I entered a system that stated in its mission statement that I would be rehabilitated and prepared for society upon my return. That is so far from the truth. I have been subjected to a system that belittled me and literally made fun of me and my illness. There were times when I felt less than human.
I am hopeful that Judge Thompson’s decision will dramatically change the misconceptions about HIV. We are human beings and we deserve to be treated as such. It is true that I am a convicted felon and I have been sentenced to do my time, but being HIV-positive in the Alabama Department of Corrections (ADOC) system has convicted me twice.
No one could ever know the mental and emotional abuse. Alabama has sent us back in time 30 years to the beginning of the HIV/AIDs epidemic. For ADOC to actually think that I am being treated equally while being denied complete access to all programs that are available to HIV-negative inmates is absurd.
I welcome Judge Thompson’s ruling that abolishes the involuntary disclosure policy. All HIV-positive individuals have the right to disclose their status when they have come to grips with it. No one should be housed in a designated housing area that is labeled the HIV Unit.
Judge Thompson felt the pain of the 3 women at Tutwiler when he toured the facility in October. For Judge Thompson to actually see it for himself and to literally hear the women cry out was amazing. I am honored to have been the one who chose to stand up and speak out for all the women and men who were too broken to do so.
I’ve waited and I’ve kept my faith for over 10 years because I knew that this day would come. Being treated differently in any environment is totally unacceptable. I am an incarcerated individual and I don’t expect 5-star treatment, but I do expect to be treated just like every other individual in the system. I should be afforded the same rights as others.
I have been living with HIV for almost 11 years, and I am completely healthy. I am physically able to perform any task or job in the institution. No one else who is HIV-positive should have to go through the things that I and so many other men and women have gone through with the Alabama Department of Corrections.
The ruling is vital in so many ways. A positive ruling will change lives. HIV-positive inmates will not feel ashamed or like an outcast. This will help bring self-esteem and value. They won’t have to worry about who knows their status or who will be the first to call their families with information that should be confidential. HIV-positive inmates will be able to focus on other things and not be slapped in the face and reminded of their positive status on a daily basis.
HIV is a part of our lives, but when living in shame and fear, it becomes consuming. There is so much more to us than just being HIV-positive. I am a mother, a sister, a daughter, a leader, an athlete, a warrior, and a determined individual who will not stop until I get positive results. I am Dana Harley.