Jason Statts knows where the wild things are. Shot in the neck four years ago by a 22–year–old hoodlum, he is a quadriplegic, a man without a body, with no working nerves or muscles below the nipples on his pale chest.
And that’ll screw with a guy’s mind. Late at night, deep in Jason Statts’ psyche, the wild things come out to play.
“There was a time when I wouldn’t have cared if I was here or not,” he says. “I got to that point. I was like ‘Well, they shoot horses that break their legs. Why can’t someone do that to me, just get me out of here?’”
Statts, his friends say, has this uncanny ability to wrestle down the demons and focus, Zen–like, on the positive side of things.
Well, not that there’s a positive side to this. But Statts and the wild things have reached a truce, for now. “Life is short, that’s my new motto,” says the contemplative 38–year–old. “I guess I’m just happy to be around, and still have my brain.”
It took a while, but he has “accepted” his circumstances. “I’m just at peace with it, totally and completely.”
This week, Statts is pumped because a bunch of his friends have organized a benefit event to help him with his staggering medical expenses. The April 14 “Statts Block Party” features more than 30 bands and performers in five downtown clubs. There are raffles and a silent auction.
“I have great friends,” says Statts. “It’s crazy. I have tons of friends. I never knew I had that many friends, and I had no clue they would take it this far.”
“I’m glad I wasn’t an asshole, I guess is what I’m trying to say.”
Dave Williams, one of the organizers of the Statts Block Party, is one of Statts’ closest friends. “He’s always been a really good, solid dude,” Williams says. “He’s always been super–nice — but he’s not a pushover. He’ll do anything for anybody, within reason. You’ve got to earn it, but once you’ve earned that trust, he’s there for you until the end.
“And I think all of that put together is the reason why everybody loves and respects him so much.”
AT 3 A.M. ON JUNE 28, 2008, Williams and Statts were standing in the front yard of a buddy’s house, drinking beers and celebrating a show they’d just played at Live Wire Music Hall with their three–piece bass metal band Surt (the Destroyer).
Up walked Desmond Hunter, 22, and 19–year–old Ashimir Johnson. After offering to sell the musicians some weed (offer declined), they wandered off, only to re–emerge from the shadows a few minutes later.
Hunter produced a gun, and shot them each through the neck. As Williams and Statts fell to the sidewalk, the assailants grabbed a cell phone, a CD case and a pack of cigarettes, then ran.
Williams’ injuries were not life–threatening; after ripping through his vocal cords, the bullet lodged between muscles in his neck. Half a year after the shooting, he was back at his job as a graphic artist.
Today, he says, “I’m pretty much back to normal, with the exception of having one vocal cord that’s permanently paralyzed. For a while there, I was in bands where I was just playing bass.”
Williams has a new band, called Conquer/Devour. “For this one,” he explains, “I basically had to re–learn how to sing.”
The bullet is still in his shoulder. Doctors say it’ll work its way out when it’s ready.
Johnson cut a deal with prosecutors and testified against Hunter, who was sentenced to life plus 30 years in prison.
None of which means anything to Jason Statts, who was supposed to sing (from his wheelchair) in Conquer/Devour, until a pressure sore on the small of his back turned into a lesion, which turned into an ulcerated skin condition.
His doctor prescribed uninterrupted bed rest until it healed.
That was seven months ago. Statts is still in bed.
“A couple of weeks before we got shot,” Williams says, “I remember us having a hypothetical conversation about what would ever happen if we lost the use of our arms or our legs or something like that.
“And we decided that if that ever happened to us we’d just want to die, because we both use them for so many things — we’re both artists, we’re both musicians. So to see him do a complete 180 on that is fairly amazing.”
A WOMAN NAMED SHEILA comes to the house six days every week, and when she’s not around John Collenberger, Statts’ roommate, takes care of his friend’s immediate needs, physical, medical and emotional.
Collenberger was the third member of Surt (the Destroyer) but he wasn’t there when Statts and Williams were shot.
Lyra, Statts’ wife of 16 years, moved out in early 2011. They’d been sweethearts in Lafayette, Ga., and remained joined at the hip after Statts was accepted into the art program at SCAD. He got his BFA in illustration in 1996, the same month Lyra graduated from Lafayette High School.
Lyra was at his side through every painful step of the initial recovery period. After two and a half years of subjugating her needs for her husband’s, however, she had nothing left.
“I think we both just kind of broke down there at the end,” Statts explains. “It was just too much of a change for both of us. We had too much of a history of me being the provider, that guy with the job, taking care of her.
“And then that changed, and it was like we were in a burning plane, headed for a train ... it just kind of smashed together, and we couldn’t handle it.”
It was a decision they made together. If you need to go, he told Lyra, you should go.
“We didn’t hate each other. We weren’t angry with each other. We just couldn’t do it any more, together. It was too much.”
Their divorce was finalized a year ago February. Lyra now teaches school — something she’d always aspired to — in Albany.
She and Jason talk several times a week. “She was my best friend for 17 years,” he says. “That doesn’t just go away.”
FOR A PERIOD AFTER the shooting, Statts received state money through a victim’s assistance program. That ran out, as did the insurance coverage he had through a design job in Bluffton.
Part of Sheila’s salary is paid through the Community Care program; Statts, with the aid of his parents and friends, manages to cover the other portion.
“My cost share is around $1,000 a month,” he says. “I get a Social Security check every month, which is not much, and by the time I pay my mortgage that’s gone.”
His health insurance plan is pretty good — but with the astronomical expense incurred by unanticipated hospital stays, medical supplies and the other things required by a quadriplegic, the bills are getting bad.
“The situation is set up kind of backwards,” Statts says, in a (rare) complaining mode. “It should be easier in my situation for someone to get some kind of help. Or aid. Or at least a break on something. Instead, I have a cap on my income. And then I have to pay out a certain amount each month for my caregiver.
“I don’t know; it’s set up to kind of screw me, as far as that goes.”
He figures he’ll never get any restitution from the man who stole his body.
“It’s never gonna happen. The guy’s probably never going to get out of prison. But the thing is if he ever does, then I can garnish his wages.
“Woop–de–do. His wages will probably be nothing.”
Because the sore on his back has almost completely healed, Statts is looking forward to getting out of bed and back into his wheelchair soon.
With luck, he might be the guest of honor at his Block Party.
Although his fingers don’t move, and his hands are essentially useless, Statts is able to raise and lower his arms.
By using the back of his pinkie, he can sketch on his computer, e–mail and talk via social media.
“As goofy as Facebook is,” he smiles, “it’s been a big help through all of this. Seven months in bed, especially. I still feel like I get to see what’s up with people.”
Every once in a while, he feels electrical pulses up and down his legs. If someone lays a hand on him, his muscles begin to warm, “almost like a heating pad.”
Sometimes, Statts says, “I think things could come back. But from a scientific point of view, I’m missing an inch and a half of my spinal cord. It’s not there. It’s melted.
“I mean, the shot didn’t sever my spinal cord, but the heat and the pressure was just too much. It melted my spinal cord. So from that perspective, I don’t think I’ll ever get much back.”
He thinks of himself as a “glass half full” kind of guy. “I accepted things a lot faster than anyone around me,” he says.
“I think that was part of the issue for a long time. With Lyra. With everyone.
“I accepted this whole thing, and was kinda OK with it, and other people really weren’t. Some people still aren’t. Some people are still more pissed off than I am.”
Statts Block Party Schedule
4 p.m.: Lonesome Swagger
5 p.m.: Tony Beasley
6 p.m.: Bottles & Cans
7 p.m.: Damon & the Shitkickers
8 p.m.: Indian Giver
8:45 p.m.: Dead Yet?
9:30 p.m.: Halmos
10:15 p.m.: Slave Grave
11 p.m.: US Christmas (USX)
1 p.m.: Floor
Auction and Raffle items on display at The Jinx 4–10 p.m.
Congress St. Social Club
4 p.m.: Vic Burgess
4:45 p.m.: Dare Dukes
5:45 p.m.: Meg Mulhearn
6:30 p.m.: Joe Nelson
7:15 p.m.: Echo Wilcox
8 p.m.: Nate Hall
8:45 p.m.: Jason Bible
8 p.m.: Sinister Moustache
8:45 p.m.: KidSyc@Brandywine
9:30 p.m.: Canary oh Canary
10:15 p.m.: Bear Fight!
11 p.m.: Train Wrecks
8 p.m.: Tony Beasley
10 p.m.: Damon & the Shitkickers
Wild Wing Cafe
10 p.m.: General Oglethorpe & the Panhandlers
11:45 p.m.: Crazy Man Crazy
5 p.m. Train Wrecks
6:15 p.m.: The 8–Tracks
7:30 p.m.: General Oglethorpe & the Panhandlers
8:45 p.m.: Crazy Man Crazy
All–day DJ Dance Party
All–access, all–venue passes: $25
Single–venue pass: $10 advance, $15 day of show