By Jeff Balke
By Aaron Reiss
By Angelica Leicht
By Dianna Wray
By Aaron Reiss
By Camilo Smith
By Craig Malisow
By Jeff Balke
The tall guy is a peer educator; a long-timer thought of as a leader by other inmates. He's one of several in the classroom, patiently waiting to share their stories. Well, most are patient. An educator on the opposite side of the room proceeds to tell New Boots just how wrong he is.
"See how you interjecting on everything?" the educator says. "Dude, you asking for them to come to you! You asking for this man to try you...Everybody lookin' for a challenge, baby. You throwin' down a sign!" He points to his own eyes. "As you speak, you speak with your eyes...You're saying, 'This is my conviction,' but I'm readin' your eyes!"
New Boots counters: "Are yougoing to lay down?"
The educator is practically hopping. "Do you see? Do you see it?...You're throwing a flag up! If I was to pick anybody in this room right now to fuck with, it would be you. 'Cause I hear you. And I'm not even lookin' at you, man...You're tellin' everything about you just by your eyes. Your words don't move me, man...it's your eyes, little brother!"
Here's what they want New Boots to learn: that just because you're not a victim today doesn't mean you won't be a victim tomorrow; that you can't just look the other way when a man's being hurt; that the rate of HIV among male Texas prisoners is five times that of free men; that no sex of any kind will be tolerated, because if you didn't come in with HIV, you sure as hell don't want to leave with it.
Daniel Harris doesn't think he'll be leaving prison, but he may have infected some who will be leaving, or already have left.
Even if he does make it out of TDCJ, he's facing a murder rap in Virginia. So he uses his time to write, to try to educate people he believes need educating.
In 2004, he won an honorable mention from the PEN American Center, a prestigious literary foundation, for an essay titled "Prison Sexuality."
"When you have people who are never getting out of prison, they may turn to homosexuality when their need for affection becomes too strong to be denied," Harris wrote. "All humanity needs someone to love and care for...Relationships of this type are long-lasting and, when one is released, can transcend prison walls."
Yet, he adds, "In the close confines of prison, it is criminal negligence on the part of Texas officials not to recognize the need and implement plans for the containment of STD's." He concludes the essay with a list of suggestions, including HIV testing of all inmates upon entry, condom distribution and conjugal visits.
Harris says he's had to choose his battles.
"The only kind of rapes that have ever happened to me are coercion," he says. "More just a choice of tired of fighting. Sometimes you just get tired and it's like, well, might as well, who cares. Doesn't matter. You just get wore down by the whole situation after a while."
He says that most of these oppressors were satisfied after one encounter. If they weren't, Harris had to draw a line. He doesn't want to be anybody's property, and for that he's been called a punk, a "renegade ho."
"I refuse to be a punk," he says. "And you wouldn't believe the fights I've had behind that refusal."
But the fights can erupt over anything, even a Scrabble game. In another essay, Harris describes a guy named D-Town who liked to mess with him when he was laying his letters on the board. Six years ago, when Harris was newly diagnosed and just waiting to die, he decided to teach D-Town a lesson.
"If you keep interfering in my games, I'm going to call you to the shower for disrespecting me," Harris told D-Town. "It'd be stupid to fight over a kids' game."
Ever eloquent, D-Town responded: "Let's go. You ain't said shit."
The essay has them landing in a shower stall out of the guards' sight. D-Town was 15 years younger. But Harris figured he had a weapon more powerful than any shiv.
"My viral load was 100,000," he wrote. "A potent brew."
Then: "On the floor, I got him in a headlock and beat on his face. He tried to claw my eyes to get free and I bit off his finger. He didn't want to fight when the blood started to spurt."
Later on, Harris claims to have gnawed off a guard's ear in a fight. So much blood sloshing around.
"Was he infected? Maybe," Harris wrote.
Back then, his fatalistic attitude really showed. Years of being called punkand wrapping your penis in a bread bag can do that to a man. Rape, lovemaking, sex for trade; it's all there, behind the bars. It can make a man just give up.
"No doubt I gave HIV to someone, but someone gave it to me," he wrote. "Who gave who what first wasn't worth discussing. We all had it."