I never quite understood why he chose to come live with us at Phoenix Place, a group home for Persons Living With AIDS. It was not that he was not HIV positive but he was culturally challenged by everything and everyone who lived there. He was a member of a bike gang, he claimed he was not gay, he was confused by the transgender residents, and he did not accept rules. But here he was living with us. He came to us via motorcycle with two presumably other members of his biker gang. They would not come inside so I had to go outside to meet them. The two biker friends parted as soon as it was clear he would be able to stay. They gave Jesse manly biker hugs and left. He told me he did not want to room with anybody who was gay or black. I told him he would have to. He asked if I thought he was a child when I told him about curfew. I said no but it helps to keep the chaos down and if the occasion came up he could ask for permission to stay out. He never asked.
Jesse would try to intimidate the others and me to get what he wanted. But the transgender residents set him straight. He would actually become best friends with Larry, one of our transgender residents, who would always coo about having such a masculine resident whenever he wanted something from Jesse.
Jesse, while not a model resident, managed to stay longer than I ever thought he could make it. But when he decided to leave it was one of the most surreal moments in my time at Phoenix Place. Larry had moved out which had resulted in Jesse becoming very morose but he made sure to tell everyone he was not gay. But on two occasions he had become drunk and had made threatening remarks to other residents. We had sent him to counseling and treatment, which only made him more menacing. He started demanding things from residents ‘Cook my breakfast’ and ‘Go to the store for me’.
I told him to stop which only led to him making sure the residents did not complain through threats. I told him on more than one occasion he would be asked to leave if he did not stop. He scoffed at me looking at me as if I could make him leave. I knew his time was coming to a close with us.
One night I popped in; everyone was out except for him. I was in the living room when who should turn the corner but Jesse with bottle in hand. Seeing me he instantly hid the bottle lamely behind his back. I told him to give me the bottle and he said no. He was close to drunk. I told him I would have to evict him if he did not give me the bottle and enter an in-house treatment center. He said no. And then he did something strange. He asked me if they treated HIV in the local jail. I said that they were now under federal guidelines to and that I had known several folks who had received treatment. I asked, “But what has this got to do with anything.” He looked at me and declared, “I refused to leave and I am not doing anything you say.” I looked at him. This conversation was quite civil considering he was openly breaking the rules and defying my authority. “Look you do not want to do anything you may later regret,” I said. He looked me straight in the eye and said “You are going to have to throw me out physically.” Yet even this remark was said with some decorum bewildering me a bit. I reminded him that I, as a policy, do not lay hands on the residents but what I would do was call the police to remove him. He said, “Well you better start calling.” Now most residents were scared of the police and would at this point leave or comply. He looked at me again, “Nothing personal but you need to call the police.” I reluctantly picked up the nearby phone and placed the call.
Now the police did not like coming to Phoenix Place. The only reason we could summarize was that they were Homophobic and AIDS-phobic. I did not like calling them because you never knew what kind of attitude or action they would bring. Jesse and I talked while we waited. He was thankful for everything we had done for him but he was angry he told me and the police better come. Forty-five minutes later the police had not come. Jesse was restless and I called again and told them of my dilemma and they said they would be right there. Jesse was now pacing and I was afraid I was going to have to lay hands on a resident. Other residents came home and he told them to go to their rooms because he was about to tear the place down. I looked at them, rolled my eyes, and said the police were coming and there was nothing to worry about. Jesse took offense at this and said he had a long criminal record and was a force to be reckoned with. I nodded. He picked up a vase to smash it. I gave him my menacing tone and look, and told him not to do that. He said I do not want to hurt you, I like you. I said likewise and he offered me a handshake.
The police had not come and Jesse demanded I make a third call. I did but in the middle of it he jerked the phone from my hand and yelled He yelled into the phone I am going to bust this place up and hurt someone if they did not get here in a hurry. I looked at him askance because I was worried that he may have come on too strong and the police once they arrived were going to bust his head. He handed me back the phone. I said I think you need to get someone here quickly. He was shouting in the background.
Five minutes later the police arrived. I met them at the door and said I think he will go with you peacefully. I did this to try to co-opt any major pain they had in mind for him. Turns out they did not want him in their car (AIDS phobia as I previously said). Instead they spent a total of ten minutes trying to convince him to calm down and stay with me. I told them that was not an option. They spent five minutes trying to convince me to do this. All this time the officers had kept their distance from him. Finally, Jesse said you cannot leave me with him, I will hurt him bad, and he started name-calling me and the officers and concluded with turning around with his hands in a position to be handcuffed and said, “So help me god, if you do not handcuff me right now I will destroy this place and you.” The officers looked at each other and knew he needed to leave.
Now it is important to mention that one officer was white and the other was black. The white officer looked at the black officer and said you handcuff him. The black officer looked at him the hell with that and said it is your turn. Obviously, there was a preordained way they had of doing this.
It was clearly the white officer’s time to handcuff and the black officer said I will report you if he did not do it. Meanwhile Jesse was screaming handcuff me, and started kicking the walls and generally getting out of control. I looked at them both in total disbelief. The white officer let out some expletives and handcuffed and frisked Jesse. He handed him to the black officer and then went straight to the kitchen sink and began to obsessively wash his hands for the next five minutes.
I took the chance to tell the officer he had no fears of contracting the disease from casual contact and gave him the bodily fluid to bodily fluid contact spill. He looked at me and said I am from New York and I know all about AIDS. The black officer rolled his eyes. The white officer explained to me that he was not prejudiced because, as previously stated, he was from New York. I handed the black officer my business card and said I would be pleased to do HIV|AIDS education for the station if they wanted me to. The white officer said I will not have to take it because, you guessed it, he was from New York.
The officers tried one more time to convince Jesse to just go leave so they did not have to arrest him. Jesse looked at me and said “Thanks for taking me in” I was cool.” The officers took him away. I looked at the clock; it had been three hours since I made my first call to the police.
I never heard again from Jesse. Why did he act in such a way maybe it was that he wanted to tell his biker friends that he was forcefully removed from the house by the police or he wanted to be in jail a place he might have felt more comfortable. I knew he appreciated what we had done for him but he more than likely wanted to live his life on the back of his Harley and not in a group home. Thankfully, I never had to lay hands on a resident unless it was in an act of care. As for the officers I never saw them again. But I did breathe more easily knowing that we had some of New York’s finest at our local precinct.