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Just weeks ago, she was considered a menace to society and faced the prospect of years behind bars. This fall, after more than three years’ incarceration, Angie will step out of the federal prison in the manufacturing town of Danbury, in southwestern Connecticut, and go home to Washington, D.C. In the legal sense, Angie has won. She has prevailed over the U.S. Parole Commission, which kept her locked up because she was HIV-positive and had a long arrest record for prostitution — a lethal combination in the eyes of the commission. Last week, in the face of a legal challenge and a Legal Times investigation, the commission dramatically reversed direction. In the course of 24 hours, it reopened Angie’s case and decided to set her free. “This is better than any outcome I could have hoped for,” says Deborah Golden, a staff attorney at the D.C. Prisoners’ Legal Services Project who argued that the commission’s reasons for holding Angie were discriminatory. Still, there’s no way to know whether Angie will be able to fend for herself without a return to hustling. The 37-year-old mother of two is a high school dropout with a two-decade record of heroin and cocaine abuse, and a potentially fatal illness. If she does go back to the streets, there’s no guarantee that she won’t pass the disease on to somebody else. Angie’s life mirrors those of many who are impoverished and drug-addicted. She grew up in the Shaw neighborhood in northwest Washington, D.C., where she was raised by her heroin-addicted mother. Angie’s father was incarcerated and never lived with her. She has an older half-brother and a younger half-sister — both from different fathers. ( Legal Times agreed not to print Angie’s real name due to privacy concerns because of her HIV status.) When she was 15, Angie stopped going to school and began hanging out on corners. Angie says she first started using drugs out of curiosity and peer pressure. “I liked being around the crowd and thinking I was in love,” says Angie, adding that it was her older boyfriend who taught her how to shoot heroin. At first, Angie says she used to get high once a day; that quickly turned to five to six times daily. She also began speedballing — injecting a mixture of heroin and cocaine. In 1979, Angie’s mother moved the family a couple of miles away to an apartment in northeast Washington, D.C., but Angie says she would run away to be with her friends at 11th and O Streets, N.W. It wasn’t long before the teen-ager graduated to crime. Her first arrest occurred in the spring of 1980, when she was charged with felony burglary for breaking into a home. Angie was just 16. Over the next year, she racked up another five charges, including car theft and grand larceny. Most of the charges were dismissed, but Angie says she was placed in the Cedar Knoll Juvenile Detention Center for a while. Angie turned to prostitution and drug dealing to fund her addiction. Her first solicitation arrest occurred when she was 17. By the time she was 25, Angie had been arrested on two dozen occasions. A 1988 presentence report says that Angie “has been uncooperative with the probation office” and had failed to appear at D.C. Superior Court for sentencing in two prior cases. “She is a young recidivist, who is grossly undereducated and lacks any type of vocational training,” the report states. “Her non-structured lifestyle as a child has resulted in an adult who has shown an inability to assume responsible behavior. “This lifestyle also made her transition to drug use an easy one,” the report adds. Angie’s 54-year-old mother, who says she kicked her own drug habit just four years ago, says, “I didn’t know how to be a parent or what was expected of being a parent.” Angie doesn’t know how she was infected with HIV, or how long she has had the virus. But she’ll never forget the moment she first found out she was HIV-positive. It was 1990. She had just been convicted of drug distribution charges and a probation violation, and had been sentenced to four to 15 years in prison. As part of her transfer from the D.C. Jail to the Occoquan Correctional Facility in Lorton, Va., Angie was tested for HIV. According to Darryl Madden, a spokesman for the D.C. Department of Corrections, this test is voluntary and the results are kept confidential. Angie says corrections staff recommended the test because of her intravenous drug use. In May, Angie received the news. She attended an HIV support group at Lorton. Five years later, Angie was paroled. While serving some time in a halfway house, she ran into a man she had grown up with. He was also HIV-positive. The two began a romantic relationship. “I did good for a while,” Angie says. “I had a job and would go to HIV meetings, but in the process of that I met with bad company and everything went to chaos.” Angie returned to her old ways — getting high and prostituting. She stopped meeting with her parole officer. In 1997, she found out she was pregnant. Her mother was furious. “I knew she was sick, and when she got pregnant I told her she was selfish because the baby could be sick,” says Angie’s mother, adding that she checked herself into drug rehab when she found out Angie was pregnant. She says she has been clean ever since. Angie gave birth to a daughter, who she says tested negative for the HIV virus. On Feb. 13, 1998, Angie was back in her usual haunts at the corner of 9th and N Streets, N.W. According to court documents, as a man drove by, Angie waved him over, got into his car, and lit up a cigarette. The man offered Angie $30 for oral sex and she accepted. The man, it turned out, was an undercover cop. Angie was arrested for solicitation for the third time in two years. As she had done many times in the past, Angie pleaded guilty. She was handed a 10-day sentence and a $100 fine, both of which were suspended. This time, however, Angie wouldn’t be getting out anytime soon. For one, there was a warrant for a parole violation based on two previous arrests. Making matters more complicated, Angie was pregnant again. (Angie gave birth to a boy while incarcerated. She says that he was tested for the virus and was negative.) When she came before the D.C. Parole Board in August 1998, she was ordered to spend another six months in jail before the board would reconsider her release. By the time Angie returned, the D.C. Parole Board had been disbanded and replaced by the U.S. Parole Commission due to the 1997 D.C. Revitalization Act. A prehearing report stated that she was a Category Two offender, meaning the commission’s guidelines recommended holding her for 12 to 16 months. The report notes that by this point, Angie had already been locked up for nearly that amount of time. But the commission took the unusual step of going above the guidelines. “[W]e really can’t support a decision to knowingly parole a prisoner that we believe would deliberately infect other persons with a fatal disease,” wrote parole commission case manager Sam Robertson. “If we had reason to believe she would shoot or stab persons in the community there would be no question that we would not recommend parole. “Similarly in this case, infecting others with a fatal disease is at least as bad as shooting or stabbing them and probably worse,” Robertson added. The decision meant that Angie would remain locked up for at least another year — and because of her earlier drug sentence, the commission could hold her until February 2004. It also meant she would be transferred from D.C. Jail to the federal prison in Danbury, Conn. Angie says she was surprised because she had worked so hard in prison to kick her drug habit and turn her life around. “I felt like it was a lost cause and there was nothing I could do to change these people’s minds and have them look at me with another angle,” she says. An inmate in Danbury who did legal work for prisoners put Angie in touch with Susan Waysdorf, a professor and AIDS law expert at the University of the District of Columbia’s David A. Clarke School of Law. Waysdorf took Angie’s case and asked the commission to set Angie free. By the time Angie was scheduled for another parole hearing, she had completed two six-month drug abuse programs, quit smoking, assisted with the prison’s HIV/AIDS support group, and was taking GED classes. The commission noted her progress but came to the same conclusion. “Although you have programmed excellently and appear to have made a positive adjustment and continue to address your drug problem, it does not overcome the fact that you still pose a threat to the community based on your HIV status,” case reviewer Otis Thomas wrote in August 2000. Waysdorf felt that Angie was being discriminated against because of her health. She says the panel made its findings without ever investigating the facts of Angie’s behavior, particularly whether she practiced safe sex. “They made a lot of assumptions without due process,” says Waysdorf, director of the law school’s prisoners’ rights and advocacy clinic. “But for her HIV diagnosis, it is most likely that she would have been reparoled two years ago.” The professor contacted D.C. Prisoners’ Legal Services Project to help put together a legal claim. Golden, along with D.C. lawyers Jamie Boucher, Mason Emnett, and Donna Francescani, researched the issue. The legal team eventually came up with an argument that used federal discrimination law to claim that the commission’s actions were illegal. In June, the lawyers sent the commission a letter asking that Angie’s case be reopened because the earlier decisions “inappropriately and unlawfully relied on [her] HIV-positive status in reaching its determinations.” One month later, a case services agent informed the lawyers that the commission reviewed Angie’s information and decided not to reopen the case. On Aug. 16, Angie’s lawyers, with the help of Yale law Professor J.L. Pottenger Jr., filed a habeas corpus petition in U.S. District Court for the District of Connecticut, arguing that the U.S. Parole Commission violated federal law and requesting a new parole hearing. Sitting at a square cafeteria table at the Federal Correctional Institution in Danbury the day before her legal challenge is to be filed, Angie doesn’t appear to be someone who’s a danger to society. The 5-foot-2-inch woman talks confidently about her future: finding a job and raising her two young children. Angie’s daughter is now being cared for by her mother; Angie’s son, by her former HIV counselor. After two decades of drug addiction, Angie says she has worked very hard over the past three years to turn her life around. “I’ve learned my lesson,” Angie says. “I know I can’t go out there and do the same thing I was doing.” Angie insists she has never passed on her disease to others. “I know I did not infect anybody or have tried to do so,” she says. “I used condoms and I kept condoms with me.” Angie’s mother says she has noticed a monumental change in her daughter. “Now that she’s an adult — and I can say that now mentally she is an adult — she knows what she’s got to do,” she says. The U.S. Parole Commission’s decision to let Angie go free came at lightning speed. On Sept. 4, Legal Times contacted the commission seeking answers to questions about Angie’s case. When a commission official said the office had not been served with any court papers yet, the newspaper faxed him a copy of the habeas petition. Two days later, the official said that after reviewing the petition the commission decided to reopen the case and parole Angie. She is set for release on Nov. 2. The parole board’s Notice of Action states that the commission now interprets D.C. law as requiring the board to be responsible for “protecting the public only from the potential criminal activity of prisoners if released on parole and not to the potential health risks that may be posed by the release of prisoners with communicable diseases. “This decision requires reversal of the Commission’s departure from the guidelines in your case, which was based primarily upon the issue of the potential health risk to the public welfare,” the action states. The U.S. Parole Commission declines comment, citing Angie’s litigation. According to a commission staffer, there is no written policy governing parole decisions involving inmates who are HIV-positive because the issue never occurred before. Angie’s legal team suspects that there are other inmates who have been denied parole because of their HIV status. There is still the question as to whether Angie will once again resort to drugs and prostitution. “There aren’t any guarantees,” Golden says. “There are good chances and reasons to believe, based on good behavior in prison, that she’s turning her life around.” Angie says she is determined not to return to her former life. “Life is too short now, and my health and children are more important,” she adds. “A lot of people have put a lot of work into this and I will not let anyone down, including myself.”

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