Growing up, I misbehaved a lot. I shared needles and drugs with others. I got arrested for selling. After five years in a provincial prison, I was sent to the main prison. I got a tattoo while I was in jail. My prisoner friend gave it to me by using a sewing needle and ink we collected from a prison guard. The tattoo is an image of the watchtower I saw everyday while going back and forth in jail. My last time in prison was the longest: seven and a half years. There, I began to get sick from tuberculosis. The doctors checked deeper to discover the cause. That was when they found I had HIV.
On my last day at the prison, staff from Alden House, a home for people living with HIV, picked me up. Our country’s policy is to send infected people like us back to where we came from. They don’t understand the dilemma that puts us in. Even if our families accept us, our neighbors may not.
Now I live with No, another Through Positive Eyes participant, whom I met at Alden House. We take care of one another. We have been together more than ten years. We are both estranged from our families and have no children, so we have added dogs to our family. No loves animals. Dogs make her happy. Sometimes I feel that the dogs love us more than humans do. They never complain—unlike human beings, who are apt to scold or judge us.
Every morning, around 8 or 9 a.m., I go to the clinic to receive methadone for my addiction. I also have hepatitis C, which destroys my liver and makes me breathe unevenly. It causes my health to deteriorate. No is afraid that I will pass out when I come home after the treatment.
My greatest fear is departing from No. If I died, who would take care of her?
Before I began taking my HIV medication, I looked very sick. My weight was forty-two kilograms [ninety-two pounds]. I now look so much better. I can go out and work, selling jewelry, without having to worry. And I like dressing up. I dress to impress passersby when I sell in the market. If someone stops to talk with me, that makes me happy, even if they don’t buy. Some days I earn money, some none at all, but I feel happier this way than doing illegal work again. I hope people see my goodness.