Recovery from Injustice: An Interview with Ronnie Stephens

by Suzy Subways

From PHN Issue 10, Spring 2011

Ronnie Stephens is an HIV outreach advocate and consultant in Austin, Texas. He has been HIV positive for 10 years and a worker in AIDS services for 14 years. His life’s work is with people who are at risk for HIV because of homophobia, racism, and imprisonment. “I try to target the population that I was locked up with,” he explains. Stephens has been in drug recovery for ten years and gives it much of the credit for his survival. But to him, recovery from drugs is only part of the picture. Like preventing HIV and staying out of jail, it goes beyond the individual. Communities have to do this work together.

Q: What do you mean by “recovery from injustice”?

A: A lot of people who do AIDS strategy don’t really get the idea of social injustice. When they talk about substance abuse and prison, I say, well, half of these kids got beat up down there. They beat you up, and [the prison guards] say, “Well that’s because of what you are.” So what do you have to offer our clients coming out? These kids have been abused. Some of them have been raped, some of them have no family to go to. What do you do for those individuals who are coming back into society and don’t have any family to turn to? That’s kind of traumatizing. That hurts. Continue reading “Recovery from Injustice: An Interview with Ronnie Stephens”

“To Help Our People Through This”

Rev. Doris Green on healing communities from the impact of imprisonment and HIV

Reverend Doris Green, founder of Men and Women Prison Ministries and director of community affairs at the AIDS Foundation of Chicago, has been working with prisoners and their families for decades, and fighting AIDS since the epidemic began. She is organizing a coalition of grassroots community organizations to demand access to condoms in the Illinois state prison system. The condom campaign is a policy demand based on the knowledge that good prison health is good community health. “The people on the inside are the people on the outside,” she says. Rev. Green sees her political advocacy as intimately connected with her counseling work with individuals and small groups, rebuilding the community support networks torn apart by mass imprisonment.

Because of mandatory minimum sentences, discriminatory crack possession sentencing, three-strikes laws and other hallmarks of the “war on drugs,” there are now 10 times as many people in prison than there were 20 years ago. People of African descent represent 56% of those imprisoned for drug offenses but only 14% of illicit drug users. “The disparity makes you think nobody’s committing crimes but African Americans and Hispanics,” Rev. Green says. In the past decade, new policies shut ex-prisoners out of public housing, jobs, and social safety net programs. With so many parents, children, spouses and caregivers removed from the community, the emotional, financial and political support systems of entire communities are disrupted.

Continue reading ““To Help Our People Through This””