X was convicted of grievous bodily harm through the reckless transmission of HIV, and was sentenced to 32 months in prison in June 2006. She told her story to Positively Women Magazine:
Sometimes you take the wrong turn in life; you can get lost but hopefully you find or work yourself back on track. It’s taken nine years and cost me my liberty, job, mental, physical, and emotional health, plus a year away from my daughter”s life.
My name is X I was diagnosed with HIV in 2001 and literally shut down.
I lost my freedom and anonymity in this world, which still has repercussions. Will it all rear its ugly head again one day? Will somebody remember? This is my biggest fear. ‘Criminalisation’ increases stigma and punishes vulnerability by assuming the worst about people it victimises.
The investigation surrounding my case felt like a ‘personal mission’ on behalf of the police and one officer in particular. The intrusion into my home and the way I was treated by the investigating officer was vindictive and uncompassionate and to this day leaves a bitter taste in my mouth.
The investigating officer leaked my story to the media; this led to him being taken off the case. However, he still felt driven enough to show up at court on the day of my conviction. The force need more training in understanding and handling of cases of HIV transmission.
HIV ‘criminalisation’ is the far-reaching consequences, there is no protection for your family. I was forced to disclose my status to my daughter because of malicious gossip that started in the school playground at a time when we were just re-adjusting to life together and at an age, I felt, she was too young to have to deal with this information, though I am happy to say she coped very, very well.
Going to prison was the most alien thing I had ever had to do in my life. Leaving my son tore my heart apart; it left me feeling guilty and eventually redundant as a mother. What if something happened to him whilst I was locked away? I should have been protecting him and I just felt so hopeless. I would wake in a panic asking myself what if he lost that bonding with me? I felt as though I was drowning. In the meantime my child was growing up without me, losing his first tooth, learning to tie his shoe laces…
Like so many others behind bars I believe that I would have achieved so much more by being given a community sentence and getting the correct support and help. However, the vindictive nature of current political legal thinking combined with media frenzied hysteria demanded incarceration; it seems to have made the knee jerk reaction an art form; following rules and regulations that cannot be supported by logic.
There is little of the prison service that makes any sense to me, it’s a ‘one size fits all’ policy, but common sense tells you this cannot possibly be the case. The prison service is incapable of differentiating between the state of depression and feelings of suicide. It is incomprehensible that people with mental health issues can ask for help, there is none.
I want people to know that losing your liberty is so much more. I want people to know that being sent to prison is to enter a world of fear, anxiety, and daily uncertainty. I remember finding my control, something that only I could switch on and off and not the officers not the prison, not the system and it felt so good… I pushed my fingers further and further down my throat and at last I had learnt how to make myself sick. It was such a release and felt so good! They had destroyed my soul, my relationship with my son and I hated them for the pain.
Having my life constantly in the media made me feel exposed and vulnerable. I was stripped of everything. When inmates gossiped, I felt hounded by the pack mentality, when people do not know the truth they can be very cruel and ignorant it’s a very scary place to be locked in amongst people with ill feelings towards you.
I was rigid with fear at times each day having to try to justify myself to people. I felt I was going insane, totally isolated. Sometimes there were no words for the dark spaces between breaths. Grief was a blanket that enveloped me and nearly suffocated me.
I was luckier than some high profile cases and I soon began to make friends and be accepted on the wing. My relationship with the officers was good and when stories were leaked to the newspapers, they managed to halt the delivery at the gate, although as much as they tried magazines, newspapers still managed to circulate without a total ban on these things it is impossible to detect every story.
What was extraordinary is how much strangers cared. The letters of support poured in. It was touching but confusing and slightly frightening. It is a big responsibility to return so much affection. To know that people you’ve never met and never will can feel so warmly towards you.
I am happy to say that it was fairly easy to readjust to being home and outside again and I had the opportunity to have weekend leave before my release which quashed a lot of fear around the media and my being recognised. Before my release I made sure that I had support networks in place, I had a brief stay at a Respite Hospital, I reconnected with my counsellor and most of all I had Sophie at Positively Women. Sophie had supported me all through my prison sentence. I also made referrals to an eating disorder clinic to tackle the demon I had bought home with me, bulimia. My friends were supportive and with me all the time for the first month.
Sophie was a lifeline for me in and out of prison. I do not believe I could have coped as well without her support it was so precious, without Positively Women I sometimes wonder if I would still be here today! Sophie gave me hope, strength and a way of looking forward instead of continually going backwards. Those were small steps but were to be very powerful steps, knowing that there was support, people whom cared and believed in me helped me to start believing in myself again.
The visits were also a welcome relief from the boring existence of prison life they made me feel like a person again and not ‘that criminal’. I did not like myself feeling down and ugly with HIV and here was a person who took the time and patience to help put me back together again.
Finally the day of my release arrived, I was scared, excited, sad and unsure. My first few days were spoilt by media intrusion trying to get my story, getting in my face whilst out on a school trip with my daughter. I could not believe that they would sink so low, but nothing could take away my daughter again and this was the best feeling in the world! I lost a year of my daughter’s life, how do you give that back? Through guilt and trying to make sure he wants for nothing!!!
Life today revolves around my daughter. I still have dark times where I allow the HIV to have power over me, the days I despise it and question ‘why me?’ Days I think I will never be the same again, days that I have under the duvet and wish that by some miracle it was all a mistake!
I appear confident on the outside but inside there is still a battle raging with low self-esteem and confidence. I lost my job at a company I loved to work for and still miss so very much. I wonder when I will feel confident enough to go out and face the interview process and CRB checks. Until then I try to focus on the positives that have come out of my situation, the family that are back in my life, my adoring and very talented daughter, my trusting and loyal friends and the fact that I am alive and I am FREE.
X was convicted of grievous bodily harm through the reckless transmission of HIV, and was sentenced to 32 months in prison in June 2006.