Greetings from the Two Rivers Correctional Institution here in Umatilla, Oregon. I have recently been in contact with the Cascade AIDS Project in Portland, Oregon, asking them to support my clemency application by sending a letter on my behalf to the Oregon governor, Kate Brown.
I could do so many things with my life outside these prison walls. My goal is still to be an AIDS activist and help anyone incarcerated because of their HIV status -- to be an advocate for them so their voices will be heard and they won't be forgotten. Prison is a very lonely place, and it isolates us from friends and families. Let me give you some examples.
Each time I get to make a phone call to someone, it costs either me or the person I am calling 16 cents a minute and, after 30 minutes, even if you are in the middle of a conversation, it cuts you off! That is $4.80 for a 30-minute call. How much is your cell phone bill each month? Cheaper than 16 cents a minute, I'll bet? I can't afford to call too many people each month. It could be two to three months before I can call someone after my credits are spent. Basically, I have to prioritize whom I can afford to call each month. No free minutes with our phone provider Telmate. At least it is the same price whether I call local or family in Minnesota. No free unlimited texts: We have to pay 25 cents for each one sent up to 300 characters, maximum.
I am not discouraged having to use a monopoly entity, paying high, extortive prices to call and talk to a friendly voice. As far as I am concerned, I am grateful that anyone will take my calls.
There is another monopolized drain on the finances of our friends and loved ones courtesy of Access Corrections. They provide the avenue for me to send these blog entries and to receive emails and photos electronically for a charge. I don't even have the option to pay for any of these. I have asked the company, but they don't want me to be responsible for my correspondence. They give us up to 5000 characters in each email, so if I have more than that to say, I have to break up messages and send them separately: more expense for family and friends.
The Oregon correctional system doesn't set up for success people who are getting out of prison. They don't have programs in place for people with more than four years left on their sentences to learn any skills to put into practice in preparation for eventual release. I want to learn how to use a computer so I can have a marketable skill in case I wanted to apply for a job using a computer. Limiting educational opportunities limits my job skills in here and my future employment out there in society.
As I understand it, the Cascade AIDS Project will give me a caseworker when I am released who will plug me into resources in the community. According to what I was told, I will have my needs met to start out, which would be really helpful. Ultimately, I want to be an independent, productive member of society. I don't want to be a burden to society.
I'll buy a laptop computer, stay busy writing, and hopefully make a living doing this. I just want to be happy! Being HIV positive has been quite the experience for me, and it has taught me so much about myself and other people. I am grateful to be alive and be able to share my words with anyone HIV positive struggling with their lives. My mental health plays a huge role in how I live my life. Today, I will make someone else's life a little more bearable by being selfless in my actions.
Take care of yourselves. HIV means to me that you can live your life with more appreciation and hope.
Stay healthy and stay safe.