I grew up in the badlands of North Philadelphia. I did a lot of things as a young man that I am not proud of. At the age of 15, I started using heroin and ended up contracting HIV. I didn’t find out I was positive until I went to prison in 1991 for a four year sentence. I imagine that I had been positive for over five years at that point. At the time of my diagnosis, the virus was new and there were a lot of unknowns. When you were HIV positive in prison back then, they would isolate you in your own cell. It was lonely and I would lay awake ever night wondering if I was going to die.
After I finished my sentence, I felt like nothing mattered. I knew I was going to die, so I decided to die rich. I would steal from people any chance I got. My behavior hurt my family deeply. Eventually, I decided to run from my parole and fled to Florida. But my actions caught up with me and I was sentenced to 30 years in prison. In 2014, I was released. I was determined to do things differently this time and become a better man.
It was then that I decided to educate myself as much as possible on HIV. I came to FIGHT and took two Project TEACH classes. It opened my eyes and broadened my mind, even though I had been dealing with the virus for years. I started to become more comfortable with the person I am. Today, I will tell anyone that I’m HIV positive. I don’t fear rejection from people. My goal is to educate and fight stigma by putting myself out there.
Every week, I go to the park and sit there with my book of HIV information from Project TEACH. I try to engage people in conversations about HIV. I make it my mission to education others, even strangers, everywhere I go.
It’s unfortunate that I spent time in prison but that’s really where I found myself. I realized that the person who used to hurt others and take from people without caring was not who I truly was inside. I realized that I actually love helping people. I have also learned to love myself. FIGHT and Project TEACH helped me find my intelligence and value. I feel enlightened and know that I have the power to give other people critical health information.
I hope that my story can prevent other people from going down the same path as me. I want to teach people how to protect themselves and reach out for support when needed. Knowing that I have the power to help someone take control of their own life and make healthier choices is the greatest gift on earth.