- Being a “black sheep”: Cheri primarily sees herself as someone who never quite fit in. She frequently describes herself as a “black sheep”, “rebel”, and “outsider”. Even when she didn’t necessarily live up to these names, she let others think of her in terms of these names. Many different factors seemed to have led to this- her complicated relationship with her mother, her weight and self image, her “tomboy” personality, and a resistance to others making choices for her. Contracting HIV only adds to this perception of herself.
- Complicated Relationships with family: Cheri seems to have a complicated relationship with almost everyone in her life, with the two most notable cases being her mother and her husband. She says she never got along well with her mother, and was always resisting her choices. She also sees her mother as the source of many of her self esteem issues. Her relationship with her husband is just a complicated. She contracts HIV from him, even blaming herself at first. Despite this and his many infidelities, incarcerations, and him eventually leaving her, she remains very loyal to him, even going so far as to smuggle him drugs in jail despite the risk to herself and severe illness.
- Choices being forced on her by HIV: This theme stems from her self image as an outsider with a rebel streak. She never liked anyone to make choices for her, from her mother, to bosses, so it is very stressful when HIV begins to direct her life and there’s nothing she can do about it. She talks about hating having to go to appointments and take her medicine. Even though her husband died from not taking care of himself like this, she resents having to take her medicine. She hasn’t been taking her medicine for a while, and talks about experiencing stress and depression when she feels forced to take it.
- I was raised in a house with my two sisters, my mom and my dad until I was about eight years old.
- I was born at Union Hospital in Brooklyn, I’ve lived in Brooklyn pretty much my whole life.
- I went to two different high schools…Maxwell. William H. Maxwell High School. I wanted to go to Thomas Jefferson, because both of my sisters went to Jefferson and both my sisters got a good education at Thomas Jefferson High School. And, so she finally transferred me to Thomas Jefferson…
- We were in a middle class neighborhood. We lived in the projects. I lived in Linden Houses. We were like a family. There were these four buildings that’s on a square, and they’re kind of like separate from all the rest of the buildings, that’s what it looked like, and everybody called it Four Corners; that’s where I lived. And Four Corners was like a little family; we pretty much did everything together. We had a park in the middle so we all played in the same park together.
- I met him at my best friend’s house
- when I first had my daughter I was living with my grandmother and that was because when you let people live with you and then things happen, they busted out all the windows in my house because I told them they had to leave.
- I was also upset because I’m sitting in Brookdale and I hate Brookdale Hospital because the EMS technicians refused to bring me over to Downstate. ‘They don’t have any emergency room’ – yes they do! That was when the emergency room had just opened up. And then I call the STAR on-call clinician because I was in STAR at the time, and he told them to bring me to Downstate; they refused. Because Brookdale was my closest hospital. Brookdale is the worst!
Time Based Information
- When were you born? January 12, 1971.
- I got my GED that very year. I left school, took some courses during the summer and got my GED in 1988.
- And then that next year (1989) I got a job. Yeah that next year, I got a job.
- when I was eight, seven or eight, my father bought my sister an electric typewriter and I wanted to learn how to type.
- I was at the job for five years, and then I met my husband…This is 1994, 1994. Yeah January of ‘94. I met him the day after the Super Bowl of ‘94. January of ’94.
- That’s a strange story how I lost my virginity, I was 22 years old when I lost my virginity.
- So you got tested in ’94, you go to get a pregnancy test and an HIV test and both come back positive. My life changed drastically in 1994.
- Because I was pregnant I was able to get public assistance. I also went into the WITS Program in 1994 and that’s when I met my buddy [T].
- My father lived in Crown Heights, so I was able to see him any time I wanted to, I could call him up – daddy, I need to see you – and he would come get me after work or he would tell me how to take the train. That type of thing. But when my father moved to California it was a whole different ballgame. I didn’t talk to my father for an entire year when he went to California.
- I just became a part of WIHS maybe in the last five, six years.
- I didn’t start taking meds until I think ’97. A year after my youngest daughter was born.
- In ’98. Next thing I know I’m looking up at people because I had passed out. And so they’re like – you want us to call an ambulance? So I left there and I went home and I went to bed. My neighbor, her son, and her daughter are literally punching me, they said they was punching me for a good 10 minutes trying to wake me up. I’m like – Okay, I think I need to go to the hospital. She said – I had already called the ambulance.my pressure was 220 over 180. And everybody said the same thing – you should have had a stroke! That’s how I knew God was on my side.
- …but I was the rebel (laughter). Yeah, I was always the rebel.
- I was considered the black sheep of the family.
- Because of my rebellious attitude and things like that, my mother and I have always been in conflict.
- No, I’m in the middle as far as the color is concerned…I’m not Hispanic though… I consider myself to be African-American. I got some other things mixed up in there but I am African-American.
- I don’t know, I guess I just was the type of person I liked to do what I wanted to do and didn’t really care about the consequences of the things that I did because some things I did, I knew I was going to get punished for it. ‘Okay, and…? I mean, You’re not going to kill me for it, so I’ll be all right’ (laughter).
- I hated high school. And it started with the fact that I hated the school that I went to, I did not want to go to that school….I hated high school, I hated it very much so…My mentality was – I’m done with school, I’m not doing this anymore, I’m just going just to be going. Sometimes I didn’t even go.
- And that was because of my rebellious behavior, she wanted to keep me close…
- Did you graduate? Nope
- But my thing was – even if him and I had the same father, my thing is – that’s not my kid. That’s not my responsibility.
- When I get a job, I will contribute to the house. Everybody else in here contributes to the house because they work. You know, I’m still in school.
- I would do the work, and I was good at it. And then when the work cut down to a manageable point, I was able to, I went to my boss – can y’all teach me to do other things?
- I was an exceptional typist. I’m 19 years old, my very first job, and I can type 85 words a minute.
- My teachers hated me in high school because I would show up on Monday, find out what we’re learning for the week, wouldn’t come back until Friday, take the test, get like a 98, sometimes 100, stuff like that. Because I would sit at home and type my textbook
- I was always a big girl, been a big girl my whole life. I’ve had issues with my weight my whole life…
- And then my brother comes along it’s like I’m lost in the shadows…which was fine with me. You know, I didn’t really–Took some of the focus off you?– Yeah. Everybody’s like oh, I’m mad that he’s here because I’m not the baby anymore; I could care less. I really could have. I didn’t really want to be bothered in the first place because whenever you talked to me you never had anything good to say so I don’t want to be bothered with you. So that’s fine with me.
- All of my friends, even though they were living with their parents, their mothers, had children, had boyfriends…so I’m thinking, there really is something wrong with me!
- The thing is, I was kind of like the tomboy of the group because of the fact that I watched all sports. I could sit with the fellas and talk sports all day long. I am a football fanatic, I love football. I even played football, that’s how much I loved football, the only girl on the football team but that was fine with me. So I wasn’t a typical girl. I had my moments when I wanted to be girly-girly and everything like that, but because I couldn’t stand just sitting around, just talking about people, that’s not who I am, that’s never who I’ve been.
- I didn’t want to be a single parent. That was the last thing I ever wanted to be was a single parent. Even though my mother and I didn’t really get along, I know she had it rough. Maybe who I was didn’t make it that much easier for her.
- I knew God was still with me. At the time I didn’t think about it as him leaving me because I didn’t have that type of relationship with God. But now that I’m back on it I’m like – okay I know you didn’t leave me, it was just them.
- I’ve never had any side effects but the fact that I was going to have to take them every day, that was my issue. I don’t like taking medication.
- So you’d been with your husband then for only four years, he’s been in and out of Rikers, you’ve had two kids and what’s happening with you at that point? Where are you at? God’s on your side, but are you on your side at that point? No. I’m focusing on them and him. That’s it. That’s all it is. Just him and the kids. I don’t know how I survived.
- my sisters were angry. Because I went against the grain. It means that I didn’t do things like they did things, I didn’t do things the way we were raised to do things.
- I’m still considered the black sheep. Because my sister was talking to my mother about it and my mother said – well you know if anybody in this family was going to get it, it was going to be Cheramie. Because I got all the big stuff. I had scarlet fever, you know– I never caught the common cold. I caught stuff like that.
- I never understood why people were angry. I understand at that time there wasn’t much knowledge about the disease, people weren’t living that long, and things like that. So – ‘what are you so angry about? I’ll be alright.’ That was my take on things.
- I didn’t really deal with any stigmas when it came to HIV. I was very fortunate about that. Because I’ve heard some stories and I’m so glad I didn’t have to deal with that.
- When I get depressed I stop taking my meds. Sometimes it’s the fact that I have to take the medicine. It’s not always that, but sometimes it’s that. If I stop taking the medicine it’s because I’m depressed about having to take the medicines…and the thing is, I get tired of taking pills. So it’s not just the HIV meds I’ll stop taking. I’ll stop taking all of my meds; that includes my blood pressure meds as well.
- I’m a people-person, I’m an outgoing person but I can be very standoffish and very closed off. I like to stay home most of the time.
- I want to go to college. It seems every time I say I’m going to register, something comes and blocks it. I want to register for Brooklyn College. I want to do psychology, I want to become a therapist. I have a lot of friends who say that I would make a great therapist, I’m very easy to talk to. I can be very understanding, I’m not very judgmental, and things like that.
- I was raised a Jehovah’s Witness, so things were kind of strict in my house
- I had been dealing with strange pains in my chest and my arms area. And at that time I never knew what it was. If it rained really, really hard I would have difficulty moving; if it was really, really cold I would have difficulty moving.
- I kind of quit my job in a really bad way. I got pissed off at my boss. I said, ‘okay. I’m not coming in today. Next time you see me I’ll be coming to get my stuff. Click.
- I think that at the time he was negative when they took the test, but he hadn’t converted…I don’t know if he shot drugs. I know he’s used cocaine, I know he smoked weed all the time. But I also know that he was a ho, that I do know.
- She was trying to have groups with some of us who gave birth around the same time and I would be the only one that showed up. And I would be the only one that showed up because I needed to get out of my house because I felt stuck. Yes, I was very much trapped in my own head. I had a lot of resentment towards my husband at the time, because here I am. Ok, Jehovah’s Witnesses, because I had my boyfriend living with me and he wasn’t my husband at the time, I got casted out. So that kind of put me off by myself as well.
- But when my husband moved in, I would go to work and he’d be hanging out in the neighborhood and he ran into a few people and then when they came to the house they’re like – oh snap! Oh this is your girl? That type of thing. So it bothered me that you and I were friends before he even came along, so this is how you’re gonna to do me?
- I blamed me. Until I had a few people tell me. And I was able to stop beating myself up about that.
- My husband was back in jail, and he was stressing me out. I was doing some illegal stuff for him, transporting drugs into the jail… I was putting weed and I would buy him sweatpants, the ones with the elastic. Yes, and I would put in the waistband and sew it up. One night he’s harassing me because he wants me to come on a day when he doesn’t have a visit. I’m like – Why am I gonna to do that? Your visit is the next day, you can’t wait another day? ‘No.’ All right, fine, whatever.
- So you’d been with your husband then for only four years, he’s been in and out of Rikers, you’ve had two kids and what’s happening with you at that point? Where are you at? God’s on your side, but are you on your side at that point? No. I’m focusing on them and him. That’s it. That’s all it is. Just him and the kids. How are you surviving? I don’t know.
- My husband’s aunt, my best friend’s mother. She wouldn’t let me share food, share plates, share forks, share cups. When I came to the house I had my own plate, my own everything.
- ‘So you wanted me to abort this kid based on a hunch, based on a possibility?’ That’s not fair considering I’ve wanted a child since I was 13 years old. Considering I was taking care of everybody else’s kids. I took care of my nephew, my brother, my niece, was taking care of everybody else’s kid, you know my mother’s way of trying to keep me from having a kid.
- When I got pregnant with my second child my mother was like – how you going to test God like that? I’m not testing God. ‘You got away with it the first time, doesn’t mean that he’s going to allow it to happen the second time, that type of thing.’ I’m like- You know, you’re absolutely correct! But this baby could have something else wrong with it other than HIV. Every time you have a child, there’s a possibility of something being wrong. So if that’s the case, you tested God four times – how about that?
- It’s so interesting to me because I haven’t met anybody here in STAR or in WIHS, or WITS, but I’m in a scatter site program and they got me in a position doing a peer mental program and I met a lot of people through that. And I wouldn’t say they made a big impact on my life, but they have added to my life, they’ve given me more outlet
- …until I was about eight years old. That’s when my parents divorced. A year later my mother had my brother by someone else.
- …my mother and I have always been in conflict. And the older I got, the worse it got.
- When I was younger my mother said she couldn’t understand why her and I didn’t stay close because she didn’t go back to work, she stayed home with me the longest. She didn’t go back to work until I was actually in school. When I was about four years old I went to pre-K and that’s when she went back to work; with everybody else she went back to work before then.
- I did not want to go to that school. My mother made me go to that school.
- I resented my mother because I was like – you didn’t make decisions for anybody else when they went to high school, everybody got to choose their own schools. Why am I so different? She was afraid what I was going to do if I went too far away from home; but I did it anyway, right under her nose.
- She said – well, Cheramie’s not coming back to school, she’s going to get her GED. I said – I am? I’m standing there going, ‘Really? When were you going to tell me this?’ Because her thought process was – you’re going to get your GED, you’re going to get a job, and you’re going to help contribute.
- I have a lot of resentment towards my mother because when both of my sisters were out of school and they got jobs, I understood the thing about contributing to the household, my sister paid the phone bill, my other sister she didn’t work so she was kind of like the maid of the house, she cooked, she did all the cleaning and all of that other stuff. I understood that, but I’m still in school, I get an allowance from my father, and I have to pay for my brother to eat lunch at school. I thought that was not fair at all. And I was very angry about that.
- My mother also made a lot of promises to me that she never kept and I kind of still hold that in me too, I’m trying to work on that.
- I’ve had issues with my weight my whole life, and that didn’t help my relationship with my mother either, because she focused on my weight more than anybody. She never made me feel good about me as I was. She destroyed, she destroyed my self-esteem, I can honestly say that. Because when you’re eight years old and all your mother does is talk about how fat you are and how you can’t eat this and eat that da-da-da-da-dah that’s rough for an eight-year-old you know?
- That’s just who I am, he’s a guest in my home.
- (on her husband) Short, dark, and handsome (laughter). He was like a half-inch shorter than me. And it was so strange because I never wanted a short man. Never ever, ever.
- (on her husband) I met him at my best friend’s house, he’s her cousin… I thought he was just a friend of hers coming by the house. I went back into the living room. Next thing I know he’s coming into the living room and he introduces himself and all this other stuff, we talk and everything, and she asks me if he could stay with me because I was living by myself…I said okay fine, he could stay. I didn’t have a problem with that…Actually I didn’t have a couch, but he took the bed, I was going to sleep on the floor.
- Loretta is hard working at heart, doesn’t let HIV get her down.
– “…You had to go to school or you had to work… I couldn’t just hand around and do nothing” “I was going to fight no matter what”
- She struggles physically, mentally, and emotionally with her aneurysm
“I think I’m coping better with that than I’m coping with this aneurysm that I have. Believe it or not.” “I’m having more trouble with the aneurysm than I did with the HIV and I can’t get it. It’s like something has been lost; you get where I’m going, you know?” “Because with the HIV, I still- like I said I kept going, I still pushed on. With this aneurysm I’m starting to I don’t know, I don’t want to get into that…”
- She feels unaccomplished when she can’t work.
“My accomplishments? I don’t feel like I have none right now. I really don’t.” “I hate that I can’t work now. I guess that goes back to the accomplishments; I enjoyed working now I cant work”
- Brooklyn 80’s
- Downstate getting care
- Started WIHS ‘94
- Diagnosed before “85
- Kings County Hospital
- Bedford Stuyvesant
- June 13 SUNY Downstate
- Bushwick High School Midwood High School
- Mary’s before it closed
- Little Rock Baptist Church
- “I enjoyed meeting different people that was my thing.”
- “I was going to fight no matter what, I was going to keep on going no matter what.”
- “I’ve always been afraid of other people and vice-versa really.”
- *when asked about faith* “Strong. I’m a Baptist.”
- “I love the Lord and I’m a child of God.”
- “But see I was very quiet and I kept to myself a lot.”
- “For me, I had a ball. I was enjoying life really.”
- “We’ve always been close you know, but we’ve never been supportive of one another”
- “I have a companion but not a partner”
- *When asked about building intimacy* “Yes.”
*In reference to Willoughby* “Oh they talked, they really talked down there. Ooh, they put it on the table. This as like in the ‘80’s when I first got diagnosed”
Carol Textual Analysis
- Grew up in Brooklyn, New York
- Piktin between Powell and Junius (part of the neighborhood)
- PS233 in Brownsville on Christopher. First public elementary school she attended in Brooklyn
- Jamaica, Queens. Moved here after fire happened in Brooklyn house
- PS292 on Wynona between Pitkin and Belmont. Next public school when moved back to Brooklyn.
- Maxwell Vocational High school. Attended up until 11th grade when she dropped out for pregnancy at age of 18.
- GED school on Nostrand and Macon. Tried to attend classes but ended up giving up after awhile.
- 57 Willoughby Housing Works (closed down) then went to Housing Works on Pitkin between Fountain and Crystal E NY. Was outed with HIV by brother’s girlfriend who was also in this program.
- Brookdale Hospital was where she was diagnosed with virus.
- Currently in the STAR Clinic. Switched here after having a hard time coping and fitting in at Brookdale Hospital clinic.
- Worked at Home Health Aide for 13 years. Would like to get back to work.
- First pregnancy was accidental in 11th grade
- Was 48 when she found out she had HIV, 2010
- Born in 1961
- 1990 had an HIV test that came back negative, right after birth of youngest son in 1989. Latest HIV test she had taken until 2010.
- Cousin died of virus in the 80s sometime.
- Has been with STAR Clinic for about 2 years
- Mother had 15 children and Carol was some place in the middle. Not exactly sure where she was at in the middle.
- Had a lot of responsibilities at a young age that she does not regret. Had to look after younger siblings.
- Used to keep to herself in school. Didn’t know how to express herself and would fight a lot in school.
- Contracted HIV through a heterosexual partner. Was relieved to finally find out what was wrong with her after being misdiagnosed with asthma.
- Status of being positive was disclosed 2 times. First time by cousin it didn’t bother her, but second time by brother’s girlfriend really hurt her and made her leave the program due to breech in confidentiality (ended up going back to housing works program).
- Currently coping very well with HIV. Doesn’t dwell on it and only thinks about it when has to go to the clinic. Doesn’t think about the virus and goes on living her life. Goes to the clinic ‘faithfully.’
- Coping skills are much stronger now than when first diagnosed at Brookdale Hospital. “They almost killed me before they healed me.” Would always cry when coming to the clinic but now keeps appointments faithfully because STAR Clinic suits her much better.
- Has never had a problem paying for her medication and has taken all doses on time since starting treatment. Has never experienced any stigmas related to her HIV.
- Support system comes from different groups and not from family. They all know she has it but never ask or talk about it. Both sibs and children are supportive of her but not when it comes to dealing with the virus. She is her best advocate.
- Before being diagnosed she was not very happy with herself. Existing but not living. When in the hospital she felt like she was being introduced to herself. Forced to connect with herself, find herself.
- Has not built a lot of intimate relationships with others because for first time in her life she has a strong relationship with herself.
- Main goal now is to get back to work
- Nice neighborhood, everyone looked after each others children
- Parents were from the South. One from South and one from North Carolina.
- Moved from Brooklyn to Queens after a fire, moved back to Brooklyn after awhile and went to a different school. Went to high school up until 11th grade when she dropped out due to pregnancy. Tried to go to GED school but just stopped going.
- Has four children, 2 boys and 2 girls. Never been married
- Cousin died of the virus in early 80s, followed by sister dying (was HIV positive but died of other complications), then niece died of virus, and brother with virus who died?
- Was in the hospital for a month because diagnosed with PCP. Had to clear fluid from the lungs before starting on HIV meds. Youngest son didn’t yet know that his mother was HIV positive. She had a hard time telling him the truth.
- Didn’t like her first health care provider at Brookdale Hospital. Woman was very inconsiderate and caused Carol to switch to STAR Clinic
- Never been incarcerated but went to the precinct once for getting into a fight. Was let out from precinct but very scared she might have to go through the system.
- Was never homeless but lived in poverty as a kid. Very tight quarters with 15 siblings.
1.Coping Process has gotten easier
“My coping skills now is much better and stronger than when I was first diagnosed because I remember I wasn’t at the STAR Clinic. I was diagnosed at Brookdale Hospital and I always say that they almost killed me before they healed me. I always say they almost killed me before they healed me. Every time I used to come to the clinic I used to always cry, cry, cry all the time. But now keep my appointment, I come to the clinic faithfully, even though I know what I’m here for, I do not stress about it.”
- “I am coping very well with the HIV. I don’t think about HIV except…I really don’t think about it. Only time it come to me when I have to go to the [STAR] clinic, I know what I am here for. I don’t dwell on the HIV.”
- “I don’t think about the virus; the only time I know about the virus is when I come to the clinic. I know what I’m here for. I’m in the STAR Clinic because of it. I don’t think about it, I live my life. I live my life.”
- 2. Strong Relationship with Herself
“Like before I was diagnosed, I say the same thing now, that I never really was happy with myself – I wasn’t happy with myself and I didn’t know why. I was existing but not living.”
- “When I was in the hospital for that month, it was like I was in the hospital to introduce me to me. To connect with me, to find myself, to find myself, to rest and find myself. And my accomplishment now is the relationship that I have with myself. That I don’t have to be in a relationship with a man, I’m in a relationship with myself.”
- “I’m in a relationship that I’ve never been in…and this is a strong relationship. It’s not my time to go outside myself. It’s not my time because I’m in a place I’ve never been; a relationship with myself. My mother used to tell me – good things will come to those who wait, and I never could wait. But it seems like this is my time. And if I ever get into a relationship, it’s going to be a relationship and I didn’t have to go searching, looking for it; it’s going to come to me.”
- “And I am happy. I’m in a happy place with me.”
- 3. Her own support system
“My support system… I’m not going to say my family– Even though they know I have the virus, they don’t talk about it, they don’t ask about it, I get my support from the outside coming through different groups.”
- “I get support on the outside and I always got my support on the outside. Some people can be lucky, some people they don’t discuss, even though they know they don’t talk about it. I remember I used to try to talk to my youngest daughter…she don’t listen, even though she’s grown.”
- “I think I am my best advocate. I remember before, I am my best advocate.”
Pearl – PEARL32_redacted.doc
- Family: Lived in New York all her life with her family.
- “born August 20, 1955 in Brooklyn”
- “grew up in the projects in Brooklyn”
- Strict, religious mother.
- Pregnant in ’73.
- She raised her kids in NY.
- Family was important even from a young age.
- Got her GED after learning Braille.
- Later life had a great and loving husband.
- Has two successful daughters who continue to work for her cause.
- Hardship: Suffered from abuse and drug usage, leading to blindness.
- Did not graduate high school because of pregnancy.
- She thought getting married would be freedom but it was the opposite.
- Her husband abused her and knocked out her retina.
- This lead to blindness.
- Used many different drugs, heroin, crack, cocaine…
- Drugs were the focus, but only after her family.
- Recovery: Didn’t learn she had HIV till much later in life and was supported by her community.
- 6 day drug detox.
- She got an HIV test back in the 80s and didn’t open it.
- Learned she was HIV in 1991.
- Became a Jehovah witness (religious).
- Supported by the HIV community.
- Became a community leader within her community..
Textual Analysis: Yolanda
1) Drug use: Yolanda’s drug use correlates to her contracting HIV and was a big part of her life. It was her way of escaping her diagnosis and the circumstances that had happened and it wasn’t until she decided to go to rehab that she turned her life around.
• “My first neighborhood it was like really not all that great, it was a lot of like burnt down tenements and people in and out of these tenements. Now I know what they were doing in there, they were shooting up, drugs. ”
• “Okay, when I contracted HIV I was, okay I was using drugs”
• “But it didn’t work out like that because this guy, he knew he had the virus”
• “I started using really heavy when, after I became HIV ”
• “I started out doing cocaine. After cocaine I started doing heroin. From heroin I started doing crack and I couldn’t do one without the other. ”
• “Eventually I started shooting drugs in the arm, but I never shared needles with anyone. I always did my drugs by myself. “
• “Well I’ve been incarcerated”
• “I’m proud of myself for meeting my rehab. I went to rehab, I did 13 months”
2) Relationships: The relationships within Yolanda’s life have both helped and have hurt her. She talks about growing up and having to watch her father abuse her mother and then later in life not respecting/treating her first husband well, perhaps because of deep rooted problems within her childhood. Later in life she had to learn open up to people and not isolate herself from life.
• “my dad, he was like really, really strict, he was like alcohol, he a womanizer”
• “He would go out partying on a Friday night, he’d want to come home and fight, beat my momma for no reason at all, calling her names”
• “my husband had passed away and I was really mean, I was really bad to this man, and he was really good to me ”
• “Okay, when my daughter found it, it was one day because I was using, I started using really heavy when, after I became HIV. One day on the elevator and we were arguing you know? I said you know what? I hope I die, I’m HIV positive! ”
• “My support system is my family, my friends ”
• “When I graduated rehab I was so proud! It was a big thing for me. Everybody gave a standing ovation, my son came with his friend and they were right there taking pictures. My lawyer came, my best friend.”
• Talking about sponsor “You don’t need anyone to live your life, to enjoy yourself. Now I’m starting to practice that.”
• “I believe in God”
• “But my children they help take care of me. ”
3) Rising Above: Another theme from Yolanda’s story is rising above the conditions and circumstances that have happened in her life and living with aspirations for the future.
• “One of my goals is to go back to school, you know, take up a course in phlebotomy and EKG, those two they go together”
• “I have tons of bills. I pay my bills. I like to make sure that I pay my bills. ”
• “The main thing that brings me joy is being able to wake up every morning, start my day off early, not 1 or 2 o’clock in the afternoon, early. ”
• “I’m proud of myself for meeting my rehab.”
• “One of the things I accomplished was keeping up my home, doing, living day by day; I still haven’t accomplished everything that I wanted to accomplish but little by little, I’m accomplishing things.”
• “It’s like if I have diabetes or…I know I have to take medication for it, I’m undetectable, which is good. It’s like nothing.”
• “Because, I’m trying to get better… I want to get a good apartment, that’s another one of my goals, to move out and get a better apartment.”
• “But I feel healthy now, I feel more active, I’ve been getting out more.”
• “It was something that just happened, I didn’t wake up one day and say yeah, today I’m going to be infected with HIV. It was something that happened. It really wasn’t my fault because I wasn’t told. The person that infected me, he never told me.”
• “I learned to accept it and I learned if I have to tell the tale, I tell it. It doesn’t bother me. I have to be honest. I’m not going to tell a person – oh excuse me, I’m HIV positive. If they ask I’m not ashamed to say that I do. I don’t care what people think.”
• “What do you think your life would be like if you were HIV negative? I don’t think it would be any, I mean what would my life be like, I don’t know what it would be like. I guess it wouldn’t have been any different, except I wouldn’t have to take medication for the rest of my life! Everything else, whatever happened, it all happened…”
Specific Location Information
• I grew up here in Brooklyn
• My first neighborhood it was like really not all that great
• My second neighborhood it was a shelter at the hotel
• He used to be a lot with this girl that had AIDS in my neighborhood
• I get my medication from the pharmacy
• I experienced poverty, but I haven’t been in a shelter
• I went to a concert, my daughter bought me a ticket for Mother’s Day for this concert, I had a great time by myself you know?
• I like to run, jog around the park, drive around in my car.
• I went to rehab
• One of the things I accomplished was keeping up my home
• When I first got evicted I lost…by the time I went to pay my storage they had already put my stuff up for auction.
• One of my goals is to go back to school
• The household I grew up in, it was a little stressful because my dad, he was like really, really strict, he was like alcohol, he a womanizer… it was horrible
• I graduated from public school, then middle school, I graduated from high school. I went to college but I dropped out.
• Once I graduated from high school I felt like – oh now I’m free, I can do what I want to do you know?
• My husband had passed away and I was really mean, I was really bad to this man, and he was really good to me
• I had a brother that died of AIDS
• I learned to accept it
• With time my viral load went down to undetectable. That was one of the happiest days of my life when she told me that!
• I always did my drugs by myself.
• Well I’ve been incarcerated
• My support system is my family, my friends
• Joy is being able to wake up every morning, start my day off early
• I’m proud of myself for meeting my rehab
• One of my goals is to go back to school
• But my children they help take care of me
• I believe in God, I have prayed a lot
• But I feel healthy now, I feel more active, I’ve been getting out more. I go to church all the time.
• Everything else, whatever happened, it all happened…
Transcript with Carol
- Became self confident
“When I was in the hospital for that month, it was like I was in the hospital to introduce me to me. To connect with me, to find myself, to find myself, to rest and find myself. And my accomplish now is the relationship that I have with myself (crying). That I don’t have to be in a relationship with a man, I’m in a relationship with myself.”
- Her best advocate
“My support system… I’m not going to say my family– Even though they know I have the virus, they don’t talk about it, they don’t ask about it, I get my support from the outside coming through different groups. I am my best advocate.”
“I had a sister die, she had the virus; I had a niece die of the virus. The first one died was my cousin, that was in the early-‘80s. Then I had a sister die. But my sister, she died from other complications. She didn’t die from the virus. But my niece, she died from the virus because I guess when she got her results she didn’t let nobody know it, she was keeping it to herself. I think stress and the virus killed her. And I have a brother right now living with the virus.”
- Childhood home: Carol grew up in Brooklyn, NY but doesn’t remember the exact address. It was a nice neighborhood, with everyone looking out for each other – “village raises a child”
- Household: Mother had 15 children. Carol was somewhere in the middle but she doesn’t remember where exactly. Father had 17 children (2 on outside). All born in Brooklyn except for one in the South.
- On Pitkin between Powell and Junius.
- Brookdale Hospital: Diagnosed/ told her youngest daughter that she had the virus there for a month being diagnosed with PCP third week: tube in my side to drain the fluid out of lungs.
- Support System: 57 Willoughby St (Housing Works) went to Housing Works on Pitkin between Fountain and Crystal in East New York after closing down in the art room.
- Home Health Aide – worked there for 13 years
- STAR Clinic: transferred after doctor made her feel rushed everytime she described her symptoms been there for about 2 years
- Born in 1961
- Diagnosed in 2010 (age 48)
- ’85 was the first test
- ’89 was the last time she had a HIV test (coming back negative) because she was pregnant had to wait two weeks for the results
- Her cousin died in the ‘80s when the virus first came out
- 15 years – her niece kept her diagnosis to herself
- In the 70s – tried cocaine at a party but didn’t like the way it made her feel. “Weed was her thing.”
- No later than ’79, someplace in the ‘80s – Realized/witnessed her children’s father was doing crack, had probably two kids at that point, they saw he was hooked.
- I used to stay inside myself. I didn’t know how to express myself.
- “I am my best advocate.”
- “Like before I was diagnosed, I say the same things now, that I never really was happy with myself – I wasn’t happy with myself and I didn’t know why. I was existing but not living.”
- “When I was in the hospital for that month, it was like I was in the hospital to introduce me to me. To connect with me, to find myself, to find myself, to rest and find myself. And my accomplish now is the relationship that I have with myself (crying). That I don’t have to be in a relationship with a man, I’m in a relationship with myself.”
- “And I am happy. I’m in a happy place with me.”
- “It’s not my time to go outside myself.”
- “a village raises a child” – her childhood neighborhood
- “no change” – her family finding out she had the virus
- “I come faithfully” – going to the clinic
- “they almost killed me before they healed me” – being diagnosed at Brookdale Hospital
- “Mommy, we’re going to get through this, we’re going to get through this.”
– Carol’s youngest daughter
- “That’s when they put a tube in my side to drain the fluid out my lungs and when I got on HIV meds it was like, I never forget, it broke my face out real bad, real bad. And I remember my youngest son said – mom, mom what’s wrong with your face? It was in the summertime and I told him it was the heat.”
- “Mom, mom they keeping you in here this long? And you running fevers and they don’t know what’s wrong with you.”
– Carol’s son
Importance of family / selflessness
The idea of selflessness and protecting her family comes up many times throughout the interview. Jeanette worked in healthcare because of her innate helping nature, and constantly talks about how despite everything she got mixed up in, she always wanted the best for her children. She says that she wanted every child that she had, and she never wanted any of them to end up homeless or in the system. It’s very obvious that she cares deeply about her family.
- I guess it was an innate nature, just to be able to help people. Because people need to be taken care of.
- (about her mother)…”she’s always had a sense of community and responsibility when that’s something she kind of instilled in us as children. And then we later on took up the torch so to speak, because your community is only going to be as good as you help to make it, period point blank. That’s that. That’s what I learned. “
- But she never saw me smoke though. She knew I was smoking but she never saw the pipe in my mouth, never saw me in a sexually compromised position.
- This child is in the system, that’s something I never wanted for my children, any child that I decided to have I had because I wanted. Because if you don’t want children you don’t have to have them.
- My daughter had the best of everything, you understand? From a child. She had the first line, best of everything.
- I wanted to raise my children, I wanted my kids. Because if I didn’t want them I wouldn’t have had them. I can’t just leave them out there in the world.
Confidence / Pride
Throughout the interview, Jeanette talks with confidence and pride about her past. She doesn’t shy away from saying that she was acting crazy when she was involved with drugs, but makes the point several times that she never stole from anyone and tried to remain independent even when she was homeless and had lost her children. She doesn’t blame her struggles on anyone but herself, and it’s this confidence and pride in herself that eventually allows her to overcome her addiction.
- I’m a diehard Brooklynite, and I’m a little bit disappointed right now with all these high rise buildings going up in Brooklyn. This is not Manhattan; this is Brooklyn!
- I’m still using, I’m not working, I’m turning tricks. But I never stole nothing from nobody.
- I didn’t come home a broke bitch with a wet ass and nothing to show, un-huh, I came home I was full, I had drugs, and I had money.
- Listen, I done never need anybody to help me do my drugs, I can do my drugs all by myself.
- I got this chair as an albatross around my neck, and it makes me angry.
HIV as a turning point
Jeanette discusses the fact that after she got diagnosed with HIV and went on one last drug binge, she never got high again. She detoxed, got involved in the WITS study, and her life from that point really turned around. She developed good relationships with her kids and still has strong connections to her family. Despite being tied to a wheelchair, she feels comfortable with her life. She also has been involved in a healthy relationship for the past 22 years.
- I got back there, got my baby, got in the cab, went back to the shelter and I never got high again after that. I really started to pay attention to reorienting myself to live in an active world. Because people are going to drink, they’re going to drug; the thing is, you have to choose not to. I had to reprogram myself to learn how to do that. Eventually it worked and I gave birth to [J] January 22, 1992.
- My thing was – when detox is over, what am I going to do and where am I going to go? After that weekend that I was supposed to get out, they held me an extra day because I told them – where am I going from here? So they held me an extra day. [A] talked to the social service department in the Women and Infant Transmission Study because that’s how I got plugged into Downstate. They were running this program for pregnant women that were positive at that time. They had a study going on; she asked me if I wanted to be part of it and well, a smart person would think – okay, this where you’re going to get most of your information firsthand and sooner than later if I join this, I’ll get to learn a lot more about what’s going on a lot quicker than I would anyplace else.
- And then my mate that I’ve been with for over 22 years, Mr. [R] (I call him Mr. [R]), a sweetie. We’ve been together for over 22 years; he’s taken care of me and my sons very well.
- Columbus, Georgia (where her mom was from)
- Fort Benning Army Base (where her mom worked in the library)
- St. James Place (mom’s first home in NY)
- Veterans Hospital on 23rd Street and First Avenue in Manhattan
- Brooklyn, NY
- Clinton Hill
- PS20 on Adelphi Street in Brooklyn
- Rothschild Junior High School
- Bay Ridge High School
- John Jay High school
- Bushwick (trains from there to Brooklyn)
- Seventh Avenue
- St. James Methodist Church on Dean Street (where she was married)
- 415 Evergreen Avenue (her apartment)
- “Some hotel on Long Island”
- Camp LeJeune (first husband was stationed there)
- “…factory in North Bergen, NJ” (talking about a Job she had while husband was stationed in the Military)
- “…raised in a mixed environment Clinton Hill and Fort Greene, not the projects; I wasn’t raised in the projects”
- “…Kentucky Fried, Big R Supermarket…” (jobs she held once divorced from husband)
- Richard Bushwick Senior Citizens Council, Inc. on Stanhope Street
- Ridgewood, Queens
- Empire State College (where she went to school to study labor law and history)
- Crown Heights (started smoking pot regularly with people there)
- “…Health and Hospitals, HHC, as an office aid title one at one of the satellite clinics for Woodhull Hospital. That was being run on Bushwick Avenue and Chauncey Street.”
- Emergency room, the “crazy part of the emergency”
- The NICU (where her son was being kept)
- the hospital, Woodhull
- “the Justice of the Peace downtown”
- “my house”
- “the South”
- “his [W’s] brother’s house”
- “…back up Linden Street from Central Avenue”
- “Long Island or some damn place”
- New York City
- “that place on Court Street […] by Joralemon […] it was an abortion clinic”
- “my little hangout spot, my girlfriend’s mother’s house”
- “a health department on Central Avenue in Bushwick”
- King’s County detox
- Cumberland Hospital
- Evergreen and Palmetto
- 1955 (born)
- 1960’s (lived in Brooklyn)
- 1961-? (went to PS20, Rothschild JHS, and John Jay High School)
- 1971 (pregnant w/ first daughter)
- April 8th, 1972 (First daughter was born)
- Vietnam war Era (first husband in war)
- 1976-77 (Divorced first husband)
- 1982-83 (Recruited / organized for 32BJ)
- 1985 (chairwoman of the Area Policy Board, raising daughter and working a full-time job, also started getting high on the weekends)
- 1985 (met second husband)
- 1987 (First son born / second child)
- 1988 (married for the second time)
- 1989 (pregnant with & gave birth to third son)
- between 89 and 92 (when she thinks she got HIV)
- 1992 (pregnant with last son/5th child)
- January 22, 1992 (gave birth to last son/5th child)
- 1994 (first WITS)
- I’m a diehard Brooklynite
- I’m a twin.
- But I used to get into some scrapes when I was in junior high school. I always caused the trouble, I swear.
- I learned a lot of things that wasn’t so nice from them white girls (laughter), excuse my French. I learned how to put on makeup (which I didn’t know how to do before) and everything I learned about drugs back then I learned from them too.
- I had a dream wedding, a white dress, veil, my Uncle [H] walked me down the aisle at a church wedding, reception, all those things.
- Because I don’t need to take that from anybody. I can go home and live with my own mother.
- I don’t need nobody else abusing me.
- I was always raised in a mix environment so I never felt the kind of way about my own blackness…or somebody’s whiteness for that matter. I was always raised in a mixed environment and I was taught that if you had an issue with somebody, you don’t like somebody, you don’t like them for the quality and caliber of their personality! That’s where I drew the line with everybody.
- I was raised with a nurse all my life, you’re practically…I guess it was an innate nature, just to be able to help people. I didn’t have a problem with that. Because people need to be taken care of.
- I felt that this is a step forwards and blacks starting to have a voice in the political process that we fought so long to have and people like Martin Luther King and Malcolm X, the Kennedys
- At some point I did kind of give in, and it’s a speedy high and the rush was like nothing you could imagine. I was off to the races after that.
- I’m smoking in the bathroom, people are watching me waste away, because I was never no skinny girl, always a healthy looking girl. My skirts are like swimming…oh gosh. All of that came to an end at some point. I stopped going to work because I’m too busy getting high, and whatnot.
- Now I’m devastated because now I can’t control myself because I’m getting high, now I’m pregnant with this baby…what am I going to do?
- I went back to using when I got out because somebody showed up with a fresh package, and that’s how it goes, you got your own crib, somebody’s coming over to get high.
- And I was a speed freak and I was craving it, chasing it 100 miles an hour. It was as simple as that. And it wasn’t because I didn’t know any better; I liked it. I just liked it.
- I smoked myself into losing my children and homelessness
- I never stole nothing from nobody. […] But I ran amok, I really did.
- I’m still getting high 100 miles an hour so [my husband, W] and I are having an off and on relationship and whatnot, and I’m still acting crazy.
- I didn’t come home a broke bitch with a wet ass and nothing to show, un-huh, I came home I was full, I had drugs, and I had money.
- I done never need anybody to help me do my drugs, I can do my drugs all by myself. You understand?
- I’m still getting high, acting crazy
- I really know better. You know better, and I wanted to do better, I wanted to raise my children, I wanted my kids. Because if I didn’t want them I wouldn’t have had them. I can’t just leave them out there in the world. I’m still dipping and dabbing, but I’m going every night before curfew back to the women’s shelter for pregnant women. We’re starting to talk about treatment…
- When I went back for the consult after and I was told I was HIV positive, I went berserk. I tried to put my hand through a brick wall because I was like devastated. I’m dead now; I’m a dead bitch with a baby in her belly. I just saw the end of my life flash before my eyes. […] all I saw was a death sentence on the words positive and HIV. […] I didn’t see any future after that. So I went on a little bit of a binge.
- I feel now that I’m in this [motorized wheel] chair that I have a healthy mind trapped in a body that’s not working that good for me, and I got this chair as an albatross around my neck, and it makes me angry.
- It’s great. I’m loving it. I just take a day at a time. Right now, my world is…I don’t really need anything. My shelter is stable, I have food in my house, got my remote control and a flat screen TV and cable, I have my motorized wheelchair and I don’t feel trapped in my house anymore, I can get in my chair and go out, so mobility was a big issue. Even though I’m not walking like I want to be walking, I can still have access to the outside world and my mobility issue has been taken care of a little bit. And I’m still loved. My mother loves me, my twin sister loves me, all my children love me, all six of my grandchildren love me, I have three great-grandchildren and they love me, but they don’t know about HIV and AIDS.
Friends R and D:
- We used to hang out in this basement with this black lights and all kind of craziness
Home without first husband (while he was stationed):
- I didn’t keep up with the other places he went. I really didn’t keep up with that. He came home off and on when they’d get leave and stuff like that. I remember driving down with one of high school friends to drop him off at a Marine base. And, um… he got out. I was living in the apartment with his mother and brother. I had my own space, my own room and everything you know. And my daughter and I were there. But my mother-in-law was alcoholic and she always wanted me to go buy alcohol for her. If she started getting a little crazy I wouldn’t go get it. We had a falling out at one point. She asked me to go get some alcohol for her and I refused. She slapped me and I slapped her back, she fell on the coffee table, I got my baby and left and went home and I never went back.
- One thing she always said though – you make a bet, you cover your bets, otherwise don’t play.
- One day for some reason he just pulled all of that stuff out of him and he was kicking and screaming on his own after that every day since, he been giving the world hell (laughter)
- My son [V], he’s been a blessed child by God. Truly God has carried this boy from the day he was born. He’s a blessed child through God’s eyes, because I didn’t nothing to help him along in the sense of – being correct when you’re pregnant, this and that.
- And I understood that because [V], of course was a preemie and would need certain things along the way.
- My daughter was the only grandchild for a very long time. That bat was spoiled rotten.
- She was in middle school. But you know when they turn like 13, 14 they want to try you.
- My daughter had the best of everything, you understand? From a child. She had the first line, best of everything. That’s why at 44 she’s still got the worse case of entitlement I ever saw in my life (laughter). We can only blame ourselves; I can only blame myself, my sister can only blame herself; my mother can only blame herself – because my daughter was the charmed one. And she still is.
- I met this guy named [W] and oh man, he rocked my world! Oh my God! Good Lord, now I get goose bumps, God rest the dead. At any rate, we had this stupid chemistry between us. He wanted to get married, I’m getting high.
- He would drink alcohol but that really wasn’t his thing. […] Later on I believe it was heroin. Because he was in jail for murder before I met him, because I met him when he came home, he had killed somebody in the South and he was just getting out.
- …my twin sister always had to rescue me because she was the meanie of the two…she would step up to the plate and rescue me, you know?
- My twin sister and I, because of course she blames me for her starting to get high on everything…
- My sister was always, she had more man in her sometime, you got your feminine and your masculine side of your personality
- Finally [W] was born and of course he had a positive tox…I got to feed him and hold him and bond with him a little bit in the hospital, but I was not able to take him home.
- My mother has always been an active person, she’s always had a sense of community and responsibility when that’s something she kind of instilled in us as children.
- She was strong and being a mother and supportive
- She has been the backbone of this family forever. […] She is the monarch of the family; at 81 years old she still remains the monarch of the family. That’s where we get our strength from.