John Harkless was born in 1960, a Mississippi native who came to Memphis after a stay in a Mississippi state prison. Self motivated and a dependable employee, John found work as a presser in a dry cleaner. He worked in circulation at the library. And he assisted others in the Salvation Army Programs. But his drug addiction dragged him down and left him homeless and HIV positive. John discovered he was HIV positive when he went to the Emergency Room for a high fever in June of 2005. The fever was caused by a kidney infection. Blood work and lab reports provided more bad news. It is not uncommon for people to find out they are HIV positive when they go to the ER for other health challenges. HIV infections can wait for a decade before showing definitive symptoms. When infected persons wait that long for diagnosis and medication, it is often too late to treat the HIV virus effectively. John was lucky. His kidney infection forced him to medical care and effective treatment was prescribed for his kidneys and his HIV infection.
An entire year went by before John took the prescribed medications. He was homeless and focused on feeding his addiction. Crack was his drug of choice. John steadily lost weight and might have lost his life had it not been for his connection with the people and healing processes at Friends For Life. John chose to engage with his case manager. He made new friends and he chose to help other HIV positive people in the Friends For Life community.
Now John takes up to eight pills every day. “You get used to it,” John says. He also says that he has never been happier and healthier in his life. “I have chosen to live,” he says. “I take better care of myself now than I ever did before. Being HIV positive is a good thing for me. It woke me up and made me realize I love life and I want to give something back to the people who have helped me along the way.” John lives at First Congregational Church where he has been the building manager for four years. “I take my medicine, do my work, enjoy my friends and I use condoms. My life has not ended, just because I’m HIV positive. With me, life has just begun.”