Ignorance About HIV Is Not an Excuse to Be Disrespectful

Tim Hinkhouse
Tim Hinkhouse
Selfie by Tim Hinkhouse

I am thinking that this will be my year, and here is why. This is an election year for the Oregon governor, and I am optimistic about my chances of her granting me clemency and giving me a shot at freedom. I have the support of the Cascade AIDS Project, and their deputy director said that a letter would be drafted and sent on my behalf to the governor. This will hopefully demonstrate that HIV reform needs to happen, and she can make the change that starts with me. Hopefully I will hear shortly after this November election cycle?

I recently received my results from my last blood draw. I had a nurse send me the numbers for my viral load, and thankfully, it is still undetectable. My CD4s are close to 850, which is a great thing for me. I am grateful that Genvoya (elvitegravir/cobicistat/emtricitabine/tenofovir alafenamide) is working for me. Have you had a chance to take this miracle once-a-day pill to treat your chronic HIV? As long as I have been taking it, there haven't been any noticeable side effects. Ask your doctor about taking this pill if you are tired of remembering to take a multi-pill cocktail to treat your HIV every day.

For those of you reading this who are newly diagnosed with HIV, as of March I had been living with HIV for 28 years, and it would not have been possible if it weren't for the strides made by science to understand this illness and make medicines that will suppress the virus. Back in 1997 when my CD4s were in decline, I was forced to decide to start taking the meds available at the time with all of their side effects or else die in a prison hospital bed.

I made the obvious choice and started taking Crixivan (indinavir), which worked to keep me alive, but the side effects were messed up. Lasting side effects from this cocktail medicine changed my physical appearance. It is called the "Crixivan Hump" and sits nicely at the top of my neck and makes me feel like Quasimodo. This makes me self-conscious about myself when I want to take my shirt off when it is nice outside.

When people ask me about it, I just want to crawl under a rock and hide, but I have to put on a brave face and stand up for myself being in prison. Talk about people being judgmental. Holy cow! Judge much? It is already bad enough that I am living with an illness that has a close-minded stigma attached to it. Society judges you on your appearance, just like the men I am surrounded by every day that already have hatred in their hearts, especially for HIV-positive people.

One of life's lessons that I still have to learn is complete self-acceptance and to really love myself. The deeper I dig into my soul and look at who I have always been, the more I am taken to a place of pain, suffering, loneliness, and self-doubt. We are our own worst critics, which is something I have learned over my life.

What are the important life lessons that have opened your eyes to the things you needed to change? Care to share with me? I am a work in progress, and I am open to your comments.

Recently, I was moved back into a cell from an 88-man dorm. The cell I live in with another man is the second one from the end. There are 26 cells on the bottom tier and the same on the second tier. I am in #25, which is mere steps from the yard door, which brings in fresh air each time it is opened.

I have never spoken a word to my neighbor next door. I have no understanding about his culture or beliefs, but I do understand discrimination. Ever since I moved in and he heard that I had HIV, he has talked to the orderlies that pass out cleaning supplies each morning. He explains that it is "his religion" to want to always get the dust mop and wet mop before I get the chance to clean my cell. I am second in rotation to clean when the orderlies start at my end of the tier every other morning. Because I have HIV, I should be skipped over, and the orderlies are supposed to perpetuate this stigma? NO WAY!

I explained it in a way they all understood. That is a blatant act of disrespect, which comes with repercussions. If they don't like that, they can talk to the guards. I stood up for myself and offered to educate them with my knowledge, which they didn't want. Ignorance is not an excuse to be disrespectful.

Stay healthy & stay safe.

Read Tim's blog, HIV on the Inside.