My name is Beverly. I am co-infected (HIV/hepatitis C), bisexual, African American, 52 years young and last of all, I'm in prison until 2009. My message is for every woman who is incarcerated and having a tough time living with the enemy (HIV/AIDS). When anyone is told they have any type of life-threatening illness, I believe a person becomes fearful of what to expect next. When you learn you are HIV/AIDS positive, all sorts of feelings surface and many of us prepare to die soon.

Learning about my positive status in 1994 (during a prior prison term) sent me reeling into depression, anger, guilt, shame and fear, just to name a few of the feelings I experienced. I was 45 years old at the time and my very first thought was I would die within a year or two. A couple of months passed by while I threw my own pity party, but then I decided to say my status out loud to every one who would listen.

I discovered a hidden quality within myself that suddenly surfaced to assist me in saving myself from self-destruction. This quality, courage, saved me in the form of self-disclosure. Not living in secret forced me to accept personal responsibility for my health, along with studying about my enemy and choosing who I care to include in my life today, as well as who I choose to share intimate moments with.

There may be a woman who reads this and thinks, "No way will I ever reveal my status." Well, please know countless women have passed away trying to live with these diseases secretly, not to mention the loneliness that tags along with being secretive. Courage to speak out can change how you think and feel about you!

Many of us women, prior to learning our positive status, had failed relationships, possibly due to addictions and abusive mates. Then you test positive and feel you will never have what means so much, a meaningful, healthy intimate relationship.

Being positive and having courage, and learning through trial and error, allow me to know that Beverly is deserving of intimacy and love in a healthy, meaningful relationship. I have choices today. Plus my courage allows me to never give up my desire for loving and being loved unconditionally. Do not allow anyone to make you feel bad about your serostatus. Do not allow yourself to accept verbal and physical abuse because you think your abuser is the only person in the world who will accept you now that you have HIV.

Check within yourself and apply the courage you find hidden inside you. Use it to the fullest, my sisters. There is love out there for you, and living with HIV/HCV is possible if you have the courage to go for it.

This is what courage demands:

  • Do not give up on yourself.

  • Do not give up on your hope for being loved.

  • Do not allow anyone to make you feel bad for being positive.

  • Do not accept verbal or physical abuse because the abuser accepts your serostatus.

Beverly Henry is a member of the HIV in Prison Committee, an activist group that fights for adequate medical care and protests against abuses in Chowchilla.

For correspondence, contact Beverly Henry W-72830, Peer Educator/Advocate, C.C.W.F. 510-23-02L, P.O. Box 1508, Chowchilla, CA 93610-1508.

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