What If I Could Have Grown Old With My Brother?

What If I Could Have Grown Old With My Brother? | Blindspot

In 1985, doctors at a methadone clinic in the South Bronx made the harrowing discovery: 50 percent of its patients had HIV. Three years later, in the same neighborhood, a pair of epidemiologists estimated that as many as one in five young men were positive for the disease. Those numbers made the South Bronx one of most critical hotspots for HIV in the country.

Joyce Rivera was born and raised in the South Bronx. She watched as heroin flooded into her neighborhood followed by HIV. When Rivera’s brother died in 1987, she decided to do something. Working with a heroin dealer and a local priest, she defied the law and set up an illegal needle exchange in an attempt to prevent the transmission of HIV among injection drug users. And she largely succeeded. But what if this country had treated drug addiction like a public health issue instead of a criminal problem?

Voices in this episode include:

  • Don Des Jarlais has been a leader in the field of HIV and AIDS research among persons who inject drugs (PWID) for nearly 40 years. A professor of epidemiology at New York University, he served as the principal investigator of the “Risk Factors” study, which was instrumental in tracking the HIV and AIDS epidemic in New York City, among numerous others.
  • Sister Eileen Hogan was the first female chaplain in the Department of Correction in New York City.
  • Dr. Arye Rubinstein is an immunologist and allergist on the faculty at Albert Einstein Medical Center and Montefiore Medical Center. An early pioneer in AIDS research and treatment for children, he founded the pediatric AIDS center at Einstein in the early 1980s.
  • Joyce Rivera is the founder of St. Ann’s Corner of Harm Reduction, one of the first syringe-exchange programs in New York City. A National Science Foundation Fellow from 1981 to 1984, Rivera has been a leader in the field of AIDS and substance use for 35 years.
  • Father Luis Barrios is a priest and a professor of Latin American and Latinx studies and sociology at both John Jay College and the CUNY Graduate Center.
  • Robert Fullilove is associate dean for community and minority affairs at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, as well as a professor of clinical sociomedical sciences and the co-director of the Cities Research Group.

Blindspot is a co-production of The HISTORY® Channel and WNYC Studios, in collaboration with The Nation Magazine.

A companion photography exhibit by Kia LaBeija featuring portraits from the series is on view through March 11 at The Greene Space at WNYC. The photography for Blindspot was supported by a grant from the Economic Hardship Reporting Project, a nonprofit organization that promotes coverage of social inequality and economic justice.


Kia LaBeija is an image maker and storyteller born and raised in the heart of New York City, Hell’s Kitchen.

Co-published with WNYC Studios.

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