September 17, 2016

Locked Up & Lost: HIV Behind Bars

This article originally appeared in PLUS Magazine.

Spend a little time talking with Bryan C. Jones and you’ll have a hard time thinking of him as average. But, like far too many black men, the 55-year-old from Ohio has spent time locked up.

When Jones was released from an Ohio State penitentiary in 2008 he recalls that a social worker attempted to link him with care, providing him with directions to HIV service providers and giving him a bottle of antiretroviral medication to bridge the gap.

The college-educated, world traveler — who’d been HIV-positive, and in care, for decades — probably seemed like a perfect candidate for the reentry program. But, like thousands of other HIV-positive former inmates, Jones never showed up at the addresses he’d been given.

“I’m not going there,” he decided.

Worse, he discarded the pills he’d been given.

“They handed me two weeks’ worth of medication,” he remembers. “And most people probably did just like me — I left them at the bus station. I was like, ‘Well I’ve got two weeks’ worth, but what the hell am I to do after that?’”

His behavior may seem shocking, but it reflects a startling reality: 90 percent of HIV-positive prisoners experience interruptions in their treatment upon their release from prison. Treatment interruptions can have long-term, negative impacts on the health of those living with HIV. The longer the interruption, the more time the virus remains unfettered, the more damage it can inflict and the greater reservoirs it can establish. More than 60 percent of former inmates report experiencing treatment interruptions lasting two months or more.

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