Back to the Old Neighborhood: In The East Village, Rehab Is a Family Affair, August/September 1996

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Living in Puerto Rico as a fugitive 10 years ago, John Quiles felt free, and not just because the NYPD couldn’t find him. “People didn’t know me, my past, my HIV status,” he says. In 1986, Quiles embarked on what he calls a “suicide mission” after finding out he was HIV-positive. No one knew much about AIDS then. “I thought I was dead,” Quiles says. Doing and dealing drugs and stealing soon became his way of life.

After three years in prison, Quiles was released in 1997, and quickly fell back into shooting heroin and drinking. After spending time in detox, Quiles says he finally took to heart the words of a former addict he had met in prison. “He told me, ‘Listen, you put a lot of effort, a lot of time, into getting money to get high. You should put as much effort into getting clean’.”

But it was his time at La Bodega de la Familia, a family-based drug counseling center City Limits profiled in 1997, that Quiles calls the real turning point. While he always had remained close with his family, Quiles’ drug use strained his relationships. “Though I was home, I wasn’t really there,” he says. “La Bodega brought me back.”

During his early days of rehab, his mother and sister attended support sessions at La Bodega. “We shed a lot of tears there,” he says. Quiles reconnected with his family, and he began to build himself a wider circle of support.

Thus moored, Quiles educated himself about HIV and started reaching out to others with the disease. He received peer counselor training through Arrive, an HIV/AIDS education and prevention program, and volunteered at the Bowery Residents Committee’s health service. With Musica Against Drugs, a substance abuse and HIV/AIDS outreach center, he also joined a role-playing group that performed in schools and community centers. “He took a chance, went out there and exposed himself by sharing his own experiences,” says Iliana Mercado, a former volunteer coordinator at Musica.

When Quiles speaks about his life now, at 42, he speaks of family. He displays a photo collage his wife of four years, Ramona, made for his recent birthday, and recalls the other surprise she gave him that day. Ramona asked him to stop by their church, where they often go to meditate. When they entered, the pews were packed with family and friends. “These are the gifts you get when you make an effort, when you allow yourself to love yourself and let other people love you,” says Quiles. “I always have hope, God and the people who guide me.”

Back to the Old Neighborhood
By Alyssa Katz

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