I’m the person who thought I would kick the bucket from addiction in that crack house, where I lived and died on a daily basis, seven years ago. I’m the person who had a good job but couldn’t get to it because I was stuck in that crack house, where I lived and died on a daily and nightly basis. I’m the person who finally got arrested in a drug raid at that crack house where I lived when the Narcotics Unit moved in with their SWAT Team. I’m the person who landed in jail with a bail that was way out of the reach of my family, so I sat for six months (had to remain in jail). I’m the person who took a test for HIV while I sat…whose results came back positive, compounded with an AIDS diagnosis. I’m the person who would lie in that cell at night and instead of dreaming I entertained thoughts of death and dying...not by way of crack this time, but by way of HIV. Contemplating the “Hell Fire" because I had contracted AIDS, gotten myself hooked on drugs, now I was sitting in jail facing a load of felony convictions...and I was a Muslim. The only thing I was certain of at that time was how close I had been drawn to the Hell Fire. I’m the person who had made a shambles of her life and decided that death was the only way out. I’m the person who wished for death...but just like all my other wishes that never came true…death never came either. That was seven years ago. But, then they say seven is a lucky number.
Seven weeks ago December 8, 2009, I’m the person who was invited to the White House to participate in a discussion with some of President Obama’s top officials on crafting a National HIV/AIDS Strategy with the specific needs of Women as a priority of that legislation. I knew it was real and I knew I was awake because even in my wildest dreams I never thought this was something I could achieve, especially after addiction, incarceration and AIDS. What a journey, from seven years ago, being that person who was diagnosed with AIDS, drug addicted and sitting in that jail waiting and wishing for a death that never came. What did come however, was a mentor through a prison reentry linkage program That mentor, JHB, came in the person of a formerly incarcerated individual who had beat a drug addiction and who had survived living with HIV for over 20 years. I listened intently to this mentor tell me the challenges he had overcome; who he was now and where he had come from. By the end of that teary eyed visit I had become that person who had gained some clarity of purpose and had experienced an awakening of the spirit. My focus was no longer on how I was going to die in jail with a drug addiction and AIDS. My focus was now about how I was going to live in society when I got out. I was no longer the person looking at where I had been. I was becoming the person who was envisioning where I was going from that moment on. Believe you me; the White House was not a part of that vision.
Released on house arrest, to my son’s home I carried with me the secret about my AIDS diagnosis, but I also carried that spiritual awakening that had came about through my mentor. Even though the courts didn’t stipulate me, I knew I had to get into a drug and alcohol program because my incarceration was a direct result of my addiction. And I knew in order to gain acceptance and become empowered over my AIDS diagnosis (like my mentor), I had to seek out the services and support systems that had worked for him. Sounds pretty simple? For me these were the magic bullets.
Today I am a person who no longer uses drugs, a day at a time. I’m a person who gives back what was so freely given to her. I have become a mentor for people just like me. Incarcerated, in recovery from addiction and in recovery from feelings of inadequacy associated with HIV.
Today I am a person for whom HIV is no longer a secret, but in contrast, HIV turned out to be a situation that has brought significant purpose to my life. Today I am the person who no longer wishes for death, but instead I aspire immortality through being a resonating voice for those behind bars, in addictions recovery and women living with HIV/AIDS who haven’t found their own voices yet or who choose to speak softly.
I’m that person who has gone from scared to fierce, dying to living, secrets to acceptance, addiction to recovery, from nightmares to dreams, from hell and back … from the Crack House to the White House. Waheedah Shabazz-El