One of the best nights in the fag tank is the first. But before I get there, let me tell you a story that took place in the big house.
When I walked in with my orange jumpsuit, a gorgeous African-American man came right up to me and stood by my side. He'd made eye contact with me from about 1,000 feet away and stepped over all these other orange bodies lying around like a flattened field after an Afghani opium war. He did that to get to me. Special. He had tattoos and a beautiful cropped afro like Samuel L. Jackson, and he had been in the Towers awhile. He told me that if anyone tried to touch me, he would protect me. I was completely baffled, probably because I was detoxing so bad in my belly that even the most beautiful man in the room felt like one more cold stone.
There were a lot of men in orange jumpsuits, wearing orange bracelets, and at one point there was a line for dispensing medication, and almost all the orange bracelets moved to that side of the room. But my name was never called. I was held in L.A. county jail without antiretroviral medication for my entire stay. The only schedule that L.A.'s Twin Towers Correctional Facility understands is "lights on" and "lights off." But mostly "lights off."
The most beautiful man in the world is African-American. And in jail this has meaning; otherwise I would not bother to mention it. He would just be the most beautiful man in the world, because that is who he is, and by the holy graces, that man is still alive and still just as beautiful. But in county jail it's an important point, because to cross a field of men and come to the side of another man with AIDS who is now detoxing from opiates, no matter how pretty his eyes might be, takes some heavy balls. I was a "wood," a white boy, and the other woods took notice and wondered, "How do we kill him?" The most beautiful man in the world wore an orange bracelet too.
The "F" on my hand was, in prison as in life, a brand that you never want to buy. The cops had painted it on my hand in black Sharpie when they first booked me. That "F" and the orange bracelet spelled "AIDS," and who wants that spit in their face after a fistfight? I couldn't beat any of them, by day or night, because I was pissing out of my ass. My insides were turned out like a goddamn David Cronenberg film from the late '70s, like Rabid or Shivers. When day turned to night and we were all still sitting there. When my stomach settled and I erroneously thought to myself that detox was all over.
After my fifth trip to the can, I asked the most beautiful man in the world if he would like to bed down on the floor. This was jailspeak for "fuck me." He put his arm around me and shook his head "no." What a gift. He put an arm around me that reached to my right thigh. He kept me warm sitting up.
There is no night. There is no day. There are lights that go on and off. I am not a human; I am a weed that the world hates, so they are going to whack me down with fake illumination and peanut-butter-and-baloney sandwiches. They are going to march me to my grave or more time with them, whichever comes first. They have me here, and they will keep me here, even if it kills me. They do not want me to leave, no matter how sick I become, and if I die, they still make more money than the trash man collects, because county jail is a broken system. They can charge the broken state for my abysmal anti-care. They can charge the state to kill me. Which is effectively what they did, or tried to do, but I survived. Many do not have that luxury.
There were orange bracelets in that tank for months who never got in that line. They died on the inside. San Diego has the worst record on inmate deaths in the state of California, but L.A. is not far behind. In county jail you are forced into a vacation from your antiretrovirals, at the expense of the general inmate population. Prison is different: In prison you are forced onto ARVs to protect the general inmate population.
How many of these county men have HIV/AIDS, live in a mental-health-care swamp, and remember nothing? By day five all my memories were erased as I tried to keep my fucking shoulder attached to that filthy green wall. As I tried to march to my 16th jail cell in 72 hours. As I tried to sleep in a room full of Chicano men who threw a pillow under the cot and told me to lie there. (That was actually a very kind gesture, because all the beds were already taken by one or more men, and someone had to give up his pillow to make me comfortable. I didn't know it while I was going through it, but I had just received the single most loving gesture since my lover had waited for me before dying of AIDS.)
Back to that first night. It was the best, and here's why: I was still high. I was so high that I could sleep, something that wouldn't happen again for four days. But when I awoke, it was to that glorious face of Ivory's. I will tell you about Ivory. I could write you sonnets about Ivory, but for now I will tell you only this: If there was a queen bee in county, she was it. She was an oily wasp with Wite-Out-painted fingernails for stingers. I loved her from the moment I opened my eyes. Our stories would intertwine on the outside too. On the street I would kick it with Ivory at Benny's and The Spotlight, two hooker joints. I met her man when so few did; she was that possessive. Ivory and I would meet on 4 and 5 South, Glendale Memorial Hospital, both the psycho and detox wards. Shit, by the time I had finished recovering, our minds had melded to the point that we'd forgotten whose story was whose. Ivory had HIV and hep C, a deadly combo in MRSA towers. But she made it out that time. And she got on AVRs until she disappeared for good.
But I most remember the time when we sat and spoke of our HIV. She had been in for three months and still hadn't received a pill.
In our first encounter, Ivory woke me up, looked right down at me and said, "Faggot, you're gonna stop that snoring or I'm gonna rip your fucking tonsils right out of your fucking throat."