One Individual’s Fight for HIV Justice
by Tim Hinkhouse
Back in the late eighties, I was living in the San Francisco Bay Area and, at the time, I was deep off into a serious drug and alcohol addiction. I was an invincible nineteen-year-old man without regard for my own safety, or anyone else’s for that matter. My addiction to illegal substances led to meth and IV drug use and sharing needles that resulted in a positive diagnosis for HIV in the early 1990s.
I believe that this was the main mode of infection but I won’t rule out all of the unprotected sex I engaged in with women that traded their bodies for drugs. This was a time in my life that I am not proud of but it is still a part of who I was early on. My HIV diagnosis wouldn’t be known to me until I returned home to Portland, Oregon, and donated plasma as a way to make some money. This was how I was alerted to having HIV.
You would have thought that such a life-changing diagnosis would have made me change my behaviors and it would have forced me to be a responsible adult. Yeah, not so much. I chose not to make any changes to my life regarding my drug and alcohol use and especially my appetite for unprotected sex. Sometime in September of 1991 I made the choice to stop the IV drug use. I kept on drinking and engaging in reckless unprotected sex along with not disclosing my HIV status, which may make me sound like a real monster to those reading this.
My last girlfriend who I was with when I was free—I cheated on her with two other women. None of the relationships that I had ever started were rooted in any truth; it was all lies because I couldn’t even be honest with myself. Internally, I was trapped in my own hell. I really wanted to end the self-inflicted pain that tortured my soul and stop myself from harming the lives of those I came in contact with. I didn’t care about myself, which was outwardly reflected through all of my reckless behaviors.
After my cheating betrayal of my girlfriend she called law enforcement and let them know that I was HIV-positive and sleeping around. I was arrested on multiple counts of attempted murder, attempted assault in the first degree, and reckless endangerment charges. This was at a time when an HIV diagnosis was commonly referred to as an “an automatic Death Sentence”—the early nineties, when there weren’t lifesaving medications available. This resulted in me getting sentenced to more than sixty-five years in prison. I put people’s lives at risk, which I had no right to do. I made this selfish decision anyway. My words are that I never had the intention to harm anyone, but my actions spoke much louder than my words did. I needed to be held accountable.
Looking back at that time in my life, I needed to be given some type of reality check. Going to prison literally saved my life when I refused to take care of myself or look out for the safety of others. This experience has opened my heart and mind to someone other than myself. Now I am all grown up and no longer do I make impulsive decisions, so you can say that I have changed over the past two and a half decades I have been incarcerated.
Since around 2012–13, I have been engaged in HIV advocacy for myself and others, trying to become involved in the movement in society to end HIV criminalization. With outside support from family and friends, I have been able to contact the organizations directly involved politically to make this change.
Because of these contacts, I have been afforded the opportunity to receive via snail mail, valuable information about how I am able to plead my case to the only political person that has the power to do anything for me—the newly re-elected Oregon Governor Kate Brown, to whom I have submitted a clemency application in late 2015. Governor Brown has received several letters on my behalf from people all over the globe asking her to let me out of prison.
Thanks to my petition on Change.org asking for signatures in support of my clemency application and who knows how many handwritten letters were sent directly to the governor, I hope to make progress. My biggest cheerleader/HIV advocate has made this all possible for me! Recently I received a copy of a letter sent on my behalf to the governor from Oregon’s largest and oldest HIV advocacy organization asking for my release. I am truly blessed. I have a very humble heart because of all the help I have received in my quest for eventual freedom. My promise that I have made to everyone upon my release is to become a very outspoken HIV advocate to anyone that needs my help. I will be their voice and their advocate.
I want to encourage anyone reading this to use your time and resources to be supportive of those affected by HIV criminalization. HIV is a treatable chronic infection now and should be viewed as such and not treated like the plague it once was.
Tim Hinkhouse has been living with HIV for at least twenty-nine years this March 2019 and is relatively healthy for his age. Being a long time survivor with HIV has taught him a lot of important life lessons that he probably wouldn’t have learned otherwise. He is a freelance writer with a blog that can be seen at TheBody.com. Contact him by email at [email protected].