On Sept. 26, 2017, it was exactly 24 years to the day that I was arrested for having HIV and unprotected sex, and not disclosing my status. This is 288 months of my life. In some cases, that's more than someone who took a life on purpose. That is roughly 8,760 days of incarceration -- plus the extra days since 1993 that fell on a leap year. I have about 389 months left till Feb. 12, 2050, which is my release date.
I am on a mailing list from Oregon CURE, which is an awesome organization that works to get unjust laws changed, helps people coming out of prison, and is supportive of families that have loved ones in prison. Check them out, if you get a chance, and volunteer in your state if you have the time.
Oregon CURE sent me their summer 2017 newsletter, which has an article on page 4 that interested me. It is titled "Clemency in Oregon" and is very informative. Recently, at the Oregon State Penitentiary, the "Lifer's Unlimited Club" had a featured speaker at one of their meetings. His name is Mischa Isaac, and he is the deputy general counsel to the governor of Oregon. In the Q&A portion of the article, he was asked: "What does the Governor think about when she's considering clemency?" He answered:
Positive: Mitigating circumstances; any manifest injustice at trial; behavior while incarcerated; what you've accomplished during your incarceration; are you leader?; what would we hear from staff?; a letter from the victim or victim's family supporting or not opposing your request; a letter from the DA supporting or not opposing (it has happened!). Negative: Seriousness of the crime; bad disciplinary record; nothing distinguished in your institutional history; a letter from the victim or the victim's family asking that clemency not be granted.
Related: I Could Do So Many Things With My Life Outside These Prison Walls
What caught my eye specifically was the part that said, "any manifest injustice at trial." Based on the science of what is known about the HIV virus in 2017, it is palpably evident that, with an undetectable viral load, an elevated CD4 count, and good overall health, the HIV virus is much harder to pass on then what was thought in 1993. Back then, it was thought to be passed on just by drinking out of the same cup as someone with HIV, with a 100% rate of infection and death. We now know that is not true.
The injustice is that I was criminally charged by an overzealous prosecutor who wanted to use my case to enhance his political career. The judge sentenced me like he was trying to get re-elected, as 1994 happened to be an election year for them both. HIV prosecutions in this state are not common, and usually, if someone is faced with a long, scary sentence, they will opt for a plea bargain for a lesser prison sentence. That is why prosecutors have a 98% conviction rate.
I took my case to trial in hopes of having a fighting chance to convince a jury that I wasn't guilty of attempted murder and that the HIV virus wasn't a weapon. Apparently, that didn't work out too well for me. Had I taken the deal the prosecutor offered, I would have done a 15-year prison sentence. I could have been out of prison for nine years already, but my attorneys convinced me to fight if I felt that I wasn't guilty. So, I did! Do I regret that looking back? No! It was the principle that drove me.
Had I died before the invention of antiretrovirals, it still would have been all worth it. All these years later, I have been able to make an impact in the HIV community, and I am grateful for that opportunity! My life in prison for these last 288 months has not been a total waste. I have grown up and learned a lot.
No matter what happens in your lives my dear readers, please don't let major obstacles keep you from moving forward. There are important things you need to do, and the impact you'll have on the lives of others might not be seen by you, but you are still very important. I am cheering you all on!
Stay healthy and stay safe.
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Read Tim's blog, HIV on the Inside.