Michael Burtch: Can you describe your arrest? What happened?
Steven Boone: I was at a friend’s house, just chilling, when I received a phone call around midnight on May 5/6, 2010. The call showed up as a private number. It was Sgt McGetrick of the Ottawa Police Service. She explained to me that she needed to speak to me. I asked if it could wait until the next day, and she said that it couldn’t wait. I became concerned and asked her point-blank if I was under arrest, and she said, No, she just wanted to talk, then I would be free to go. We arranged to meet at a Tim Hortons at 12:30am. I had left my car at home, so my friend drove me to the Tim Hortons. When we got there, there was no sign of the police, so we decided to go through the drive through and get Iced Caps. By the time we got to the window, we were surrounded by a SWAT team and I was arrested.
MB: You’ve now been in jail longer than you’ve been HIV-positive. Can you tell me a bit about what life behind bars has been like for you over the last 12 months?
SB: It’s been difficult. Most of the people I meet are career criminals, drug addicts and violent offenders. Since I’m none of these, and I don’t consider myself a criminal, I don’t really feel that I fit in with those around me. I’m forced to associate with people I would not usually associate with, which causes me great anxiety on a daily basis. The food served is below standards, and the jail guards treat inmates like we’re cattle. This experience has been the most humiliating and degrading experience of my life.
MB: You’ve had your name, picture, sexuality and your HIV status released by the Ottawa police to the media. How has that impacted your experience behind bars while you await trial?
SB: It has seriously impacted my experience behind bars because I have experienced homophobia and discrimination in relation to my HIV status by both fellow inmates as well as jail staff as a result. I also spent several months in segregation as a result of the publicity in my case. I’ve also suffered from verbal death threats, physical assaults and sexual abuse, all unprovoked, by other inmates and even corrections staff. Despite being in “protective custody,” I haven’t felt very protected. By releasing my name, picture, sexuality and HIV status, the Ottawa police put my life in unnecessary danger and caused many dangerous events to take place. Because of this, I’ve had to be moved to Maplehurst, a jail six hours from Ottawa, in Milton, Ontario, where I can maintain a low profile and remain safe. This was something I had to request.
MB: What’s been the impact on your friends and family since the release of the details concerning your charges?
SB: It’s been difficult, especially for my family, mostly because I’m still incarcerated and because of all the publicity. Everyone in my family has been very supportive. My mom tries to make it to my court appearances as often as possible, as do my sisters. When I’m in Ottawa, they all try to visit as much as possible. Unfortunately, inmates are only allowed two visits per week. Initially, the Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre was often turning away my family and friends who would try to visit. My mom, who would drive an hour to see me each time, was especially upset by this. Another issue is that inmates are only allowed to make collect calls, which generally causes outrageous phone bills for family members who have landline telephones (as cellphones do not accept collect calls).
MB: I was shocked when you told me that Public Health served you with a Section 22 after you were already incarcerated. What kind of support are you getting around your HIV status from behind bars, agency or otherwise?
SB: As you know, Michael, I’m in regular contact with the AIDS Committee of Ottawa, and the staff there have been really supportive since my arrest. I have also been receiving support from PASAN (Prisoners HIV/AIDS Support Action Network) surrounding my HIV status. I have a caseworker with PASAN named Mooky, whom I speak to over the phone on a regular basis and who comes to visit me at the jail whoever possible. PASAN is a great resource for inmates living with HIV, and they even put out a newsletter called Cell Count for inmates. Cell Count brings HIV/AIDS awareness to the prison population, as well as prisoner rights information. Inmates are encouraged to submit artwork, poems and their own thoughts; there’s also a pen-pal section. Anyone can check out the PASAN website at pasan.org.
MB: You started HIV medication while imprisoned. Have you been regularly receiving your doses? Have you been experiencing any side effects?
SB: Yes, I started HIV medication in September 2010 after asking for several months to be placed on them. I’m only actually taking one pill a day. It’s called Atripla. The only side effect I’ve experienced is vivid dreams, [but] my HIV specialist says [I’ve reacted] very well to the medication. My viral load is now undetectable I am very happy to report. There have been a couple of instances while being transferred back to Ottawa where I was denied my HIV meds. I’ve brought this up with Mooky, and he assures me that the next time I am transferred, he will make sure it doesn’t happen again.