"My name is Sergey, I am 32 years old and was born in a small village in the Mogilev region of Belarus. My father was sent to prison when I was 6; my mother had an alcohol problem and was disabled; and my brother and sister had issues too. By the time I turned 15, I was already in trouble with the police and, when I was 16, I served my first juvenile sentence for attempted robbery. That was the start of it all. I have been in prison for most of my life ever since.
I am not good at writing, but I want to tell you about what happened about a year ago, when I was serving a sentence in Shklov Prison Number 17. Yuri from ACET Belarus came to see us. Lots of different people used to come and see us in prison, with concerts and theatre performances and the like, but this person made an impression on me. He talked about what was worrying me all the time. He grew up without a father, like me. He isn’t tall and wasn’t popular with the girls at school - just like me. I understood that his life was a bit like mine.
When Yuri started talking about HIV and how to avoid it, it was something I wanted to hear about. There was a whole group of people living with HIV in our prison, and everyone else treated them as if they were leprous. They were scared of them. Yuri showed a few videos, a cool cartoon and some projector slides which were very clear and understandable.
The only thing I regret is that I didn’t know about HIV earlier. I am HIV+ and I don’t know how I got infected. Most probably it was through sharing a syringe when I was doing drugs before getting into prison. I must have caught it off somebody. I have had TB and hepatitis as well. I didn’t get therapy regularly when I was in the juvenile centre, and my health got worse.
I learned loads about how to live well with HIV from those meetings with Yuri.
Just before I was released, Yuri came to the prison, and I asked him to pray for me, that I wouldn`t give up after I got released. When he prayed, I felt like I could do it: get released and became free from addiction. When I got out, I decided to pull myself together.
I live in Minsk now. I rent a flat and work for a private company. I work with leather – making purses, belts, wallets and other things like glasses cases. I`ve got a girlfriend who knows that I have HIV and have been in prison. She knows a lot about HIV too, as she worked in a rehabilitation centre in Ukraine. She says we can get through everything together. We are even planning to get married.
I thank Yuri for his help and for those meetings, and I am especially grateful to God for helping me to break free from alcohol and drug addiction."