Just recently I came across a story in PARN’s newsletter which I found totally riveting. It’s rare, after all, for a client of PARN, a Peterborough-based AIDS Service Organization I have strong attachments to, to want their story to be told. But Dave Brodrick is clearly no ordinary client. He has given permission for his story to be told here.
Dave is forty-two years old. He is from Toronto. He was adopted and at the age of twelve he ran away from home. He started injecting drugs after he tested positive in 1990. Dave was the first peer councilor for inmates with HIV in a federal penitentiary in Ontario
While out of prison, Dave's story was featured in the 2009 CBC Documentary “Staying Alive”, about InSite, the Vancouver safe injection site which has had a stormy legal history. (PositiveLite featured that documentary in a recent post about InSite that you can find here. In it, Dave speaks eloquently and movingly about his dependency and its consequences, his segment of the show is here. Check it out; you'll get a real sense of the intelligent, emotional and conflicted man behind the name.)
Two years later and Dave is in Warkworth penitentiary, just a few miles from where I live, serving a sentence for robbery. He agreed to an interview with PARN's Dylan DeMarch, dealing with the issue of HIV-positive inmates and the difficulties they encounter inside. Dylan did a beautiful job of writing it, so there is little else for me to add. So here it is . .
"Dave Brodrick admits that during his first prison experience more than 25 years ago he would be cruel to fellow prisoners if he knew they had HIV. "I was harsh" he says, "very harsh. Because I was ignorant. The stigma that surrounded people living with HIV in our communities was amplified inside the prison walls."
"Two-and-a-half decades later, and not a lot has changed. "I guess it's a bit better, but you still hear the comments from prisoners and guards" says Brodrick". The one major difference is that now some of those comments are being directed toward Brodrick, rather than coming from him."
"Diagnosed with HIV 20 years ago, Brodrick is now one of thousands of people living with the virus in Canadian prisons. The rate of HIV infection is nearly 4.6% in Canadian prisons, which is 15 times greater than in the community as a whole, according to statistics released by Correctional Service of Canada in 2010."
"Since March 2010, Brodrick has been serving a robbery sentence at the Warkworth Institution located 60 km southeast of Peterborough. Warkworth is a medium-security facility and with a population of 580 prisoners is the largest federal correctional institution in Canada."
"Chris Ciceri began working with Brodrick shortly after he arrived at Warkworth. As PARN's Prison Support Worker, Ciceri visits regularly with Brodrick and other prisoners living with HIV/AIDS at Warkworth, as well as prisoners at Central East Correctional Centre in Lindsay, Ontario. PARN has offered its Prison Support Program since 1992, providing advocacy, health education, counselling and support for the day-to-day challenges for men and women at the two prisons in PARN's catchment area."
"Ciceri sees first-hand the difficulties that face HIV-positive prisoners. "It's not cool to have HIV in prison," she says. "There is ostracism and abusive comments from the other prisoners. Many prisoners choose to not disclose their status to health-care staff for these reasons and end up not receiving the medical treatment they need while in prison.""
"Warkworth has the highest rate of known HIV positive prisoners in Ontario's federal prisons, not including the many prisoners who keep their status to themselves. Brodrick is open about his status and receives basic treatment in addition to the support he receives from PARN. However, the care he gets is minimal compared to what people living with HIV have access to in the wider community."
"Pain-management is a major concern for our clients in prison", says Ciceri."Prisoners don't have access to the same pain medications as they would in the generalcommunity.” People living with HIV/AIDS also have unique nutritional needs and prisoners have to purchase their own vitamins and additional food from the canteen with little or no income."
""It's a struggle to get anything in here," says Brodrick, "and the treatment isn't really adequate. It is better than it was 20 years ago, and there is more access to specialists, but it is still not enough." For example, Brodrick is usually prescribed Tylenol 3 for pain management, even though he contracted Hepatitis 10 years ago and the acetaminophen in Tylenol 3 causes further damage to his liver."
"Brodrick's sentence ends in June and Ciceri is currently helping him plan for life once he is released from prison. "I do release-planning with anyone who will be living in the 4 Counties once their sentence is completed. I help find housing and put people in touch with the health care services they require, such as the weekly Positive Care Clinic at PARN." If prisoners are released outside of PARN's catchment area, Ciceri will help them connect with a local AIDS Service Organization."
"Brodrick is looking forward to his release and a chance to start over, but he hopes that changes are made inside the prisons once he is out. "I have personally witnessed the same syringe being used for the last nine months by so many different people," says Brodrick. "They give us condoms and lube, so I don't see why they can't have a needle exchange.""
""These prisoners are eventually going to get back into the community,"he adds. "They will be transmitting HIV on the street.""