Ain't Got Long To Stay Here: AIDS-Infected Black and Latino Prisoners Doing Masculinity, Doing Illness and Dying

Laura T. Fishman, University of Vermont

Aids is never an easy disease to endure within prison walls, as AIDS-infected black and Latino men, incarcerated in upstate New York prisons, will attest. When illness has devastated their bodies, they report that they are subjected to the intersection of suffering from the "pains of imprisonment" and even greater suffering from the AIDS virus. In particular, during the stage before dying, AIDS presents a formidable threat to their masculinitiy. My paper explores how physical and mental debilitation impacts upon how AIDS-infected prisoners cope with the conflict between definitions of manliness that pervade various prisons and their growing inability to live up to these prison definitions. Based on in-depth interviews with AIDS-infected and Latino men incarceated within various prisons' general populations and infirmaries, I look at how these men renegotiate a sense of manliness. Preliminary findings point out a variety of ways of "doing masculinity." Some prisoners draw upon elements of the traditional masculine role prevalent in prisons. Others, unable to lean on previous constructions of manliness, transform those aspects of traditional masculinity to make their lives manageable. Others formulate non-traditional conceptions of manhood to deal with illness and dying. How AIDS-infected black and Latino prisoners "do masculinity" has important consequences for their well being and for the kinds of treatment accorded them by prison medical staff and other prisoners.

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Updated 05/20/2006