Why an ex-con is pushing condoms on Arnold's House
Ron Snyder 47 Reseda, California Diagnosed 1996
In 1997, I embezzled $30,000 from the bookstore I managed after my new
boss said he was going to fire me because he “didn’t want faggots
running his store.” I was sentenced to three years in a restitution
center—which is like a halfway house. But when I disclosed my status to
a prison health worker, I was told the center didn’t allow people with
HIV. I ended up in an HIV block at Chino State Prison. The entire
facility banned condoms because sex is technically illegal and condoms
are considered a weapon, so some guys used plastic wrap from their
sandwiches. My positive cellmate and I became lovers and shared a bed
but didn’t have access to condoms. And as long as the guards saw two
heads in the cell, they never said anything.
Two days after my
parole in 1999, I showed up to volunteer at Correct HELP—an
organization that helps incarcerated and post-incarcerated HIVers.
Currently, we’re lobbying California’s House of Representatives to pass
a bill to make it the nation’s first state to allow condoms in all
prisons—it will likely be voted on in June. In jail, I wrote to legal organizations
about HIV segregation and not being allowed in the restitution center.
Correct HELP’s founder, Mary Sylla, took my case, and eventually, with
the help of other prisoner’s rights lawyers, we got rid of Chino’s
In prison, I was discriminated against for
being gay and positive, and after my release, no one would hire me
because of my criminal record. Also, my parole specified that I
couldn’t have a job handling money, which was all I’d ever done. But
after four months, Correct HELP hired me full time, and now I can
finally be myself.
When I’m trying to get funding for new programs
or support for the bill, being HIV positive, gay and post-incarcerated
actually helps—people believe I know what I’m talking about. It also
gets prisoners to listen when I do harm-reduction education in L.A.
County prison—which lets me hand out condoms. Because nonprofits will
fund condoms in the state’s prisons, taxpayers won’t have to pay
anything. Why hasn’t this happened already?