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A Woman's Journey With HIV, In and Out of the Prison System

An Interview With Patricia Kelly -- Part of the Series This Positive Life

January 3, 2011

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Had you been kind of estranged from your children? Did they come to visit? Or did they kind of just say, "Mom, we can't do this anymore."

Well, my parents raised my kids because I was like in and out of jail and prison. So I really lived at home, but I stayed in another state, you know, to keep everything hidden. I'd come home to rest for like weeks at a time. So I was there, here and there, except for the youngest one.

And so when you got the AIDS diagnosis, you were like, "OK. I'm going to start taking medication." And so how quickly after medication did your T cells start to get higher?


Actually . . .

Or did they? Did they go lower, perhaps?

They didn't go lower. But they haven't actually ever . . . Matter of fact, this past doctor visit, my T cells were 396. I've been in South Carolina since 2003. And last year was the first time my T cells had come up in the 300s.

In over 10 years?

I must be honest and say that I was on a medication regimen but I had my own regimen. So I took the pills like I thought they should be taken. By doing that, I am currently on my third regimen.

You were resistant to some of them?

Yes. And I told them when I started taking medicine that the only way I would take medicine [was] if you would give me something that I will have no more than two pills to take a day. And so they got me on, um . . .

And this was 10 years ago?

Yeah, in '98. It was two pills in the morning and two pills at night. So that was the easiest. Because I'd heard stories about people taking 35, 50 or 60 pills. I wasn't trying to take any of those pills. I don't like swallowing pills. So, two, I could do.

It got to the point where I took two in the morning, and never remembered at night. Or, I'd get up in the morning and get busy, and take them at night, and forget the morning.

So you just had it all . . . not together.

Right, right.

If you could go back and change that, would you have done it differently? Would you have really adhered to your pills the way that the doctor wanted you to?

Yeah, I think I would, knowing what I know now. I mean, because, I was like, I'm feeling good. I'm not sick. It ain't broke. Why fix it?

I think a lot of people feel that way. They feel like, "Oh, I can skip a dose. Oh, I'll be OK." What people don't realize is that, you know, if you keep doing that you're going to grow resistant, and then you have to keep going down the line. And once the line's up it's going to even be harder. But you're still doing well now?


And are you adhering to your medication now?

I'd like to say most of the time.

So you're on treatment. You're feeling better. So this is the first time you say your T cells have been . . .

Coming up. Yeah. Yeah.

So this is the first time they have passed 300 in a long time?

In a long time, right.

So you basically have been living with AIDS for a long time.

A long time. Yes. And I've been undetectable for a number of years. For about three or four years, I've been undetectable.

Let's talk about when you got clean. So you got out of prison in 2003?


"In the process of staying clean, God was putting people in my life, and different things were happening. Good things. I started to accept that I deserved those good things, and I wanted more."

And so when you left prison, what did you do? Did you get clean in prison before you left?

Well, of course, I was clean in prison. I came out and I went to a transitional house. And the transitional house had a lot of stipulations like you had to do drug groups. So it was basically forced on me, but I wanted it. And I realized that I had to want it more than life itself, if I wanted to stay clean. In the process of staying clean, God was putting people in my life, and different things were happening. Good things. I started to accept that I deserved those good things, and I wanted more.

So for a while you didn't really feel like you deserved good things?



Because I was the worst of the worst. I had this disease that really is like a death sentence. And so I believed that I was the walking dead. What hope do you have when you're a walking dead? Yeah. I was a zombie in a human body.

And I got that attitude because the doctor gave me that attitude when he first diagnosed me. I believed him. I believed I was going to die, all these years later. I'd like to see him, because I have some words for him. I'd like to tell him that God has the final say.

You're very lucky. The reality is a lot of people did die that were diagnosed in 1985. So you're extraordinarily a very lucky, a lucky person.

I like to say I'm blessed. And I know that it's only through God's blessing, his grace and his mercy. Because I didn't do anything different than [what] some of those people that are dead had done.

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