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News Inside

Inspirations from the Inside
A column for women prisoners

Winter 1998/1999

Hello everyone, my name is Cathy and I am an HIV/AIDS outreach educator for Women Alive. Every month we receive letters from women living with HIV/AIDS who are incarcerated in prisons and jails all over the country. These letters are especially touching to me, having been a former prisoner myself. My goal in writing this column, is to have a forum for HIV positive women prisoners. This is a place where we can express ourselves, share each others stories, ask questions, and reach out to one another.

Living with this disease is a frightening experience, especially for someone who is behind prison walls. Access to proper medical care, emotional support, and availability of current therapies to treat HIV is often hindered, and in some cases nonexistent. Because of the lingering ignorance among prison staff and fellow inmates regarding transmission risks of HIV/AIDS, many women are kept in segregated housing units, and are often denied standard privileges and programs that are readily available to the general prison population.

Fear of the social stigma that may arise from disclosing ones status to fellow inmates can also further isolate an HIV positive woman. Unfortunately, at this point in time, this fear is legitimate.

"Living with this disease is a frightening experience, especially for someone who is behind prison walls."

Although much progress has been made recently to improve the standard of care for prisoners with HIV across the country, many states are lagging behind. AIDS is the second leading cause of death in the nation's prisons and sero-prevalence rates are significantly higher among incarcerated women than men.

Quite often filing a complaint against an institution or its staff by an HIV positive woman is a time consuming process full of red tape and hassles. An actual lawsuit can take forever. Many women actually make their release date or worse, pass away before their paperwork ever gets to court, if it even does.

Although there is not a whole lot that one individual can do about the correctional system itself, there are some great things that can be done by the women who are living in it. A terrific example of this is the ACE Program, a peer run HIV prevention and education program at Bedford Hills Correctional Facility in New York. The November 1998 issue of POZ magazine entitled "Prison Blues" carried a very touching and inspirational article about ACE and other groups like it and also takes an in-depth look at HIV prison issues as a whole. (I will be happy to send photo copies of it to anyone who requests.)

Write About It

We, at Women Alive, would like to invite any of our readers who are presently incarcerated, and also those of you who have made it on the outside to write-in and share your thoughts with us. If you have a certain special thing you do that makes your life easier, or even just an inspirational message to other women -- we would like to hear from you. Also, if you are in need of a pen-pal or can be one please let us know.

Letters will be published at the discretion of the Women Alive Editorial Team, and will be kept anonymous unless otherwise stated.

Please address all your correspondence to:

Women Alive/Inside News
Attn: Cathy Elliott-Lopez
1566 S. Burnside Ave.
Los Angeles, CA. 90019

P.S. We're waiting to hear from you

Back to the Women Alive Winter 1998-99 Contents Page.

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This article was provided by Women Alive. It is a part of the publication Women Alive Newsletter.
See Also
More on Incarceration and Women With HIV/AIDS