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The Double Stigma of Having HIV and Being Imprisoned

By Tim Hinkhouse

January 30, 2017

This past year, I decided to reach out on a dating website to try to meet someone special and build a relationship that I hoped would work out. Anyone reading this can understand what I want in life because you probably want it, too? I started talking with someone locally, and she seemed interested in me, and I pursued her.

I thought that the hardest part of talking via email would be trying to figure out how to tell her about my HIV status. Nope, that was going to be the easy part. I was rejected because I am incarcerated and that is another form of discrimination to me. Every time I have been rejected for being HIV positive since being in prison, I could deal with it because each time it got easier. Sad, huh? Getting rejected for being in prison stings and makes me want to give up on love.

Maybe that isn't what the Creator has planned for me now, which if I want to be truthful, I must remember, "It's His will, not mine" -- which sucks, but it teaches me humility. I don't mean to talk about religion because everyone reading this has their own beliefs, and I don't want to impose my own on you. My mom raised me to believe in a higher power, and that is my go-to in times of strife. There is another blog entry all on it's own.

I made the decision to open myself up to making more friends and keep the other stuff on the back burner till the time is right. One important lesson that I've learned is that friendships last longer than romantic relationships when you are in prison. I would rather have more friends.

Way back, I can't remember when, there was a man on TV who said, "The success of a man is not measured by his wealth, but by how many friends and family loved him." Seems to me that the priorities of the person quoting this was a man with humility and knew what was really important. Being in prison, at first, I went to the store and bought some Ben & Jerry's ice cream and ate it alone in my cell. When I made my first friend, I bought both of us ice cream, and it seemed that it tasted better. I was sharing my time with someone who appreciated it, and I wasn't lonely, which made me feel better.

Back in the 1990s, I was talking with a man on the prison yard, and he said something that floored me to this day. He asked me, "Tim, do you know what is so good about being friends with a man that has HIV in prison?" He said, "Nobody wants to cross me because they know we are friends and, with your HIV, they don't want to make you bleed in a fight." That was funny at the time. I stood up to people more aggressively thinking that someone wouldn't want to fight me because of their fears about HIV at that time.

Looking back, it was really stupid of me to carry around that false bravado, letting people be afraid of my disease. I was too hard-headed to take those opportunities to educate people and alleviate their valid fears about this disease. Now, I want to talk to people and educate them about how to protect themselves if there is a situation that requires a physical altercation.

Funny how things in our lives change whether we want them to or not. I am actually glad that I am now a better person than I was 10-15 years ago. What about you? Some folks are adamant when it comes to growth and development. I am fortunate that I have not been resistant to changes for the better.

A few years ago, I had a profile made for me on looking for an HIV-positive female to accept me for who I am. I wasn't very lucky on that site because I feel that they don't want a man in prison. After this experience, I have decided to wait to look for a mate if I am released before Feb 12, 2050, when I am 79 years old. I will be perfectly content growing and nurturing my friendships that I have made in the meantime, which is a blessing.

Stay healthy and stay safe.

Related Stories

A New Year, With Ongoing Challenges of Social Death in Prison and New Cuts to HIV Care on the Outside
Celebrate Your Lives, and Think of Me as I Fight for Mine
More Personal Accounts and Profiles of Prisoners With HIV/AIDS

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HIV on the Inside

Tim Hinkhouse

Tim Hinkhouse

I have been HIV-positive for over 25 years and have been in prison in Oregon for almost as long because of my health status and non-disclosure. I'll talk to you about the issues faced by a person in my position along with the discrimination and stigmas attached to it behind these prison walls. I'll tell you about the strength and courage I found inside myself to NOT hang up and let this illness or my circumstances finish me off.

Tim Hinkhouse #7632447
Two Rivers Correctional Inst.
82911 Beach Access Rd.
Umatilla, OR 97882

You can also email me at hi.timothy7019

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