Yvonne Bunny Knuckles, 1937-1999, We love you and will miss you very much!

by Judy Greenspan, HIV in Prison Committee
Mother, sister, daughter, comrade, friend, lover and warrior.
Yvonne “Bunny” Knuckles was all of these and her tireless fighting and loving spirit lives on inside of every person whose life she touched. Bunny, a formerly incarcerated woman living with HIV and Hepatitis C, peer educator and former board member of WORLD, Women Organized to Respond to Life-threating Diseases, died on Saturday, May 8.
During her last trip to both the Central California Women’s Facility (CCWF) and the California Institution for Women (CIW), Bunny found out that she was HIV postive. She suffered a large dose of the AIDS-phobia of the prison system, while being shuttled from place to place and told she had “AIDS” and was going to die.
Five years ago, Bunny wrote in WORLD’s newsletter, “When I was in there, I got my mind clear and my body clean and had a chance to figure out just what I wanted. Did I want to live or die? That was easy ? Bunny has always wanted to live, for in my heart I’ve always loved myself.
“Everyone said I couldn’t change because I had been a user for too long. They said I would be back [in prison] in 6 months but that was a lie. I’ve been home 19 months now (in July 1994)and because I chose to let God take control and not do things my old ways I have changed. . . .”
Bunny left prison in 1992 and true to her promise never returned. Bunny transformed herself from being one of the biggest drug dealers in West Oakland to one of the most courageous peer educators that the HIV epidemic (and later the Hepatitis C epidemic) has ever known. Bunny left her old ways behind but never left the streets her fellow addicts still hung out on. I used to drive Bunny home after meetings and speaking engagements to her apartment in West Oakland. She knew everyone on the street corner by name and always had a condom, a pamphlet, some friendly words and (later) a packet of bleach to give them. Bunny was in “recovery,” devoting her life to abstaining from drugs, but she was nonjudgmental too, and embraced the harm reduction movement with a passion.
Everything that Bunny did, she did passionately and with a lot of love.
Bunny truly enjoyed talking to young people about her life and experiences. She wanted to make a difference in their lives. The students at Berkeley High School wanted to listen to Bunny. She became one of the most popular speakers at this school.
Once Bunny and I attended a World AIDS Day celebration at the federal women’s prison in Dublin, California. At least 15 women came up to her to say hello. Bunny was the first person that women prisoners with HIV called when they were released. She would personally bring people coming out of prison down to the social security office to sign up for benefits or to the HIV clinic at Highland Hospital for medical treatment.
Over the last year, Bunny started writing and speaking about testing positive for Hepatitis C. She was seemingly indefatigable. She used to joke about being a senior citizen with HIV when she turned 60 two years ago. But Bunny just kept on going – if someone needed her she was there.
I am truly honored to have had the precious gift of working with Bunny. She will be missed incredibly by her sisters and brothers on both sides of the prison walls.