Arick Buckles: The Journey Continues
What surprised you the most?
AB: Oh, boy, I'll tell you, I lived stigma like I'd never seen it. My clothes were separated, put in bags with "HIV-positive" written all over them. I had fingernail clippers in my personal items and they separated them and wrote "HIV-positive nail clippers" on them -- it was totally insane.
From start to finish -- DuPage County had documented that I was HIV-positive, they told me that my medicines would follow me there [to Bureau], however, when I got there, they wouldn't buy it. They knew almost nothing about HIV or how it was transmitted. It was a very, very small town and I'm not angry with them. I felt more sad or sorry for them and their lack of education about HIV and people living with it and what their needs are. But for seven days, I was detained, not given medications, not allowed to see a physician and on the seventh day I was informed in the evening that they were going to let me go because they couldn't afford to give me those medications.
I did have great support on the outside. I had family members, my partner, a reverend friend of mine, folks from the AIDS Foundation all calling the jail, but they just weren't willing to hear it. So they let me go because they couldn't afford the medicines.
Wow! You have to wonder if there are any more HIV-positive inmates down there who aren't getting their meds either.
AB: Yep, that is a concern. Like I said, it's a small town and maybe people would know them when they went through the intake process. But I know the importance of taking my medications, I know I have to take them in order to keep talking, to keep advocating. I know that I need those to live, so I knew the importance of letting them know my medical history.
So you got out of that horrible place and ran straight home and went right to your doctor and said, "Well, let 's see if anything happened during those seven days."
AB: Right! And thankfully, my labs did not change. But I still go in and meet with my physician and she's monitoring me closely, because we don't know what the long-term effect might be of those seven days of missing medications.
So, did you decide to contact the ACLU or did they contact you?
AB: Well, I'm affiliated with several AIDS service organizations and I guess it was through word of mouth that the ACLU found out about it and they were interested in talking to me so that's how that connection came about. I was introduced to an awesome attorney there, John Wright, and I followed through, looked into it, and found out that my constitutional rights were violated. They wanted to pursue it and now it's a pending court case.
Do you have any idea of how long it's going to take before it's resolved?
AB: I don't know, but I would accept a resolution as simple as them getting the education they need. That would make me feel good, because I hate to think of any other HIV-positive person going into that jail and not getting the medications they need.
Well, I hope it turns out well and they do get the facts! Switching gears a bit, as you may know, Illinois passed a law requiring all state prisons to offer opt-out HIV testing. I was wondering how you feel about that.
AB: My first reaction is, is it really opt-out? I'm concerned that testing could be done without an inmate's knowledge or consent. Of course, it's good for everyone to know their status, to get into care and stay in care, but I worry about all the ways it could go wrong.
I know one of your most passionate causes is getting people to realize how important it is to not just know their status, but to also get into established care, take their meds as directed, and do what they need to to stay on top of their HIV. What advice would you give to someone who's about to be released from prison, but has little or no support on the outside and no transition program at the prison?
AB: Hmm ... I guess my first recommendation would be find an HIV/AIDS service agency. They can not only refer you to qualified medical providers, but they can connect you with case managers, housing specialists, job training, food, support groups, all kinds of things you'll need. You can't just sit there and feel like, "I'm all alone with this disease." You're not alone. There are people out here who are waiting to help, some of them who have been exactly where you are. Look in the phone book, use the Internet, talk to other HIV-positive folks. It's not that hard to find us, and you'll be better off if you do.
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