It had been nearly a month since Devon had been shot. During that time, his family and friends sacrificed their own lives to be at the hospital. Linda was even forced to close her successful salon to be with her son. "The impact on this family has been tremendous," she says. "That fucking bullet hit everybody."
"Right before I woke up out of the coma I was hearing the song from The Wizard of Oz," Devon grins, showing off two gold-capped teeth. "It's the one before Dorothy wakes up. ‘You're out of the woods/You're out of the dark/You're out of the night/Step into the sun/Step into the light.' I opened my eyes and I was surrounded by friends and family, just like the movie."
It's easy to like Devon. He laughs a lot, often at himself, and talks passionately about things he cares about such as tattooing, art, and the city of San Francisco. The walls of his apartment in the Mission District are covered with a mix of his paintings from before and after the shooting along with tokens of his recovery such as a bass guitar signed by the members of Green Day and a series of Real Skateboards decks designed by Devon and sold with proceeds going toward his medical expenses. A drum set sits in the corner. He walks with a slight shuffle and twitches his fingers as he talks.
After coming out of the coma, Devon moved to a rehab facility where he relearned simple motor skills, including walking, talking, brushing his teething, and throwing a ball. Micro-tremors racked his right hand, so he started using his stronger left hand for writing and drawing. He laughs about his early drawings of stick-figure people and houses, "They looked like crap. They were so bad." "I had to wear a hockey helmet because half of my skull was in my stomach," Devon says about his days in rehab. "They told me I wouldn't be able to walk out of rehab. … I was pushing a walker. I really looked like an old man. I had the helmet on, I was covered in tattoos, pushing a walker, and wearing a helmet. Plus, I'm anti-social. It was bad."
Two months later, Devon was released. He moved to Petaluma and spent most days at outpatient rehab. He suffered seizures, causing the city to take away his driving license ("It sucks because I had a handicapped placard. It was fantastic."). Later, he had nightmares about the shooters finding him to finish the job. Security-camera footage from the night of the shooting shows nine teenagers breaking in through the building's freight elevator doors, but no one has ever been arrested. "The nightmares passed," he explains. "I knew there was no way. They never saw me and I never saw them."
In January 2007, doctors reattached his skull. Because of the damage to his eardrum, Devon has no equilibrium. He can no longer skateboard and has to ride a three-wheeled bike (which he laughingly calls his "tricycle"), and even then he must wear a helmet. He had one failed attempt at swimming. "When I think about it, it feels like I could do it," he says, sounding amazed that the movements he visualizes don't materialize. "I just sank."
Eight months after the shooting, Tanya moved to Olympia without him (they later broke up). "I did my first painting in March when she moved," Devon says. "The shooting definitely influenced my art. I did a painting called ‘True Colors.' It's a girl's head with half of its face ripped off and a devil horn sticking out. There's another that I did of a girl with half of her face ripped off that says ‘Now you're just a memory. Another one of my boring stories.'"
Many of his paintings feature the words "Left Hand Path," a reference to Devon's switch to being left-handed. Others are dated "200B," a solution Devon came up with since he has trouble drawing eights. He didn't try tattooing. "The most frustrating part was knowing that the people who visited me were going to back to work to tattoo because that's really what I wanted to do," Devon says. "I loved it. I never knew if I would tattoo again."
One month later, he did tattoo. It was Friday the 13th, his mother's birthday, and Devon volunteered to tattoo Felix the Cat on Linda's ankle. It's shaky at spots but looks more like an apprentice's first tattoo than the work of someone who has been shot and nearly killed. Even so, it still wasn't good enough for Devon. "Look at the pupils, man," Devon laughs. "That thing is fucked."
It's a warm Saturday night in downtown Oakland, and customers line the counter at Sacred Tattoo. Tattooers work on clients at every station and the buzzing can be heard through the open door and out into the street. Devon shuffles up the sidewalk, leaning on a gold cane with a glass handle. As he moves through the door and into Sacred Tattoo, everyone greets him.
"Hey Devon," says James Oey, one of the owners. "I was just telling somebody about the time we pulled the fire alarm at the hotel in Philly. Remember that?"
Devon laughs loudly, and the two joke about tattoo convention pranks until Oey prods Devon to show off the tattoo he did on Devon's leg. Devon grins as he pulls up his pant leg. The bright tattoo is Beavis from Beavis & Butt-Head dressed as a geisha girl. It's fantastic. They both bust up laughing. An apprentice sets up Devon's station while he shows off the case of lefthanded tattoo machines given to him by an old mentor. It's been nearly a year since that first Felix the Cat tattoo and Devon is back to work at Sacred Tattoo, confident that his skills are back to where they were before the shooting. "Everyone at Sacred has always been really welcoming," he says. "They let me know I could come back whenever I wanted."
His appointment arrives and Devon lays out the stencil on the customer's forearm. It's a portrait of a pirate girl Devon drew before the shooting. A panel of flash hangs framed above his head with the name "D. Blood" signed in the corner. Devon feathers his pedal a bit with his foot and adjusts the cord to his left-handed machine. He loads up with black ink, leans in, and starts tattooing the first black arching line. His two gold-capped teeth glint in his grin. His gold cane leans against the counter behind him.