Words and Photos by Cameron Cuchulainn
All other images and text courtesy of Devon Blood, Alex Turan, Jimmy Tobias, and Ken Nagahara.
Devon Blood was shot in the head defending himself and his girlfriend during a home invasion in East Oakland in 2006. He survived. However, he lost a lot of his functioning on his right side. As a skateboarder, bicyclist, and tattoo artist, this was tremendously difficult for Devon, but he charged through his recovery and relearned a number of skills. Most prominently, Devon has set out on a new artistic path by teaching himself to draw and tattoo left-handed.
On Friday, August 19th, Devon released Keep Laughing, his autobiographical collection of memoirs, art, and commentary with the help of his friends, namely Alex Turan and Jimmy Tobias. Turan did the graphic design and Tobias edited the manuscript, while friends like Ken Nagahara contributed photos to the book. What they came up with is a beautiful work that covers the full range of Devon’s personality, memories, and art. It is split into two halves, the first part dedicated to Devon’s right-handed work, and the second to everything new he’s done with his left hand.
The release party was hosted by Sacred Tattoo in Downtown Oakland, but Keep Laughing is available for purchase online at Devon’s website, http://devonbloodtattoo.com. Among other recollections, the book takes you inside the event that so heavily altered Devon’s life and art with this chapter, “The Incident”:
It was July 12th at about 12:50 a.m. when I got to Tanya’s and I was exhausted, so we went right to bed. We started to go to sleep, but were suddenly jolted awake by a loud banging noise coming from the living room. “What’s going on?” she said as we both quickly sat up.
“Call someone, there’s a break-in,” I said. The pounding got louder, then we heard glass breaking. The banging continued, and soon we heard wood starting to break. The only exits in her house were through these loading-dock doors and the front door. They couldn’t break in through the front door because it had a metal gate, so they came in through the loadingdock doors. The wood-breaking sound was from the wooden loading dock doors. I heard them get in and start to look around—I remember the sound of their feet moving through the house. I knew that they were inside the house, and I figured we had zero chance for escape.
There were a couple windows overlooking the neighbor’s yard in the room we were sleeping in, but they were heavily barred. Since the bedroom door had only a flimsy doorknob lock, I leaned against the door to try to prevent the robbers from coming in. I could hear the foot- steps getting closer to the room so I applied more pressure against the door. I was afraid that if they got into the room they would kill us both. I turned to Tanya and said, “Escape through the window!” Tanya runs up to me and says, “We can’t get out the windows, they are barred closed.” Our dog Gus was going crazy and I assume that turned the robbers’ attention to our room. I hear them come to the door and I lean on it even harder. I have the right side of my head against the door, and my shoulder is firmly pressed against it as well. They come to the door—surprised that we are here—and shout, “Oh, shit! There’s people living here!” They then fired blindly through the door.
I was on the other side and I caught one of the bullets in my head. I remember hearing their surprise, then a loud pop ringing out. I fell to the ground, passed out from the shock, and ended up slumped against the door putting even more weight against it. They forced the bedroom door open just enough to stick a gun through, and fired randomly around the room.
My unconscious body leaning against the door prevented them from getting all the way inside the bedroom. They fired about fifty rounds in the hallway after getting the bedroom door open a crack, and then left with nothing. I remember a loud sound coming from inside my head after I was shot; it sounded like I was standing really close to a waterfall, but louder. Tanya was on the phone with the medics and I was lying on the ground. I lost about three pints of blood, and was still heaped against the door. The medics told Tanya, “Put a towel around your knee and apply pressure to the wound,” so she did.
I regained consciousness as soon as the medics arrived. They loaded me up, and the medic in the passenger’s seat told the driver, “Hey, the kid that we just picked up is tattooed from head to toe. You might know him, Rob.” We get to Highland Hospital in East Oakland. Highland is the best place in the world for gunshot victims. The medics unload me out of the ambulance, and into Highland’s emergency room. Rob, the medic, looked down and immediately recognized me. We have known each other for years, and I have done many tattoos on Rob. He says, “Devon! Devon!” I open my eyes. “What year is it?” I told him the year, and then he says, “Move your right, then left arm,” and I did that. Rob had been a medic driver for eight or nine years, and not long after he saw me like this, he quit his job, moved away, and got married. Rob would stay with me throughout my rehab before he moved, though. They wheeled me into a room where they took a CAT scan of my head. They noticed that the bullet had cut through my right eardrum. My brain started swelling so they gave me drugs to relieve the pressure.
The swelling wouldn’t go down so they removed half of my skull to relieve the pressure, and sewed that portion of my skull into my stomach to preserve it. There I was, in a coma with a bullet in my head and my skull in my gut. My friends and family watched as medics and coroners wheeled body bags full of gunshot victims right through the waiting room on their way to the coroner’s office. I could easily have been one of those bodies in the plain, black, zippered bags. The doctors eventually informed my friends and family that the bullet could not be removed from my head because it is resting right on my brain stem. If they tried I would likely die or be paralyzed, so the bullet is still in there, held in place by scar tissue. According to my friend Dave, that makes me a real metal head.
It ends with Devon’s words about his take on things now, as he continues his art:
I just celebrated my twenty-ninth birthday. For me, that day signifies my resolution to make better decisions for the rest of my life. I have made many decisions that affect my life, some good, but far too many bad. I feel that from now on, I must try to make good decisions. I can be a whole person, and I will always try to be the best person that I can be, but it’s always the bad decisions that get in the way of achieving that. Time to move on from this incident and from bad decision-making. It’s best for me now to think of action/reaction before I make those decisions.
Now is the time to move forwards, not backwards. After all, this bullet in my head is a result of the worst decision that I have ever made. When I woke up from the coma, I felt like I suddenly had a chance to completely start over. It helps that I was only twenty-six when it happened. The hardest part of my rehabilitation wasn’t getting over the psychological and angst problems that I carried with me after the coma, it was relearning the everyday things in life that you normally don’t have to think about. Learning how to walk, talk, draw, and write all over again was the biggest challenge. It is the want that keeps me going and continuing my progress.
July 12th is the only day of the year that I will choose to remember getting shot in the head. The rest of the year I will overcome it. I know that I will be reminded of it the rest of the year when I lose my balance, put my hearing aid in, take my anti-seizure meds every night, put on my glasses, have tremors in my right hand, and stare at the ramp in my backyard. But despite all that, I can still tattoo, which is pretty fucking awesome. Onward, upward! Let’s keep our tattooing respected, and professional. After all, this is ours . . .
Love me, or hate me, just KEEP LAUGHING!
Don’t think that the story starts and ends there though. There’s much more inside the book and much more to come from the man behind it. Continue on to see photos from the event and images from the pages of Keep Laughing.