I wanted him to hear what I had to see. And we just kind of talked about different stuff, but at the end of the conversation he told me, ďI donít know if I ever told you this, but Iím sorry for what I did.Ē I think that meeting with him face to face was the best thing that I could do. I donít think thereís any such thing as closure, I donít, but that was the closest that I could get, actually speaking to him, and it was helpful to me. I actually tried to forgive him when the shooting happened. And the reason why I chose to forgive him was to release me from that anger. I knew that being angry was not going to make me walk again, it wasnít going to change anything that happened that morning. It wasnít going to bring the girls back that were killed, or even make the shooting go away, you know. Being angry wasnít going to change anything. So I decided to be happy, I didnít want that to bring me down. And I think a lot of people think that when you forgive somebody that youíre letting that person off, and I definitely donít think that. I think it lets you go, it letís you away from that anger and it sets you free. And just because I forgave him doesnít mean that he still doesnít have to serve the consequences of his actions. Heís in jail 25 years to life. And I still believe that he should serve that.
Dr. Kent: What a fascinating story. I know you have to leave us soon, and weíll talk to the next guest in a few minutes. But what Iíd like to know is how youíve really been able to change your life and what you hope to do to inspire kids through this book, as well as adults.
Missy Jenkins: Well, I do a lot of motivational speaking to schools. Iíve mainly kind of been in Kentucky but Iíd love to branch out and go in different places. But my main plan is just to hopefully, for people to learn from what I learned from the school shooting. Not only did I learn, but the importance of telling if someone threatened to bring a gun to school. Thatís something that our school didnít do, or a lot of kids were warned and nothing happened. I also hope that people realize the power of their words. I do believe that bullying played a part in the situation that happened at my school, and I donít think that kids realize how much their words affect people. I think that we think that itís a normal thing, and it just happens to us at that age, and itís not. Itís something that can have lifelong consequences when someone is made fun of and treated badly. Itís something that people will remember forever. I also hope people see the power of forgiveness and realize that itís ok to forgive someone, that theyíre not letting that person off. And then also, anybody thatís in a wheelchair thatís dealing with having to be in a chair for the first time. Iíd never known anyone that was in a chair before this happened to me, and for the fact of me thinking I didnít know what I was capable of. But then I started realizing that I was capable of anything that I wanted to do. I might have to do things a little harder, but I was capable of doing anything that I wanted to do. And I just hope that everybody, anybody that reads that, young or old, does get something out of it and realize that our life is precious and that anything can happen to us, that weíre not invincible. And that we need to set goals for ourselves and realize that we do have purposes in our lives. I think that this, the shooting, has given a purpose to me, and made me realize at the age of 15 that I had a purpose in life, and that I got a second chance at a life. Because I was shot through the left shoulder, and it could have hit my heart. And it missed every major artery and organ in my body besides my lung and spinal cord. Thereís a possibility that I could not be here today. But I have that second chance.
Dr. Kent: What an incredible story. The book is called I Choose To Be Happy: A School Shooting Survivorís Triumph Over Tragedy. It sure seems like youíve been able to do that, and youíre an inspiration to a lot of people. We can check out the book online. Can you give us the website we can go to?
Missy Jenkins: Yes, they can go to missyjenkins.com and it has an event calendar, where other places that Iím at, speaking engagements. And then also thereís a link where you can order the book.
Dr. Kent: Wonderful.
Missy Jenkins: And itís at any barnesandnoble.com and amazon.com.
Dr. Kent: And the book again is called I Choose To Be Happy, and it has a foreword by Sara Brady, who of course is the wife of the man who was shot in the assassination attempt on President Reagan, and thatís pretty neat also. Thank you so much for chatting with me on the show.
Missy Jenkins: Oh definitely, thank you.
Dr. Kent: Missy Jenkins is a true hero for a lot of people. I Choose To Be Happy. Go check it out at your bookstore. My next guest on the show is going to come in just a minute and talk to us about Marilyn Monroe, and they had a friendship, and heís going to talk about the character behind the movie star, so come on back for that.