Milton Rodriguez FIGHT Story Website Image

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. 

Spotlight On

Karam Mounzer, MD

Dr. Mounzer identified two major gaps in the care of patients with HIV/hepatitis C (HCV) co-infection, and the complexity of multidrug-resistant HIV treatment. He is involved with many clinical trials focusing on drug development and better understanding of HIV immunopathogenesis with the Wistar Institute. He is involved in teaching and mentoring.

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Dr. Karam Mounzer

Dr. Mario Cruz

Dr. Mario CruzDr. Cruz is a board certified pediatrician who serves as the Medical Director for our Pediatrics and Adolescent Health Center. He has presented and/or published in the fields of community violence and domestic violence prevention, quality improvement, behavioral health, curriculum development and mentorship. In 2019 he received the Greater Philadelphia Social Innovation Award for Innovations in Healthcare.

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