Malcolm X, once said, “I don't pretend to be a divine man, but I believe in divine power, divine guidance and the fulfillment of the divine prophesying. I am not well educated, nor am I an expert in any particular field - but I am sincere, and my sincerity is my credential. “
I was an injecting drug user in the early and mid-1980s, and I believe I contracted HIV somewhere, in time, between 1983 or 1984. I'm sure I've been HIV positive for at least 30 years, but I haven't been diagnosed until 1991, and I have been in prison ever since.
In 1984, I was sentenced to 10 years for several auto thefts. I served five years in prison. During that time, I became very frustrated with the course of my life and finally I submitted to God. I knew I was destined for better things. In high school I took the course honorably and consistently, but I valued the streets more than education and then I gave up. I decided to join the army, but once there, I was too young to adapt and I really preferred the streets, so I was dismissed. Somehow I managed to get into college, where I stayed for two semesters and couldn't, or didn't want to continue. I never actually completed anything in my life and I was sick; and tired of going to jail from time to time.
One day, while in prison, I prayed for the grace of meeting a woman.
I met a beautiful Christian girl. She made me feel complete, and after I got out of prison, we were married. Everything seemed fine during the first two years, until my wife became pregnant, and when she was eight months old, I became ill. I went to the doctor and he found some white spots on my larynx. He then did a complete check up and diagnosed that I was HIV positive. My CD4 count was very low and I was told that I should have contracted the virus a long time ago. They gave me a prognosis of three to five years to live. I was devastated.
I needed to talk about it. That is, how I would deal with difficulties in my life. I never cared much about others' opinions, not while I lived alone, so I ended up suppressing my secret and it made me crazy, and I started drinking and using drugs again. I took a gun for the first time in my life with the intention of using it illegally. I lost my job and started stealing. When I finally woke up from my stupor I was arrested again.
In prison, I hid my HIV status. Then I started to feel very ashamed, and I wouldn't let anyone enter my “second life in secret“. How did I have a "gay disease"? This prevented me from taking the medication for years. AZT and DDI were the only ones on the market at that time, and were easily recognizable. I felt I had to hide, even if it cost me my life.
In 1997, my CD4 count was below 100 and my viral load had stopped in the millions. What I thought was a scratch on my left eye turned out to be something much more serious, something that I didn't know until the entire right side of my body was paralyzed. I was rushed to the hospital and told that I needed to take the medications immediately or I would die; These were my concerns from then on ...
I remember going to church one morning at New Jersey state prison (then known as Trenton state prison) and there was a gay guy, Mike, who gave his testimony about being HIV positive. I didn't know him, but I felt something for him. I knew that his testimony was an appeal for acceptance; this would lead to him ostracized by much of the church. Yes, even the people of God would stigmatize people living with HIV, even if the disease affects all segments of society. At that time, most churches simply ignored HIV and, with these ideologies, devastated our communities.
We were two “gorillas that nobody wanted to talk to”.
There was a group of about 20 men in prison who were about to be baptized, Mike and I were among them. I hadn't revealed my status to anyone yet. Mike sitting next to me, told me that all the guys had asked to be baptized before them because he was HIV positive. I looked at him and said, “don't worry. You can go before me. ” His face lit up at that moment; I have given you tacit acceptance. I really wanted to share my status with him and tell him that I admired him for his courage, for the courage that led him to bear that testimony, but I didn't do that. It was a few months later that I finally revealed to Mike that I was HIV positive; now we've been close friends since then.
There was an occasion when I was transferred to the prison in eastern Jersey (the prison then known as Rahway state prison), where I continued my masquerade. I seemed to have gotten better, although I still wasn't taking my medications regularly. I was singing in the choir and I attended all the church services; was a Christian of Christianity.
About two years after my transfer to East Jersey, Mike was transferred there, too. Once again he gave his testimony and I embraced him. I did not forget that he had been my confidant and encourager. Although we stayed on opposite sides of the prison, rumors surfaced about how close we seemed that it began to circulate among the Christian population. They just couldn't understand it; someone to be “friends with an HIV positive person”.
I was lifting weight every day on the patio and it seemed to be the “picture of health”; however, Mike was a thin, gay and HIV positive guy, and even then we were still good friends.
The rumors grew so much that I was led to place myself some distance between me and Mike or disclose my HIV-positive status. It was an easy decision for me; scary but easy. Mike was like my little brother and would never turn his back on him. My chaplain, Rev. Rufus McClendon, who was more than a father to us, gave me the freedom to give my testimony when I needed it. He had no idea that I was HIV positive, but he felt that I had something important to share.
I shared my history of drug abuse, and how I ended up being diagnosed with HIV and my eventual fall, and my extreme disappointment with the rumors, revolving around the church, especially from people who had known me for years.
Shouldn't we, as Christians, be more loving? I also made a point of recognizing Mike, who had been a pillar of strength, a confidant and one of great value to me. I am sure that everyone knew that he was not only my friend, but my brother and that that would never change.
At the time I was baptized, there was a dry eye in the church. As Christians, we are all called by God to a life of superior exemplification; however, sometimes we fall short of His call. But the church seems to be doing much better today.
I thank Rev. McClendon for allowing me to go to the pulpit to share my story in 1999. I also thank the Congregation in East Jersey for embracing me and encouraging me to be strong in the Lord and to start taking care of myself. And I give special thanks to my brother Mike, my friend forever.
Although I am still in prison, my treatment has evolved and so has my health. My CD4 counts are over 500 and my viral load has been undetectable since 2004. Taking your medications regularly and learning to accept your diagnosis are the keys to this!
It has little to do with miracles or money, although some blessings are involved. God's word says that he causes the sun to shine on the just and the unjust. It is not a Christian thing; it's called grace, God's unmerited favor.
In 2003 and 2004, I was trained by the Jacinto Foundation in the HIV / AIDS Pathogenesis. I have also been trained as a counselor, counselor and group facilitator by various organizations. I love being able to give the most needy a little of my experience as a person with HIV and, thus, facilitate the absorption of the terrible initial impact that the person receives when obtaining the HIV positive diagnosis. He gave me a purpose in my life, something I had never had before. The most rewarding experience I had was to be trained as a palliative care volunteer. Being able to share life's experience, honesty and acceptance of life's finiteness with individuals who knew their time and, like everyone else's, limited time has been a great blessing for me. But my greatest gift was salvation.
Even in prison, in the midst of all sorts of chaos, education can help you get away from the stigma that, unfortunately, is still associated with HIV. On the other hand, I can also help you to become people who are comfortable with themselves. It is difficult for people to overcome their fear of us, people who live with HIV or AIDS, especially when we are afraid to accept ourselves. It was difficult for the boy in me to learn how to become a man and face the reality of being HIV positive.
But thanks to courageous people like Mike and loving people like Rev. Mc Clendon, I can finally say that I have finished something in my life. Acceptance is positive.
Note from the Editor of Seropositivo Web Site: I have never been a prisoner and, as far as I can see, I have not committed any crime under the Law of Men and yet I am a confessed before the Law of God. I destroyed the ability of countless women to feel affection just for the pleasure of having them for one night and nothing more. For that purpose, I destroyed homes, dismantled families and God knows when it hurts to have this knowledge in me. Generally, knowledge is a blessing and, in my case, it would not be different, because it is thanks to him that I maintain this site and this is the only way I have found to “get your hands dirty” and move on; not without regret, not without remorse.
But if it is true that a small virtue covers a multitude of sins, I would like to believe that in another ten or fifteen years, if God allows me to live so long, there is a possibility, albeit remote, that it will leave the Earth in a legitimate state. tranquility
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And it was not within a "comfort zone"! This is a story that only I have to tell!
I was the first individual, a CPF, not a CNPJ to, in quotes, “Slap my face”!
For all that I lived, it all happened in a period still troubled by prejudice and, yes, there were prices to be paid.
The currency has always been that of social exclusion and I have even hesitated between continuing or not!
The great “IT” of all this is that without this work, I would have nothing left but leisure and I would certainly not endure it. I have a need to be productive.
We are Borg!
If not bored by the empty hours, at least by suicide due to the absolute lack of purpose that my life would have and the terrible impression of parasitosis that would come to affect me. So, I couldn't stop.
I had the opportunity to accomplish many things and, on the other hand, I missed several opportunities to do more, with a deeper and better reach.
Not everything is as desired. Let it rain (Guilherme Arantes)!
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