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.