POZ Exclusives : Pam Goodrich: Opening Doors for Prisoners - by Kate Ferguson and Laura Whitehorn

POZ - Health, Life and HIV
Subscribe to:
POZ magazine
Join POZ: Facebook MySpace Twitter Pinterest
Tumblr Google+ Flickr MySpace
POZ Personals
Sign In / Join

Back to home » POZ Exclusives » November 2010

Most Popular Links
Most Popular Lessons

The HIV Life Cycle


Herpes Simplex Virus

Syphilis & Neurosyphilis

Treatments for Opportunistic Infections (OIs)

What is AIDS & HIV?

Hepatitis & HIV

20 Years Ago In POZ

More Web Exclusives

Click here for more news

Have news about HIV? Send press releases, news tips and other announcements to news@poz.com.


November 4, 2010

Pam Goodrich: Opening Doors for Prisoners

by Kate Ferguson and Laura Whitehorn

By 1989, when Pam Goodrich faced the fact that she had HIV, she had been arrested 58 times and had 28 convictions. Today she serves as an education and training coordinator at the LGBT Center in Staten Island, New York—and works as an educator inside Arthur Kill Correctional Facility, a men’s prison on Staten Island. The Pam Goodrich who walks into that prison is very different from the one who did time behind bars. But today’s Goodrich remembers what life was like in the days of prison and drugs. More important, she puts those memories to use, making her an effective advocate for prisoners living with HIV as well as those trying to avoid contracting the virus.

Was 1989 your first HIV test?

I realized I contracted HIV in 1989. But I suspected that I had been infected earlier. In fact, I had been tested in 1985, when they were paying you to get tested. But I never went back for the results. Everybody I was using drugs with—injection drugs—were falling victim to this disease. I suspected I had been infected, but [getting high] kept me in a place where it didn’t make a difference. It wasn’t until 1989 that I wanted to really take a look at what was going on with me.

Why then?

I was just tired. I was really, really tired of my life, where I was going, the numerous arrests. I was just sick of me. I wanted a better life. I had been using drugs since I was about 12. By the time I was 14 I was taking acid and using heroin. So I wasn’t surprised—I kind of expected to find out I was HIV positive. All the people I shared needles with were turning up positive.

What did you do when you knew you had HIV?

I continued to get high. I wasn’t ready to go into action, so I continued to use—at that time I just felt like I was going to die anyway, so, [I figured], what’s the use—to stop using drugs wasn’t going to change anything, you know. It wasn’t until my last encounter with the Department of Corrections in 1996 that I stopped using.

I had been in Rikers Island [another New York prison]. I came home, and both my mother and sister were hospitalized—in two different hospitals. My mother had cancer. She was asking for my sister. I know you can’t make a pact with your higher power, but I said to God, “If you allow them to make it through this, I promise that I will get my life together.” I had to visit both of them at the two hospitals, and I needed to have a clear head, because I had to make decisions for my mom and my sister.

What got you into advocacy and peer education?

When I started facing my HIV status, I began to educate myself, and I became a client of Fortune Society [which helps people who have been released from prison]. I needed to be around people who were like myself. At Fortune Society, so many things were offered to me. I felt that I could never pay back what was given to me. In Fortune Society we say, “Change minds and save lives.” And I felt I could go into different organizations and different jails and prisons, that I could identify with these communities so that they could understand the message, and maybe [that would help them to] participate in their own self-help.

I think the most positive role I can play is to give back. Having an extensive incarceration history and an extensive substance abuse history, I never thought in my wildest dreams that I’d be able to affect people in a different way, by leading by example. I have no problem disclosing that I have HIV. And so, I’ve had the opportunity to work in the correctional sector where people are not so openly talking about their status. But they feel comfortable enough to come and say to me, “Miss Goodrich, you know, I need to talk to you about my status.”

What message do you bring to people inside—both HIV-positive and -negative?

I try to stress to people that you can live with HIV. HIV doesn’t want you to die, it needs you to live, and through medications I’m still here today. For those that are apprehensive about disclosing, my qualified team of peer educators—the people I’ve trained—can encourage them and help them.

And I see the difference education can make. As I continued to educate and empower myself, I realized I had to make a decision between whether I wanted to live or die. So I began taking HIV medications. I had not been open to it. But now I want you to know that I’ve been on the same medication for the last eight years. My viral load is undetectable, and my CD4 cell count is 757.

Tell us about what you do in the prison.

I’m a training coordinator. I provide an intensive 60-hour training every six months for the peers in the prison. Those guys sometimes amaze you. People have misconceptions about prison. They think a lot of prisoners are illiterate. What I’ve found is that when most people come to take my training, they have already had some knowledge of HIV and AIDS. So I have to stay abreast of developments, stay current, update the curriculum. In the last seven years I’ve trained more than 250 peers, and I do harm reduction counseling to prevent them from creating harm to themselves or to other people. I train them to deal with their stress. Once people take the intensive HIV training, they must take stress management too.

We have the New York prison system’s only program for MSMs [men who have sex with men]. We have to tread lightly, so it’s called Prison Issues and Concerns. It’s basically an MSM group. I devised a curriculum to address things like loving yourself to love others, talking about sexuality, talking about hormone therapy, communication skills. You don’t have to identify as anything. If you’re questioning your sexuality, then you should come to the group.

To see Pam Goodrich in action, search World AIDS Day at Arthur Kill Correctional Facility at poz.com.

Search: prison, prisoners, jail, LGBT, Pam Goodrich, injection drugs, IDU, heroin, drugs, Rikers Island, peer education, Fortune Society, substance abuse, Arthur Kill Correctional Facility, Prison Issues and Concerns

Scroll down to comment on this story.


(will display; 2-50 characters)


(will NOT display)


(will display; optional)

Comment (500 characters left):

(Note: The POZ team reviews all comments before they are posted. Please do not include either ":" or "@" in your comment. The opinions expressed by people providing comments are theirs alone. They do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Smart + Strong, which is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information supplied by people providing comments.)

Comments require captcha.
Please enter this number for verification:

| Posting Rules

Show comments (1 total)

[Go to top]

Facebook Twitter Google+ MySpace YouTube Tumblr Flickr Instagram
Quick Links
Current Issue

HIV Testing
Safer Sex
Find a Date
Newly Diagnosed
HIV 101
Disclosing Your Status
Starting Treatment
Help Paying for Meds
Search for the Cure
POZ Stories
POZ Opinion
POZ Exclusives
Read the Blogs
Visit the Forums
Job Listings
Events Calendar
POZ on Twitter

Ask POZ Pharmacist

Talk to Us
Did you participate in an event for National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day 2016?


more surveys
Contact Us
We welcome your comments!
[ about Smart + Strong | about POZ | POZ advisory board | partner links | advertising policy | advertise/contact us | site map]
© 2016 Smart + Strong. All Rights Reserved. Terms of use and Your privacy.
Smart + Strong® is a registered trademark of CDM Publishing, LLC.