Meet Charles Wright. He’s a tenant at 1229 G Street SE, which is home to about 140 seniors and persons with disabilities inside the Potomac Gardens Public Housing Complex. Charles is a senior with a seizure disorder. He also has HIV. He was diagnosed in 1999 or somewhere there abouts. A number of people living at 1229 G Street SE are HIV positive or living with AIDS, but not many are willing to talk about it. As a volunteer at Whitman Walker Charles is not shy about the disease, his condition or how he got there.
Charles Wright was born and raised in the District of Columbia. He and his family lived on Euclid Street Northwest in Petworth, which even then was a relatively fashionable. He fully admits that he was very spoiled. He bought his clothes at Woodies and Landburgh’s. His father bought him a Triumph Spitfire. Plenty of girls were interested in Charles but there was only one girl for him. Yes indeed, Charles Wright was a big man at Roosevelt Senior High School. Like the other popular boys, he played basketball in a park on Hamilton Street and smoked reefer with his best friend Ronald and the other guys playing pick up ball on the court. Eventually, the reefer led to harder drugs, heroine, cocaine and eventually crack.
It’s hard to say when Charles contracted HIV. Despite his drug use, he functioned reasonably well. After high school, he went to Maryland Eastern Shore for accounting, but he left after two years. It was enough to land him a job at the United Planning Organization and later a better job as a tax accountant at the Department of Finance and Revenue. But the money he was making, didn’t allow him to live the spoiled life to which he had become accustomed. He needed money, not just for the drugs but to dress well and look good when he went to the clubs. So Charles started forging checks and credit cards.
His drug use lost him his high school sweet heart, but looking good at the clubs got him a new girl. “We met at Tiffany’s,” Charles remembers fondly. “She had pretty feet. In fact, that was my pick up line, ‘you have cute toes.'” They danced the Hustle and because it was pay day, Charles bought everyone at the table a drink. The rest is history. They fell in love, moved into an apartment together in Northeast DC and had a son.
All was going smoothly until he got caught for his forgery and found out that he was positive for HIV. Fortunately, he hadn’t infected his partner and so his son was spared as well. He spent eight years in a low-security prison. When he got out, he was still using drugs but this time without the steady accounting job or the illegal income. Charles and his son’s mother continued to get along well, but he didn’t move back in with her. She didn’t ask for child support and encouraged him to be a part of their son’s life. He admits that he might have been more present for his son, if he hadn’t been chasing the drugs. Somewhere during this time, Charles’ high school friend Ronald died of an overdose.
Fortunately, for Charles he found Whitman Walker and his life began to turn around. Having finally decided to quit using drugs, he started going to their Narcotic Anonymous meetings. Eventually, he was allowed in their drug rehabilitation program, which unlike the vast majority of in-patient treatment programs, was entirely free. That was three years ago. Charles stayed off drugs for two of those years but eventually, overcome by loneliness, he started using again. “I was frustrated and mad,” he says, “so I started using weed and crack again. The loneliness is the hardest part about drug use. You get in your apartment and you just get lonely. And then you go and do what happens.”
Charles still struggles to keep from using but he is trying to quit again. He has a new girl friend. She does not like his drug use and Charles wants her to be proud of him. So, he’s started going to the Narcotics Anonymous meetings at Whitman Walker again. “In the beginning, they know you won’t be clean,” he says, “but by taking the meetings, they expect you to get strong enough to get clean.” Charles hopes to go through Whitman Walker’s drug treatment program again when they agree he’s ready. In the meantime, Charles volunteers on the Whitman Walker outreach truck, passing out condoms and teaching the public how to avoid infection. He advises Lifestyle condoms over Trojans and for heterosexuals, female condoms over male condoms.
Charles is open about his status because he wants to make a difference. Whitman Walker is known for working with Lesbian, Gay, Bi-Sexual, and Transgender individuals, but they welcomed Charles who fits into none of those categories. Potomac Gardens is proud to count Charles Wright as a member of the community. We are also grateful to Whitman Walker for opening its doors to the public housing community, whose members are too often stigmatized and rarely given the second and sometimes third chance that everyone deserves.
Charles was interviewed for the Whitman Walker promotional video above. In it, he is given the last line. You’ll have to watch it all the way to the end to find out what that line is.