"I've already accepted that I'm going to die, but before I do, I want to see
justice in the prison system. The only way to help me now is to put an
end to rape in prison." These were the words of Bryson Martel,
testifying before the National Prison Rape Elimination Commission in
Bryson, convicted of check fraud, was repeatedly raped and beaten in an Arkansas prison. As a result of those attacks,
he walked out of prison with a death sentence -- not handed down by a
judge or jury, but by the corrections staff who failed to keep him
safe; Bryson contracted HIV because of the rapes.
Last June, he died of AIDS-related illness. "I know I had to pay the price for what I
did, but I've paid double the price," said Bryson before his death.
"That check I wrote cost me my life."
Tomorrow is World AIDS Day, when advocates around the globe will work to raise awareness
about the need for universal access to treatment. Among those with the
least access to HIV prevention and treatment are adults and children
behind bars, resulting in a deadly connection between prisoner rape and
the spread of HIV. Inside U.S. prisons, the rate of HIV is more than
four times higher than in society overall, placing survivors of sexual
violence at great risk for infection. In other words, prisoner rape
constitutes both a public health and human rights crisis.
Despite the challenges he faced living in poverty and battling AIDS and
leukemia, Bryson was an outspoken advocate for the dignity of all
inmates. He joined JDI's Survivor Speakers List and shared his story
widely, emphasizing the shameful failure of prison staff to provide
basic safety for inmates. Bryson also participated in JDI's "Portraits
of Courage" project -- you can see his portrait and read his story on
our website. "They took my life, but they didn't take my ability to
live my life," he told the National Prison Rape Elimination Commission.
Please help us honor Bryson's legacy by supporting JDI's efforts to continue his work. World AIDS Day is a time to reflect on and recommit to the global fight
against this devastating disease. Those on the frontlines of this
battle, like Bryson, are paying with their lives. Together, we can make
sure that no one else has to pay that price.
For more information about JDI's effort to address HIV in detention,
please contact Program Director Cynthia Totten at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Bryson Martel before his death; photo by James Stenson