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Support Nushawn Williams, Detained and Denied HIV Meds in Civil Confinement

April 12, 2017

First degree assault, predator, class B felon, sex offender, a threat to society, poisoning someone with a disruptive substance, assault and battery with intent to kill, unlawful use of a harmful device: all these terms come into play when a person diagnosed with HIV is talked about in the judicial system.

Those who have been diagnosed with HIV need to realize that it could be them who are criminalized. The thought of me hearing these statements is hurtful; it's stating that I have a harmful device or a substance in my body that can kill someone on impact. Being diagnosed with HIV means someone is looked at as different. Terms like this make the world think and feel that they should be afraid of me or anyone else who has been diagnosed with HIV, and should stay away from all those who live with HIV.

These statements are stigmatizing, which makes it hard to change the way society views HIV. How can this be when women are having babies who are negative and people are in serodiscordant relationships and not transmitting HIV to their partners? If we stay undetectable and virally suppressed, we are not transmitting HIV, so it can no longer be called a death sentence anymore. If this is the case, then why are people being convicted for having HIV?

When we hear the words "HIV criminalization," we see the faces of those who have support from advocates whose voices are being heard: Robert Suttle, a black man who was accused of HIV criminalization in 2009, now registered as a sex offender for 15 years. Monique Howell, who was accused under an HIV criminalization law although her partner didn't want to prosecute. Kerry Thomas, who was convicted for 30 years for having consensual sex with his partner.

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Nikko Briteramos, a young black university basketball player, was the first convicted in South Dakota for not informing a partner that he was diagnosed with HIV. Nikko was convicted and served 120 days and, even though his partner tested negative, his college career was taken away from him when he lost his scholarship. Is society saying that, once someone is diagnosed with HIV, a person doesn't deserve to go to college and pursue a dream? Michael Johnson was a college wrestler who was accused of an HIV crime, then sentenced to 30 years. Now, with a new trial coming, Johnson may have a chance.


Nushawn Williams, Left Behind Without Support

I mentioned the names of these African Americans who have been accused of HIV crimes because they are some of many black people who have been charged and have been receiving support. But for one man, there has been no support -- not even in the HIV community -- and when I speak his name, some have no idea who he is.

His name is Nushawn Williams, who has been left behind without a thought from anyone. Mrs. Williams (Nushawn's wife) reached out to me seeking support for her husband, to whom she has been married to for almost nine years and wondered why no one in the HIV community ever speaks about or supports her husband.

I learned more about his case from Catherine Hanssens (founder and executive director of The Center for HIV Law and Policy in New York), and she was very happy that I contacted her wanting to support Nushawn Williams. In 1999, he pled guilty to two counts of statutory rape for having consensual sex twice with a 13 year old girl when he was 19, and to two counts of reckless endangerment for having sex with two other young women after being diagnosed with HIV. Mr. Williams, now 41 years old, served over 12 years for those offenses.

The media called Nushawn Williams a monster and made his story into one that seems worse than it was. Why is it that society conforms to what they hear in the media? Why do people pass judgment so quickly without really knowing the real facts?

Nushawn Williams wasn't and isn't a monster at all. He was a 19-year old boy who had no guidance and the streets became his home; it was all he knew. Like so many other black youths who knew nothing but how to survive in the streets, that was Mr. Williams' life at 19 years of age. I know all too well about his life as a youth, because I was also one of those black youths who knew the same life in the streets -- something that others may not admit.

I also had friends who were younger than I was -- 14, 15 and 16 years old -- and I remember watching many of them get picked up from school by their boyfriends who were grown, and no one said a word, no one thought about it being wrong. We all just lived and survived -- the only thing that we knew. I even had a boyfriend who was six years older than me while I was 16, 17 years old. This mattered to no one, but with Nushawn Williams' situation it did matter: It mattered only because it was found out that he was diagnosed with HIV, something that young 19-year old youth had no clue of until he was given the results.

When speaking to Catherine Hanssens, I learned so much more about Mr. Williams and found out that a New York State law went into effect in 2007 that allows the state attorney general, with the support of the NY Office of Mental Health (OMH), to seek a court order to have anyone considered a particularly dangerous sex offender with a "mental abnormality" who still poses a danger to society, in the opinion of the OMH, to be civilly committed, potentially indefinitely. Nushawn Williams is none of these things, and what civil confinement does is look at the stage of danger that a person presents -- this is part of how the confinement is determined. Nushawn Williams did the prison time that was given to him, and awaiting his release Mrs. Williams stated that they had so many plans for him when he came home -- but it was all broken plans once they learned that he would not be released.


Never Given a Chance for Release

He has been sent to a psychiatric facility, never having a chance to be released at all because is he HIV positive. Williams is not a child molester; he is not sexually violent or dangerous and has no history of any one of these things. It seems that his life was taken away for being a young black youth diagnosed with HIV and having sex with white girls -- that is no reason for him to be confined. Shouldn't he have a chance, like so many others who have support?

He and his wife thought that he would finally be able to smile, live and be a part of society since it was taken away from him at such a young age. Almost two decades and Johnson still has not been released. This is not fair and very unjust in my opinion. He's been locked away for all these years, and now, they want to find a diagnosis to put him in confinement. Because it was such a high-profile case, the media turned it into a circus; you can be sure that the system was going to figure out a way to keep this black man put away. Does Nushawn deserve to be in civil confinement? They can't say that Johnson is a threat to society and afraid he will transmit HIV, how is this so? They have made him out to be something he is not and he deserves a chance at life.

Now he is being denied his HIV medications in this civil confinement, according to his wife Mrs. Williams and Catherine Hanssens. I am asking that whoever is reading this contact Catherine Hanssens and find out what you can do to help support Mr. Williams in any way you can. Catherine will be happy to hear from you.

Nushawn Williams does not deserve to be in civil confinement. He is not a sex offender and did not transmit HIV to hundreds of women, as the media put it. He did his 12 years and should be released. Saying that he is a threat and afraid he will transmit HIV is quite funny, since we all know that staying adherent to our HIV meds will keep us undetectable and untransmittable.

I will do my best to support Nushawn Williams. We should never turn our backs on anyone who seeks support in the HIV community. Right now, I have made some contacts to find out the reason his meds have not been given to him.

How can we call ourselves advocates if we are only picking and choosing whom we advocate for when so many need us and our voices? We must hear the voices of everyone who is calling out. And no matter what they convicted Nushawn Williams for, he doesn't deserve to be denied his HIV meds.

If you would like to write Nushawn Williams and show him he does have support, I can't imagine how good that will feel to him. Contact Catherine Hanssens at 65 Broadway, New York, NY 10006; Phone: (212) 430-6733.

Send Davina an e-mail.

Read Davina's blog, Pozitively Dee.

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Serving Double Time for HIV Non-Disclosure: Can It Happen in New York?
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