Published December 9, 2010
I have now successfully survived AIDS for 24 years.
When I first wrote to The Georgia Bulletin (Nov. 30, 2000 issue) I said that having AIDS has blessed me because it brought me closer to the Lord. But truthfully I did not always feel that way. At first I was an empty, bitter and frustrated teenager. I felt cheated. In my self-centeredness I soon committed a terrible crime for which I have so far served 22 years of a 30-year prison sentence.
When I at last learned to count my many blessings, I decided not to waste my time while incarcerated. I have spent the years bettering myself, earning a bachelor’s degree through correspondence, attending self-help groups, and actively being involved in Mass and other Christian services. But also I try to enrich the lives of fellow inmates. I have tutored and helped inmates earn their GEDs and mentored young men who are angry at the world and themselves. I have assisted individuals in appealing their cases in the law library and encouraged others in support groups. I have helped the chaplain and priest set up for Mass and other church services.
For a period of time, I was incarcerated at Men’s State Prison in Milledgeville, which is a medical prison for long-term chronic care inmates. It houses deaf, blind, crippled, lame, and terminally ill inmates. Often I have asked God, “Why am I still in prison and not on parole? What is the mission you want me to accomplish or learn?” I desire so much to get out and to tell my testimony of surviving AIDS and prison. But now I realize, I do not have to be free to do that. I can glorify God in here just as easily as I can out there. In fact, while I have been asking God’s purpose for me, I have actually been serving Him all along: every time I help someone in and out of a wheelchair or lead a sight-impaired person to a lunchroom table or use my sign language skills to interpret for the deaf or try to prevent someone from arguing with an officer or another inmate. My entire incarceration has been a ministry serving Him. Ever since I changed my attitude, I have been doing His will.
God has blessed me with all kinds of special talents, gifts and abilities. I use my artistic qualities to draw spiritual posters that glorify God, my vocal talent to lead songs at Mass and other Christian events, and I have acted in a dozen Christian-based salvation plays in front of more than 300 inmates. The fact is we all have personal testimonies about our faith that we should be sharing with others, lest God stops blessing us with them. I think we would be disappointing Him if we did not use these blessings to glorify Him and enrich others.
I am a long-term AIDS survivor not because of medications but because God has blessed me with a divine purpose. What is your testimony and with whom have you shared it? What are your special gifts and how have you served others with them? Please use your God-given talents and your testimony to witness to others. There are so many out there who need what you have to offer. In the meantime, I will continue to work with the guys in here.
James, a fictional name to protect privacy, is a 42-year-old Georgia Catholic who has been serving a prison sentence for the past 22 years. The first letter from him was published in the Nov. 30, 2000 issue of The Georgia Bulletin.