HIV, Prison and the Justice System: The New Concentration Camps

Actress and model Melyssa Ford will be serving up a four-part series on the state and importance of black sexual health, delving into the topics AIDS/HIV. Be informed, be safe and protect your worth.

Imagine that your every move is being cataloged and investigated, that everyone you interact with is placed under surveillance and that your health care provider releases your confidential records to a committee of people trying to publicly label you a menace, get you off the streets and thrown into the deepest hole they can find? If you have HIV, this committee is the US Criminal Justice System and this is how they are legally allowed to annul your rights.

In the first part of this series, I stressed how important it is to know your status and how you should never compromise yourself or your health, even when it comes to love and relationships. In the first part of this series, I stress how important it is to know your status and how you should never compromise yourself or your health, even when it comes to love and relationships. Trust, after all, can be manipulated. Whether to cover up dirty deeds or otherwise, like in the case of Marvelyn Brown, the wrong choice can come at an extremely high price. For Brown and many others who have been diagnosed with HIV, the price is even higher. In addition to being ostracized from her family, friends and communities that serve as daily reminders of the cross she bares, criminal statutes and laws in the US triple her angst by threatening her right to privacy and potentially her freedom because of her publicly disclosed status.

As much as I consider myself to be an advocate in the fight to raise awareness about HIV/AIDS, I sit on the side of the fence of preventing as many people from contracting it through education and persistent campaigning. I have rarely had to address when someone follows my advice--or the advice of federal and state public health officials--gets tested and comes up positive, but I will address that in my final article in this series.

I placed people who are HIV positive in two categories: the public advocates whom I greatly admire such as Maria Davis, Hydiea Broadbent, Marvelyn Brown and, of course, Erving “Magic” Johnson, a personal friend of mine. The other category (and it’s with shame that I admit this) is the one I placed people like Nushawn Williams in, the 19-year-old man convicted in 1997 of knowingly infecting his sexual partners with HIV. Without any research or investigating on my part, I subscribed to the propaganda and the sensational media coverage that paints him as a monster. There was a part of me that believed that there are folks out there, intentionally infecting others through irresponsible sexual behavior; this belief was supported by the statistic that 1 in 5 people don’t know their status because they’ve never been tested, which could lead one to think they don’t want to know it.

After conducting weeks of research, my perspective has been drastically altered. In order to offer a vivid picture as to how perceptions and attitudes have (or have not) changed towards HIV/AIDS since its discovery 30 years ago, I turned to several experts on the subject of public health and safety and legal experts who work directly in the field of HIV Criminalization.

One such expert is Ms. Catherine Hansenns, Executive Director and Founder of The Center for HIV Law and Policy. It was through my conversations with her and the information provided on her website that I began to see the true threat caused by the stigmatization and permeated ignorance of which we treat the subject of HIV.

HIV statutes and prosecutions contradict and, therefore, undermine public health goals by, basically, scaring people into refusal of testing.  On one hand, you have both federal and state public health officials urging the public to get tested and to know their HIV status; on the other hand, there are laws who punish those who have taken the step to get tested and who have been diagnosed as positive. Says Ms. Hansenns

“The government has taken the position through its laws that people with HIV are so dangerous and so toxic that we need to develop special laws in which to punish and control them.”

Arrest records show people criminalized by this process have faced charges ranging from assault and aggravated assault to depraved indifference and a host of fines with lengthy prison sentences. In the case of Nushawn Williams, former mayor Rudy Guiliani pushed to prosecute him for attempted murder (this charge didn’t stand up in court).

According to Ms. Hansenns, once someone is convicted of HIV criminal laws and statutes, you are subject to involuntary commitment past the length of your sentence if you are considered to be a menace and threat to public health. More and more, involuntary civil commitments are being used against people with HIV. In addition to this, registration with the National Sex Offenders Registry database is also a strong likelihood which would lead to future employment, rental and home ownership and privacy issues.
Not only may laws like these discourage people from getting tested, but it may also discourage people, who are positive, from taking part in other kinds of preventive activities. If going to speak to someone at a health clinic and discussing with them your sex life and who you are involved with can trigger a criminal investigation, who in their right mind would welcome that kind of intrusion into their lives willingly?

The 5th amendment of the constitution allows for a person to withhold self-incriminating information; HIV laws are loop-holing around this by using the public health system in order to determine and remove who THEY believe pose a threat to the general public, simply because of a positive HIV status. With this idea in place there may as well be a pre-crime division within the police department, arresting people for their thoughts. In order to opine as to what someone who is HIV positive would do, once they’re aware of their diagnosis, is to ask yourself that question: Would you suddenly make it your full time objective to infect as many people as you could? Studies show that most people with a positive status actually become more conscious of their health.

It would be foolish to think that there aren’t instances where a person knows their status is positive and still acts irresponsibly, having unprotected sex. But when you talk about sex, the concept of legal and consensual sex, excluding sex taken by force, incest and molestation, there are two consenting individuals involved during a the act.

Whether that act is protected through condom use or not, the choice is made by both parties. In order to maintain the quality of life we are all entitled to, a sense of self worth and personal responsibility must exist. YOUR status is YOUR responsibility, so the onus of asking the “unromantic” but necessary questions about a perspective partner’s sexual health history falls on YOU. In 2011, with all of our advancements in medical care, a positive status doesn’t have to mean a death sentence; but in the eyes of the law, it certainly can mean a life sentence.

For more information about b condoms, HIV/AIDS or World AIDS Day, please check out @bcondoms,, or

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Aaliyah during TNT Presents - A Gift of Song - New York - January 1, 1997 in New York City, New York, United States.

Fans Rally For Aaliyah's Discography To Be Released On Streaming Platforms

As another day passes without Aaliyah's music on streaming platforms, fans are looking for answers.

Over the weekend, the hashtag #FreeAaliyahMusic appeared on Twitter in light of song battles between Swizz Beats vs. Timbaland and Ne-Yo vs. Johnta Austin. The latter opponents played their collaborations with the late singer, proving Baby Girl's dynamic relevancy in the age of modern R&B. As songs like "I Don't Wanna" and "Come Over" picked up plays on YouTube, the hashtag pointed out the tragedy of her songs not existing on platforms like Spotify, Tidal and Apple Music.

Aaliyah's only album on multiple platforms is her 1994 debut, Age Ain't Nothing But A Number. Other albums like the platinum-selling One in A Million and Aaliyah are being held in a vault of sorts along with other unmixed vocals by her uncle and founder of Blackground Records, Barry Hankerson.

Hankerson has built up a mysterious yet haunting aura over the years due to his refusal to release Aaliyah's music on streaming platforms. Reasons are unknown but Stephen Witt's 2016 investigation revealed business deals like the shift in distribution from  Jive Records to Atlantic helped Hankerson take ownership of the singer's masters. The deal was made in 1996 when Blackground featured artists like Aaliyah, Toni Braxton, R. Kelly, then-production duo Timbaland and Magoo as well as Missy Elliott.

Sadly, Aaliyah's music isn't the only recordings lost in the shuffle. Recordings from Timbaland and Toni Braxton have been hidden from the world with both taking legal action against the label over the years. There's also JoJo, who had to break from the label after they refused to release her third album. The singer recently re-recorded her first two albums.

With Aaliyah's music getting the attention it deserves, Johnta Austin discussed the singer's impact on R&B today. "It was amazing, she was incredible from top to bottom," he told OkayPlayer of working with the singer on "Come Over" and "I Don't Wanna." "I don't think Aaliyah gets the vocal credit that she deserves. When she was on it, she had the riffs, she had everything."

Earlier this year, an account impersonating Hankerson claimed her music would arrive on streaming platforms January 16, on what would've been her 41st birthday. A docuseries called the Aaliyah Diaries was also promoted for a release on Netflix.

Of course, it was far from the truth. Fans can enjoy selected videos and songs on YouTube, but it's clear they want more.


Aaliyah’s music is the landmark for a lot of your favs not only was she ahead of her time with her futuristic sounds she also was a fashion Icon dancer and phenomenal actress . The future generations need be exposed to her artistry and pay homage .#FreeAaliyahMusic

— Black Clover (@la_alchemist) March 29, 2020

Her first #1 solely based on AirPlay! She was the first ! #FreeAaliyahMusic

— (@hodeciii) March 29, 2020

Makes no sense for someone still so influential to be hidden. Many try to emulate her. On Spotifys This is Aaliyah playlist, theres some great tracks not on her main Spotify #FreeAaliyahMusic

— Blackity Black⁷ (@ClaudBuzzzz) March 29, 2020

Aaliyah is trending once again. She deserves endless flowers. This is true impact y’all. Her voice, her sound, her music...She’s been gone for 2 decades and y’all see the love for her is even stronger! We miss you baby girl! #FreeAaliyahMusic

— A A L I Y A H (@forbbygrlaali) March 30, 2020

Aaliyah said she wanted to be remembered for her music and yet most of it is not on streaming services #FreeAaliyahMusic

— RJR (@MyNewEssence96) March 29, 2020

aaliyah’s gems like more than a woman deserve to be in streaming sites #FreeAaliyahMusic

— k (@grandexrocky) March 30, 2020

I saw #FreeAaliyahMusic and IMMEDIATELY jumped into action! I can’t express how betrayed I felt when we were supposed to have all her music on Spotify by her birthday. Her discography is deeply underestimated and we need to make it right for our babygirl!

— jerrica✨ (@jerricaofficial) March 29, 2020

Before Megan The Stallion drove the boat...

Aaliyah rocked the boat...


— Al’Bei (@_albei) March 29, 2020

i think we should have that conversation #FreeAaliyahMusic

— AALIYAH LEGION (@AaliyahLegion) April 1, 2020

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Singers Adrienne Bailon (L) and Kiely Williams of the 'Cheetah Girls' pose for photos around Mercedes Benz Fashion Week held at Smashbox Studios on October 18, 2007 in Culver City, California.
Katy Winn/Getty Images for IMG

Kiely Williams Explains Fallout With Adrienne Bailon Houghton And Alleged Fight With Raven-Symonè

Our current isolated way of life has given some plenty of time for reflection like Kiely Williams of the former girl group 3LW and The Cheetah Girls (ask your kids). The tales of both successful groups have been told time after time by fans in YouTube documentaries and members of each collective but Williams has decided to share her side of the story.

Williams hopped on Live Monday (March 30) where she discussed her former friendship with The Real co-host Adrienne Bailon Houghton and the infamous chicken throwing fight with actress/singer Naturi Naughton. The mother of one didn't pinpoint exactly why she fell out with Houghton but did point out how she wouldn't be interested in appearing on her talk show.

"I don't think Adrienne wants to have live TV with me," Williams said. "'Cause she's gon' have to say, 'Yes Kiely, I did pretend to be your best friend. Now, I am not.' You were either lying then or you're lying now. You either were my best friend and now you're just not claiming me or you were pretending [to be my best friend."

The two remained friends after Naughton was kicked out of 3LW, the platinum-selling group known for 2000s pop hits like "No More (Baby I'ma Do Right)" and "Playas Gon' Play." Williams and Houghton were eventually picked to be apart of The Cheetah Girls with then-Disney darling Raven-Symonè and dancer Sabrina Bryan.

Williams went on to discuss her fight with Naughton, which she denies had anything to do with her skin color. With her mother near, Williams claimed Naughton called her a b***h, leading to the fight. While she didn't clear up the chicken throwing, she stated how she was "going for her neck" and was holding food and her baby sister in the process.

Apologies aren't on the horizon either. “I don’t feel like I have anything to make amends for, especially as it relates to Adrienne,” Kiely said. “As far as Naturi goes, if there was ever a reason to apologize, all of that has kind of been overshadowed by the literal lies and really ugly stuff that she said about my mom and my sister. So, no. Not interested in that. I’m sorry.”

Moving onto The Cheetah Girls, Williams also denied claims she got into fights with Raven-Symonè on the set of The Cheetah Girls films and never outed her as a teen. The rumor about Symonè and Williams was reportedly started by Symonè's former co-star Orlando Brown.

Symonè has often shared positive memories about The Cheetah Girls and their reign but did imply during an episode of The View how co-star Lynn Whitfield kept her from losing her cool on set.

On a lighter note, Symonè, Houghton and Naughton have kept in contact with Naughton and Houghton putting their differences aside during an appearance on The Real. 

Symonè and Houghton also reunited at the Women's March in Los Angeles in January. During Bailon's performance at the event, the two briefly performed the Cheetah Girls' classic, "Together We Can."

Willaims also shared some stories about the making of the group's hits. Check out her Live below.

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Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images

Kelis Announces ‘Cooked With Cannabis’ Show Will Premiere On Netflix

Kelis is taking her chef talents to Netflix. The musician will host a food competition show titled Cooked With Cannabis that’ll premiere on the very-fitting April 20 (4/20). According to NME, the show will span six episodes and be co-hosted by chef Leather Storrs.

Describing the opportunity as a “dream come true” since she’s a major supporter of the streaming service, Kelis took to Instagram to share how cannabis and cooking is one of her many creative passions. “As a chef, I was intrigued by the food and as an everyday person, I was interested in how powerful this topic is in today’s society,” the mother-of-two writes. “In this country, many things have been used systemically to oppress groups of people, but this is so culturally important for us to learn and grow together.”

Each episode will place three chefs against each other as they craft three-course meals with cannabis as the central ingredient. Each episode’s winner takes home $10,000. Guests will play an integral role in who takes home the cash prize. Too $hort, and El-P are just a few of this season's guests.


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I'm really excited to announce my new show, Cooked with Cannabis on @Netflix!! Anyone that knows me, knows how much I love my Netflix, so this is a dream come true. Interestingly, this was one of those things that I didn't go looking for, it kind of came to me. As a chef, I was intrigued by the food and as an everyday person, I was interested in how powerful this topic is in today's society. In this country, many things have been used systematically to oppress groups of people, but this is so culturally important for us to learn and grow together. I hope you all will tune in, it's definitely going to be a good time! We launch on 4/20! XO, Kelis

A post shared by Kelis (@kelis) on Mar 18, 2020 at 7:57am PDT

In a previous Lenny Letter profile, Kelis shared she comes from a line of culinary influences beginning with her mother who owned a catering service. In 2008, the “Milkshake” singer sought to refine her cooking skills by enrolling in the Le Cordon Bleu school. Receiving a certificate as a trained saucier, the New York native put her expertise to the test during pop-up restaurants in her native city, created a hot sauce line, and co-owns a sustainable farm in Quindio, Colombia.

“Food is revolutionary because it is the one and only international language. It’s the most human thing you can partake in,” she said in an interview with Bon Appetit. “We are the only species that cooks.”

This isn’t Kelis’ first foray into the reality-cooking television world. In 2014, she partnered with the Cooking Channel for Saucy and Sweet and published the "My Life on a Plate" cookbook a year later.

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