December #66 : A Cell of One’s Own - by Jennifer Poteet

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Table of Contents

The Viral Lowdown: Can You Believe What She Says?

The Viral Lowdown: Say What

The Viral Lowdown: Word Is Out For New HIVers

The Viral Lowdown: Dishing Out the Denial

The Viral Lowdown: Pharma Flubs Phase IV

The Viral Lowdown: Lack of Leadership Leaves Latinos In Lethal Lurch

The Viral Lowdown: Mystery: Partially Positive

The Viral Lowdown: Prison Death Prompts Probe

The Viral Lowdown: African AIDS Under a TAC

The Viral Lowdown: All Dolled Up: Rx Abuse High Among Gay HIVers


The Viral Lowdown: If Not Now, When? If Not Us, Who?

The Viral Lowdown: News Flash: The Sky Isn't Falling!

The Viral Lowdown: HIVers in Hock to Homophobia

Tales of the (Safer Sex) City

Clean, Sober...and Medicated?

The Secret Plot to Destroy African Americans


The Art Of Living

Summit, Some More

Channel Surfing

Shout Out

Lights! Camera! Handcuffs?

Quick Picks

Life Is Sweet

Packing Meat, Just Barely

A Cell of One’s Own


Doing AIDS Justice

Petal Pusher

Carry On, MP

Milk Got You?

Comfort Zone

Big Science Kicker

Herb Of The Month

Protease Progeny

It Takes Guts

Between A Recovery And A Hard Place

Most Popular Lessons

The HIV Life Cycle


Herpes Simplex Virus

Syphilis & Neurosyphilis

Treatments for Opportunistic Infections (OIs)

What is AIDS & HIV?

Hepatitis & HIV

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December 2000

A Cell of One’s Own

by Jennifer Poteet

The day is hot, and the pathetic, ancient air conditioner in the clinic waiting room is not up to the task. I’m already frustrated when I arrive—prison will do that to you, and having HIV in prison will really do it. I hate going to HIV clinic, because it takes so much work: If you don’t know what questions to ask, and you don’t keep piping up and asking them, your visit with the doctor won’t give you the information you need. There are a dozen women right here in the waiting room with me, dealing with this same thing, yet I feel alone. The confidentiality codes of the federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) regarding HIV are extensive. The prison administration says that having us all gather in one place—for, say, a support group—would put a strain on the policy regarding HIV confidentiality.

So here we sit in one room, silent in our confidentiality. Everyone knows why we are here: It is HIV clinic day. We take turns going through the same door. Dealing with the same doctor, dealing with the same fears. There are some women waiting for other doctors, but even they know what this door is for.

People have tried to have support groups in the past and it has not worked out, but I decide to find out why and try again. I make an appointment with a staff member to discuss my plan. When I meet with him he tells me there are several books written about HIV confidentiality and the regulations of the BOP. They were written in the ’80s, when it was much more dangerous to reveal your status in prison.

These policies have never been revised, and now they’re being used to keep HIVers in the closet. If HIV is treated with stigma in policy and by staff it will continue to be treated with stigma in the yard. Policy shouldn’t be able to prevent an individual from making the choice themselves about whether to tell people about their health.

I begin to explore how to change the policy so that we could have a group. After days of following staff around, talking to every single person who might be able to help me in any small way, I am told that the warden has given permission for me to start a support group. Of course, I am very excited about that. And of course, there’s a catch: The women will be told about the group at their HIV clinic and notified that if they attend the support group, the BOP can no longer guarantee their confidentiality.

Call me paranoid, but I feel the prison has some plan to make the support group fail. I believe I am about to find out why these groups have never succeeded in the past. The BOP figures I’ll fail, too, and stop bothering them. Of course, they figure wrong.

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