First of all, I want to thank you for your article, "First Person: The Killer Inside Me" [January 27], because it reminds me of how self-centered, afraid and hopeless I once was. I have had HIV for nine years in April. I was diagnosed in a prison in Georgia. When I was informed of the diagnosis, I was placed in a segregated cell house for HIV+ inmates. The prison officials then came to my cell in what looked like space suits and took my belongings and bedding out to be burned. I was also told that I would die of AIDS in the next five years. Within two weeks, I was released because I was sentenced on a nonviolent offense and was immediately put up for parole because the State didn't want to spend the money. Luckily, I had been able to keep a place to live upon release and was visited by a lady who worked with the Department of Public Health. She informed me of some of the programs open for my participation. She also helped with finding support groups where I met other people who were diagnosed with AIDS. This is when I decided that I would not lie down and give up on life.
I became active in reformation of some of the prison rules regarding the treatment of HIV+ people. With this I was able to not concentrate on what the disease was doing to me. Whoever thinks that attitude doesn't have anything to do with the progression of HIV to AIDS, they are full of shit. I know and speak from personal experience that anytime I felt that my health was declining and surrounded myself with pity and anger, all that I got was depressed and then would become more ill.
Today, I've had an AIDS diagnosis for about a year. Occasionally, I do volunteer work as a peer educator at County Hospital. I live in a residential facility with 30 other persons with AIDS and see death and suffering on a regular basis. I am also active in a 12-step program as well as other HIV activities. Last summer, I raised money for AIDS research by riding my bicycle 100 miles a day, for two and a half days from Los Angeles to San Diego. While in San Diego, I spoke at a conference for the National Health Care Workers within the prison systems. Helping others understand what it is like to deal with this disease on a daily basis keeps me going. Instead of sitting around getting blown away on drugs, wallowing in self-pity, and having a negative attitude, I encourage people dealing with HIV or AIDS to get involved. We need to get out of ourselves, talk about what we are going through and come to the realization that everyone has to die someday. We have to confront the fear and live for today, since that's all that we have anyway.