Image description: Black and white photograph of a black man with mustache, wearing a do rag, a T-shirt, and a bead necklace. He is looking into the camera, his eyes are lined with eyeshadow. His nose and jaw are asymmetrical as if from an injury.

I found out I was HIV positive in 1994, when I was in prison upstate. They were giving out free—I like the word “free”—orange juice and cookies to get your blood work done. A couple days later they called me down to the infirmary. They said, “Mr. Tucker, the test came back positive for HIV.”

After getting out of prison, I caught the chicken pox so bad it almost killed me. I had chicken pox every place but the bottom of my palms and the bottom of my feet. The medicine I was taking, it was 25 pills a day. The pills gave me such bad diarrhea that my—I’ll use a medical term—my gluteus maximus looked like a monkey’s behind. I had to do a genotype to find out what medicines I was sensitive to. The medicine I’ve got now is working pretty good.

I used to go back and forth from prison. The first time was three years, the second time was three to six, for possession and attempt to sell drugs. Then I was on parole and probation and all that. I was running from the cops and from myself, using drugs real heavy. I was in and out of shelters, sleeping in parks and on sidewalks. I was more comfortable out on the street than I was in the shelter, I could watch my back better.

Four years ago my mother died of lung cancer. I watched her every day, seven days a week, as she went from being in a lot of pain to not even knowing where she was, or who I was. I said to myself, “Do I want to see my mother with my clean eyes or my high and drunk eyes?” So, I started getting clean.

Image description: Black and white photograph of Michael’s hands. Michael is sitting with his legs crossed, his hands folded on his knee. His face is not visible. He has a bandage on one finger, and a ring on another finger. His pants are patterned in an African style.

When I met Miss Yvonne from Praxis, she inspired me to do what I had to do. Stop smoking, stop doing crack and alcohol. I’d do anything I had to do to come here to Praxis. When I saw this place my mouth dropped open. I knew that this is where I need to be. I just need a chance to show what I am worth. I moved in last Wednesday, eight days ago.

All of the other places I was in was so small, every time I rolled over I bumped my head. When you’re in an atmosphere that’s closed in, with noise in the hallway, no circulation, you start feeling like that room. Closed in, tightness of the chest. Now I don’t have that tightness in the chest. I don’t roll over and bump my head against the wall. I don’t have to watch where I sit on the toilet because other people don’t clean up behind themselves—pee on the floor, feces on the toilet, stuff like that. Here, the place is my own. Every time I use the bathroom I clean up after myself.

When I tell a person my story, they get a feeling of what I’ve been through. It would make the average person cringe and die. But I’m not going to say, “You don’t know how it is.” Everybody has their own pain.

Image description: Black and white photograph of an urban street corner. A bodega storefront has the sign “Genesis Superette”. A bicycle and two pedestrians are crossing in front of the camera. A steep hill lined with apartment buildings recedes in the background.

Images © A. Jesse Jiryu Davis