That’s what I discovered in Atlanta! Someone Cares is a remarkable organization that provides educational programs and health services—an all-encompassing group. Schmoozing with a volunteer there one afternoon, I learned about another nonprofit that also helps those in need, Jerusalem House.
The next morning, I search the Internet for the organization then head to my 1967 ruby-red Mustang rent-a-car, and set the GPS on my cell. In no time I’m at the white-framed glass door entrance of Jerusalem House being welcomed by one of the residents, Shandora Lane.
Ms. Lane, fifty-one, has lived here for nearly three years, after finding herself and Shannon, her sixteen-year-old son, homeless, after losing their condo in the economic collapse. (For my two-cents worth, Obama is a hero; however, when he says the economy is better, I don’t believe it. Too much contradicts that statement. The middle class is being squashed, but I digress.) Shandora has also faced addiction, arrest, and an HIV diagnosis in 1989 while she was in prison.
Jerusalem House has provided structure, stability, and a safe haven where Shandora can focus on her
health. (She also receives aid from The Ryan White Foundation to cover her meds and from Grady Hospital as well.)
Ms. Lane is seven-years clean and maintains a steady job as a server at the funky retro Landmark Diner. She takes classes to become an alcohol/substance abuse counselor, having a couple years of nursing under her belt as well.
We settle in the bright courtyard, with birds chirping and the wind rustling the chalky-white crape myrtle trees. My gosh, it sounds like a Disney movie. In a way it is. This person won against all odds.
Ruby Comer: I want to know right off the bat: What’s your favorite film and TV sitcom of all time?
Shandora Lane: Oh! [She gets excited, responding quickly.] Philadelphia! I could watch this movie over and over because every time I do I get a new message from it. The main character fought a good fight. As for television, I love The Andy Griffith Show! It’s just a great show about love and you can learn something from every episode.
Good choices. Do you have any idea how you were infected?
Having multiple partners as a result of my drug usage infected me. I was promiscuous and didn’t have safe sex. [She ponders.] But now I know that HIV, my addiction, and my criminal behavior does not define me.
Kudos to you! Tell me about being arrested.
Because of my addiction, I was arrested for forgery, burglary, and an attempt to possess a controlled substance.
In 1989, while you were in prison you found out that you were HIV-positive….
It was very scary, Ruby. When I was diagnosed, I had just been admitted to prison and taken all the necessary diagnostic tests. About three days later, I was called into the prison’s psychiatrist’s office and he said that I was HIV-positive and that all they had to offer was AZT. I was afraid of not knowing what I was dealing with. I was told to take this pill if I wanted to live.
Have you experienced any opportunistic infections?
In 1996, I contracted TB. I was so sick in my addiction that I didn’t even care that I was walking around with a 106-degree fever. My niece picked me up from a crack house and took me to the doctor. The doctor said that I was so sick they needed to make funeral arrangements. [She glances over at the blooming yellow roses.] I couldn’t eat, I couldn’t move and I needed a blood transfusion, but my body rejected it. Everyone expected me to die. I was bedridden for nearly a month. Three days after my fever broke, I was home. The only thing I know is that it was an act of God.
Due to the virus, I also developed neuropathy. I have pain in my legs, too, because of a torn meniscus, though; I don’t think it’s HIV-related. I was an athlete in high school.
What sport did you play?
I used to play basketball and some golf. I played basketball all through high school.
Merciful heavens, Shandora, with my height, I used to dunk those balls in that net like crazy! [She
heartily grins.] Say, how do you approach Shannon, your son, about the disease?
I talk to him all the time about being safe. I use my life story as an example. I never blamed anyone else, only myself. I teach him about not only STDs but that everything in his life will have consequences. He’s seventeen and I know that sex is a possibility, so I keep condoms readily available—not to encourage sex, but to make sure he is being safe. [One of the residents walks by, greeting Shandora.] Sometimes I take Shannon on my speaking engagements, to educate him more about the subject.
It’s undeniable that you are a fabulous Mama! So, tell me, how has Jerusalem House helped you?
Jerusalem House has been the best thing for my son and me! Since I’m a convicted felon, it’s very difficult for me to find housing—even though my last conviction was seven years ago.
I was afraid when I first came here. In the past I’ve lived in homes with HIV-infected residents, but it was sterile like a hospital and we all lived in one room. [She sighs heavily.] To open the door to my own apartment that’s only for Shannon and me was the most amazing feeling, Ruby.
I can only imagine, Shandora….
Jerusalem House gave me hope and has given me so many opportunities to speak about my HIV, teaching others. I’ve never been exposed to another facility that has given me this much help and hope. It has opened my eyes to become a more loving individual and to return that love back to this community.
What have you learned thus far from your journey?
I have fought hard to stay alive. That’s the truth. I now take care of myself spiritually, mentally, emotionally, and physically. [She pauses, taking a breath. Her brown eyes then dart directly into mine and she declares in a staid tone.] This may sound crazy, but I think HIV may have been the best thing to happen to me. It helped me figure out who I am. My future is bright, Ruby!
Ruby Comer is an independent journalist from the Midwest who is happy to call Hollywood her home away from home. Reach her by e-mail at [email protected].