I recently wrote an article for Positively Aware entitled "From a Positive Prisoner" (July/August 2001). Well here I am writing my second article, but I am no longer on lock down. I would like to share some of the things Ive been through since my release. Now that I am out I find it kind of difficult to adjust. What I mean by this is that its not all flowers and candy. For those who have been locked down, you know what Im talking about. For those who havent, try staying in your closet for a couple of years, then come out and try to pick up your life. What do you feel? Well, what I feel is a lot of prejudice, stored-up anger, and a lot of other emotions that I have to work on before I can move on.
The good side to this is that Im free to make a change in my life. My first week out was very scary. No money. No immediate health insurance. I had become so dependent on the prison authorities to do everything for me that it actually took me close to a month to wake up and realize that this is real. Im free. I will either have to learn all over again to depend on me or just go back to the life I was living before, which I have no intention of doing.
I have taken charge of my life, but I could not have made it on my own. In order to get your life back together you need a support system. Im very fortunate because before my release I established the two most important forms of support -- family and friends. I owe a lot to my mom for allowing me to come back home and for believing in me. The other person I owe big time is a very beautiful lady who works at Test Positive Aware Network. I will not mention her name because she knows who she is. I owe part of getting back on track to her. Through this lady I also met a very special person who befriended me during my incarceration. She encouraged me, gave me advice, and helped me see that a positive life can be lived being HIV-positive.
Today, I have goals and plans, which is so different from years ago. My first plan is to move from New York City to Chicago. In Chicago, my goal is to train to be an HIV counselor. I want to go back to school and find a job in the field helping people just like myself. I plan on educating myself so that some day I can work with newly released individuals, helping them to help themselves.
When I tested HIV-positive in 1993 I thought my world had come to an end. However, thanks to another inmate, who has since passed away, I learned about this virus which I jokingly call "picachu." I read everything and anything I could get my hands on. I got plenty of information and joined a support group while in prison. I learned about all the different medications (keep in mind when I first went to prison all we had was AZT). This disease has taken a toll on me, but Im still a fighter. I refuse to let a big disease with a little name control me. This virus has helped me see life from a different perspective. What was once insignificant to me before I became positive, is extremely important to me today. Im just grateful to my God for allowing me to live a little longer so that I could be able to obtain my goals. Im already on that road thanks to my mother and the people at TPAN, who have helped me see there are still good people out there who are willing to give of themselves to help others.
But what about those coming out of jail who might not be as lucky as I am? My advice is to find yourself an agency in your area that works directly with people living with the virus. You should also find a case manager. The help is out there, you just have to look for it and be willing to take charge of your life. Remember, it is your life.