By Rev. Elaine Blanchard
I have been talking sex and IV drug use with inmates at the city and county jails. The HIV virus lives in blood, semen, vaginal fluid and breast milk. We spread the infection when we share these fluids during sexual exchanges and when we share needles. All of us need to be tested for the virus. It is the responsible thing to do. All of us can help to prevent the spread of HIV by using latex condoms when we have sex. If we are tested and found to be positive for the virus, we can take treatment and live. But if we are all aware of how to prevent being infected, we can all live more healthy lives. That’s why I teach the class.
Inmates in the correctional system can be tested. If they are diagnosed as HIV positive they can receive counseling and treatment before they are released into the community. If they are not infected with the HIV virus but they receive education during their incarceration they have a better chance to remain HIV free and they can act as educators on the street for their families, friends and neighbors. Education is a powerful “medicine” for our city when people learn how to stay healthy. We spend millions each year on treatment for people who have not learned about the effectiveness of latex condoms. HIV education contributes to the common good.
The men and women in the classes at both the city and county jails ask many questions. They are engaged and eager to learn. They ask about safe practices for prostitution, the health department requirements when a person is diagnosed positive, safe needle cleaning practices, and about progress in HIV research. They ask about testing: when to be tested and where to be tested. I learned how to be an HIV educator from Bill Andrews, Chris Sinnock and Jamie Russell-Bell. My teachers equipped me with knowledge, resources and encouragement. I share those same gifts with the inmates I teach. I do not have all the answers but I do know where to go to find answers and I share that information with the inmates too. It feels good to know that I am capable of making our city a healthier place to live.