Elliott, 21, Bronx, NY

I’m lucky I already had my kids before I got HIV. I became HIV-positive June 16, 2011 in Florida. It was with a real female and the condom popped. She knew she was HIV-positive but didn’t tell me. I was so angry.

Then I came to New York in August, because it was too slow with the medicine in Tampa. My homeboy said he’d get me one of his private doctors, but then someone told me in New York they have a program to help with benefits.

When I came to New York, my girlfriend Honesty and I were looking for a shelter. I stopped at Housing Works, because I heard there was a shelter on Pitkin. I met Johnny, and I asked if it was a homeless shelter. He said it was for people with HIV and AIDS, and asked if I was HIV-positive. I said, “Yes, I am.” After my test results came back, he got me signed up for HASA to get me into housing, and offered me a job. He said I can do outreach to the youth.

My goal is to be an outreach specialist. My Plan B is to drive trucks. My other Plan C is to be a good daddy to my kids. I came a long way where I was when I was a little boy. My life story is a whole different thing. When you live without a mother, and your father passes away when you’re five, staying in the city of Tampa is rough.

I ran away from foster care at the age of 10. I didn’t like my foster care people. They didn’t treat me right. I stayed on the streets, sleeping on benches. How I survived was stealing from Wal-Mart to get clothes and soap to wash my body.

I learned how to sell dope at the age of 11. I didn’t want to sell at the time, but I had to do what I had to do to get my money. After that, I started getting in trouble. I got my first gun, a 9-millimeter, and started using my gun to break into people’s houses. We used to take the TVs and take them to the pawnshops.

I didn’t care about my life. I didn’t have no family. I didn’t have no brother, I didn’t have a mom, I didn’t have a dad. I kept on going to jail. I went to a juvenile program in Tallahassee at the age of 12.

When I went to jail, my first day in Orlando, I got stabbed on the side of the ribs. I  got the mark on my head still. I did the five years, but it felt like I was doing 20 to 25. I didn’t have nobody to talk to, nobody to send me canteen. It was like gang banging.

I got my GED in prison, because when I was a youngin I wasn’t attending school like I was supposed to. But I didn’t want to get locked up again. I didn’t want to be the type of person who keeps coming back.

As told to Diana Scholl.
Photo by Laurel Golio, taken in Brooklyn, NY, 2011
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