As I lay here waiting for the courts to decide, the situation plays in my head vividly, and I say to myself, “what are you going to do?” I just found out a few months ago that I had contracted HIV and this is already on my mind more than the time that I could be facing. How do I get through it all, a man that I thought the world of, a man that took me from the streets and helped me get on my feet with a job, a nice place to live, and practically gave me the world had also given me something that I must deal with for the rest of my life, and now I’m on my way to be Behind Prison Doors?

As I walk through these doors, questions are asked by me and the medical staff, do you have any diseases, high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease and then the one thing I don’t want to talk about, HIV. Medications started and eventually I’m put in a cell. Nothing in prison is private everyone sees everything and guards don’t keep confidentiality. Being isolated is the worst thing that a newly diagnosed HIV positive person can ever have happen to them. I was living my worst nightmare while wide awake.

It is not easy being labeled as “The girl with HIV,” no one wanting to sit next to you at breakfast, lunch or dinner. No one wants to be your cellmate because they know your status. So much ignorance inside these walls. I contemplate suicide and even try but to no avail: I still wake up behind these prison doors, alone, dealing with HIV and the stigma that comes along with it. Crying seems to never cease and there is no one to turn to. Toothache is killing me and no one wants to pull it because as they say, “she has HIV.” I lay in pain crying day and night not knowing what I will do. I pray to God that He would just let me die but even He doesn’t answer.  I am still here to deal with the stigma and pain. Why I ask, why me?

People fighting me because they have hatred towards anyone with HIV, so now I’m targeted with women fighting me, calling me names and the guards do nothing. They eventually put me in protective custody but what does that do, but make me even more isolated and I find myself wanting to end it all taking my sheets and about to hang myself, but this time God answered and opened the prison doors.

Now I’m home and fighting this thing they call HIV and living daily through the fight. Thanking God, He didn’t take me away. Now that I am home, it seems as if I am just barely above water. I go through moments of depression and at times say forget this medicine and have been in the hospital laying on my death bed, but once again, God saw fit to let me survive and after giving up so many times I finally say, “Ok Tamala, it’s time to live and adhere to a regimen” that seems to finally be working. Family ignorance sends me into a spiral and I give up again. I try to educate them as best I can but it seems no one listens or wants to learn.

What do you do when your mother hands you one plate, one fork and spoon, and one cup? I thought being HIV positive in prison was a nightmare, but this is the worst coming from the person you thought would love you unconditionally forever, but she is discriminating against you because of the scary three letters HIV.

My children are the best they love me no matter what, and with them and my grandchildren I have a will to live and fight this thing. Yes, it hurts now that my medicine has failed, but if there is something to fight with I choose to remain in the fight. It gets hard when you feel that no one understands and you are constantly left out of family functions just because of your status and no one wants to deal with the “woman who has HIV”.

Sometimes I feel as if I am drowning and no one is there to throw me a life preserver, I am just barely above water to catch a deep breath only for a moment. The pills don’t help the depression or being shunned from your family, and at times it seems dark and like you will never see any light, but at those times I look to the Almighty and pray that He will help me get through it somehow and eventually.

 

Tamala Johnson is a woman living with HIV who loves her kids and grandchildren.

 

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Information and Resources from HIVE

Are you a woman living with HIV? Check out The Well Project for fantastic resources! Interested in policy and advocacy work? Join Positive Women’s Network. Are you concerned about stigma and/or discrimination related to your HIV status? TheBody.com has a resource center and a guide on what to do if it happens to you. Looking for information on how you can have a baby? Check out HIVE’s HIV+ Women page.