Robert and Joyce

I met Robert when he was an inmate in the Philadelphia House of Correction and I was Mennonite Chaplain. He was then transferred to the Phila. Industrial Correctional Center when it opened in 1986. He attended my Bible studies there. He asked me to bring some groceries, a Bible and a few other items to Joyce where she was living, Richard Allen Homes.

robertjoyceWhen the other inmates heard I was going there, they urged me not to go. They assured me it was far too dangerous for one such as me.

I went. I was shocked to find such deplorable conditions. Joyce was living on the couch in a tiny, bug & vermin infested apartment with an older woman who was dying of leukemia. Joyce was there illegally, but she exchanged care for the woman in lieu of rent of couch space. There was a waiting list to get into RAH. The entry hall had been firebombed and never cleaned up.

I dropped off the groceries. We had a short visit. As I was leaving, I saw that several cars in the parking lot had their windows smashed. Another car with its windows smashed out pulled in just then. The next thing I see is a group of tough guys sizing me up. I was wearing jeans and a T-shirt; nothing to indicate that I was a minister of any kind. This was the kind of trouble the men at PICC had been worried about. Then, all at once, they all focused just above my head. Then I heard one of them mutter to the others, “Don’t mess with him. He’s a missionary man.” The tallest of them then said, “Have a nice day.” I replied with the same and proceded to my car, hoping to find it with windows intact. They were.

After Robert got out of jail, we had Joyce and him to our house for dinner. There were more grocery runs. Then word came that Joyce had died from AIDS and then word from the street a month later that Robert passed, as well. We knew them less than a year, but they left a mark on our hearts.

They were the first people we knew to die of AIDS. This was several years before World AIDS Day in 1991 and the red ribbon AIDS awareness campaign. I put a little anachronous AIDS ribbon earring in Joyce’s ear in the painting. Once again, these are not accurate likenesses, since we have no photographs, and it has been nearly 30 years. They are likenesses painted out of loving memory.

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