As an Imprisoned Trans Woman With HIV, I Focus on Staying Healthy

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Living with HIV is not about focusing on it, but focusing on what you need to keep yourself healthy. A lot has to do with how good you are -- not just to your body, but to your mind. I am now 58. I look like I am 40, and that is due to the fact that I don't worry about every little thing. I have worked very hard to stay healthy. I notice that I have always had a good appetite. I have good labs.

If you are around negative-minded people, that can affect your health. I make sure that I am good to my body and my mind. I get the rest I need, and nap when I know I need to. I drink a lot of water. Water is the key for the inside and outside of the body. I don't eat a lot of sugar. I believe that does a lot of damage to your cells and to your skin. But having some chocolate now and then is OK -- it makes me feel good.

I embrace who I am and the positive attitude I have. In prison, it is very hard to have this positive attitude. This is how I deal with negative people, which is key to staying healthy: I make sure that I stay busy and the people I associate with are better than I am. If they aren't, either I show them how to be, or I leave them alone.

Prison is very stressful, especially for a trans woman. But I know who I am and I have always been driven by challenges. I apply myself in the groups I am in, to be a leader, and I teach others that we must learn to accept the things that we cannot change. And we have to change the things that we can, in order to show others how to be better people. Because if we don't, then our purpose in life isn't beneficial to anyone other than ourselves. Who wants to be selfish? Not me.

My thoughts today are really about those who didn't have a chance at life. Over the years so many wonderful people have been taken from this disease. I cannot say how many friends I have lost; a lot of them in here. Seeing the quilts with the names is hard.

A few years ago, one of my best girlfriends passed away the day before my birthday. It's hard to put into words on a patch all that you wanted to say. This was a truly hard time for me. But I made it my job to be the girl to stand up for all she believed in, especially to honor those who can no longer speak.

And now I spend my time being on the front line advocating for myself and the other 15 trans women, to get them respect and the proper medical treatments they are supposed to have. It's a thankless job, but what I see is the same girls now learning to speak up and say, "no more!" And for me, it is everything about being a better person and woman, for that is all I need.