If you are HIV positive, you know you have to take alL your HIV meds ontime, every time, or risk developing resistance and illness. But ifyou're living with HIV/AIDS behind bars, you also know that gettinghealth care in prison can be a challenge. POZ receives letters almostdaily from positive prisoners saying their prescriptions aren'trefilled on time or their pills are withheld. These tips will help youget your meds.

Get to Know the Medical Staff. 
Learn the names of prison medicalpersonnel. That way, queries and complaints about missed meds can reachor name the appropriate person. Treat medical staff politely andcourteously so they will want to help you (and to avoid any charges ofunruly behavior).

Advocate for Yourself. 
You need your HIV medications now—not in sixmonths—but prison grievance systems are often slow. So start with asimple approach: Ask your unit staff to call the medical department toretrieve your meds. If the prison won't follow the doctor's orders,complain in writing to your treating doctor; write to the prison wardenand medical officers too.

Keep Copies. 
Store a copy of your prescriptions in your cell or onyour person. Learn the medication schedule and stick to it so no onecan blame you for missed doses. Keep copies of every letter orcomplaint you write and the replies you get. In any future grievance orlitigation, these will prove a pattern of “deliberate indifference” toyour serious medical needs.

Get outside help. 
A phone call to the prison from someone outside—aparent, partner, sibling or friend—demanding to know why you are notgetting your meds may produce results. These calls let prison officialsknow that they are being
observed. You and your family can also write to legislators, statemedical commissions and city, county and state health departments tobring attention to systemic problems in medication delivery.

File a grievance.
The Prison Litigation Reform Act of 1996 mandatesthat you go through all levels of the prison grievance system beforefiling a federal lawsuit. Learn your prison's grievance process andkeep a supply of the required forms in your cell to use if other stepsfail. Your grievance should be clear and concise: State your medicationneeds, who prescribed the meds and how the prison is denying you accessto them. Be polite and direct, but be firm about your rights. Yourletters and grievances may wind up as court exhibits for a judge orjury. Make sure they show you at your best.

Go to Court as a Last Resort. 
If, despite your best attempts, theprison is just too incompetent, overcrowded or poorly run to deliveryour doses, consider filing suit. You'll need to show a court that theprison did not provide prescribed medication as required. Medicallawsuits are hard to win, and remember that you first have to gothrough the prison grievance process (except if you are suing for moneydamages after you are released).

For more tips, get “Protecting Your Health & Safety” ($10 plus $6for shipping) from Prison Legal News (2400 N.W. 80th St. #148, Seattle,WA 98117; 206.246.1022; prisonlegalnews.org).

Paul Wright was imprisoned in Washington state for 17 years. He is thecofounder and editor of Prison Legal News, a monthly magazine on legaland political developments involving the criminal justice system.