Ron Snyder
47
Reseda, California
Diagnosed 1996

In 1997, I embezzled $30,000 from the bookstore I managed after my newboss said he was going to fire me because he “didn’t want faggotsrunning his store.” I was sentenced to three years in a restitutioncenter—which is like a halfway house. But when I disclosed my status toa prison health worker, I was told the center didn’t allow people withHIV. I ended up in an HIV block at Chino State Prison. The entirefacility banned condoms because sex is technically illegal and condomsare considered a weapon, so some guys used plastic wrap from theirsandwiches. My positive cellmate and I became lovers and shared a bedbut didn’t have access to condoms. And as long as the guards saw twoheads in the cell, they never said anything.

Two days after myparole in 1999, I showed up to volunteer at Correct HELP—anorganization that helps incarcerated and post-incarcerated HIVers.Currently, we’re lobbying California’s House of Representatives to passa bill to make it the nation’s first state to allow condoms in allprisons—it will likely be voted on in June. In jail, I wrote to legal organizationsabout HIV segregation and not being allowed in the restitution center.Correct HELP’s founder, Mary Sylla, took my case, and eventually, withthe help of other prisoner’s rights lawyers, we got rid of Chino’sHIV-only unit.

In prison, I was discriminated against forbeing gay and positive, and after my release, no one would hire mebecause of my criminal record. Also, my parole specified that Icouldn’t have a job handling money, which was all I’d ever done. Butafter four months, Correct HELP hired me full time, and now I canfinally be myself.

When I’m trying to get funding for new programsor support for the bill, being HIV positive, gay and post-incarceratedactually helps—people believe I know what I’m talking about. It alsogets prisoners to listen when I do harm-reduction education in L.A.County prison—which lets me hand out condoms. Because nonprofits willfund condoms in the state’s prisons, taxpayers won’t have to payanything. Why hasn’t this happened already?