August 23, 2012
For the last five years, Precious Jackson has worked with the Los Angeles-based Center for Health Justice to educate women whose male partners are in prison or have a history of incarceration on how to protect themselves from HIV. The program, called Project HOME, or Healthy Options Means Empowerment, also teaches women how to become peer educators.
Jackson said she found out she was HIV-positive in 1998 after then-boyfriend, who was incarcerated, notified her he was infected. Over the last three years, Jackson has helped 307 women through the program, many of whom are African-American like herself and at high risk for HIV.
According to Jackson, self-esteem is a key tool in HIV prevention. "If a woman is not emotionally balanced, then she would find herself making unhealthy choices which will increase her risk for acquiring HIV," she said.
Prisons and jails can be described as a revolving door between the criminal justice system and the community, according to UCLA Professor William Cunningham, and resuming relationships is a high priority for those released. "High-risk sexual activity along with substance use is a volatile combination that increases the risk of transmission to the community."
Jackson encourages women to ask their incarcerated partners to get tested and mail the results home, or get tested with them post-release. She added that a woman should "feel disrespected" if a man does not use a condom.
Jackson also speaks about HIV at black churches and runs her church's annual health fair, which includes an HIV testing van. "The more we have people talking about HIV, whether it's in the church house or on the street, the better it will become normalized," she said.