Death by Legal Injunction
Robert Hart on the Price of Privileging AIDS
The lady seemed to be very healthy. She lived in Turner Station, an old suburb of Baltimore practically in the water of Baltimore harbor. A very traditional black neighborhood, it has a church of some kind on every corner; and in a way characteristic of the city’s black community, the Christians speak with an unashamed faith that quickly names Jesus in any place at any time.
This joyful lady, young for a widow, made no secret of her love for Christ. It was difficult to believe that she already had been murdered by her late husband. And not only by him, but also by the laws of the United States, as understood and carried out by the Maryland Department of Corrections.
Her husband was imprisoned for a fairly lengthy time, and she waited for him, raising the children by working at menial jobs for small pay, and keeping the house ready for the day on which he would come home. She would take the children as often as possible to the prison to visit their father, reminding them that he was coming home someday. She waited for that day, and it finally came.
Long imprisonment has the unfortunate effect, all too often, of providing men, even virile men, with a temptation they could not have prepared for. After a few years of being away from women, locked up like animals, they find that they are drawn toward other men. This unexpected temptation had overcome her husband during his years in prison. He gave in. He engaged in sexual acts with other men, no doubt only after a very long time of being locked up.
He had a faithful wife at home, a better wife, no doubt, than many of his fellow prisoners. Most of them, if they had been married, found themselves divorced shortly after beginning their term. Perhaps their wives’ action is not hard to understand. Why be alone day in and day out, doing time as a celibate spouse? All too often, to endure proves to be too much for the wife of a jailbird. But not for this Christian woman. Her commitment was not only to her husband, but to her Lord. She waited.
I have always supplemented my income by working on special cases for an attorney who helps uninsured patients obtain eligibility for the Medical Assistance program (or Medicaid). Many of them are strippers on Baltimore’s infamous Block who have become infected with HIV through a life of heroin addiction and often prostitution, and eventually die of AIDS. I suppose someone could, lacking charity, shrug off their deaths as simply the consequence of their deeds.
But this client had lived a virtuous life, from all that I learned about her and her time of trial. This infection was no consequence of careless living. Her husband was a criminal, but that was not known to her until he was caught. He became capable of perverted acts with other men, but this was kept hidden from her. Hidden as well was the disease that had been diagnosed by the doctors at the prison hospital.
To reveal to anyone that a person has AIDS is strictly illegal, and so fearful are medical providers of giving any perception that confidentiality may have been violated, that I have sometimes had trouble getting them to fill out forms even at a patient’s own request, when he needed them to obtain Medical Assistance.
Robert Hart is rector of St. Benedict's Anglican Catholic Church in Chapel Hill, North Carolina (Anglican Catholic Church Original Province). He also contributes regularly to the blog The Continuum. He is a contributing editor of Touchstone.
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