I was sentenced to 20 years for committing murder, and I found out about my HIV status while I was in maximum security prison. I saw that most of the inmates living with HIV in prison were dying there. So I thought, I’m going to die in prison too.
I was fortunate, though, because the wardens and the head of the correctional center were so close to me—I was a teacher and one of the most active inmate representatives. So they arranged that I be placed under medical parole.
My condition at that time was extremely bad. When I was released from prison, my CD4 count was about 25, which is very low. Instead of going on ARV medication, I started to consult traditional healers. But I still got worse. So I approached the health workers and explained that I needed help. By that time I was looking death in the eye. My eldest brother took me to a private doctor who arranged for me to get my medication.
While I was recovering, my eldest brother gave me my son, Tshegofatso—in English it means blessing. He is not my biological son, but he is my son. There was a time when my legs were aching and I could not walk correctly. I would walk in front of him, limping, and he would walk like me. We are very close. He calls me father and he loves me.
Pretty soon I felt better and became comfortable disclosing my status. I started to notice some things about Rustenburg, the area that I live in, which is a mining town. At that time the local AIDS council wasn’t doing enough. Most people working on HIV and AIDS established hospices, which dehumanize people by housing them in small rooms, with no opportunities to go and work outside. I started to say, “Look, it’s time that we did something about this. We must start to talk about stigma and discrimination.”
Last year, I was watching TV and saw a guy named Pholo being interviewed. I called him and told him about my situation and the situation in my area. Then he invited me to his Postive Convention. It was my first time meeting 100 per cent people living with HIV, speaking in one voice, positively.
I’ve acknowledged my mistakes and learned from them. It’s true, before I went to prison I was a member of SAPS (South African Police Service). We used to say that the police uniform got us many girls, and I never practiced protected sex. Deep down in my heart I knew that my past was not right. Still, it was hard for me to understand that I had to live with HIV. Now I am living with one partner. And I know that living with HIV is not the end of the world.
Some people say, “Ludick, you are 35 years old. By the time you become a free man, you’ll be 54. Do you really think you are going to survive until your parole is finished?” Then I say, “Surely I will live for a very long time. And I hope that by the time I’m celebrating being a free man, you will be around so I can show you that I am here, living my life.”