Some 600 inmates participated in a recent health fair at the Palm Beach County Jail. The Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office and Prison Health Services, the jail's medical provider, sponsored the effort, whose purpose was to prepare inmates for release by connecting them with resources in the community, said Susan Dean, the sheriff's medical inspector and an event organizer. "The idea is to get them to understand they can have a healthy lifestyle when you leave here," Dean said. As a result, 263 inmates agreed to be tested for HIV infection.
The United Deliverance Community Resource Center, a local faith-based nonprofit agency, provides housing assistance for former inmates. The center, a division of United Deliverance Church of God in Christ in West Palm Beach, focuses primarily on HIV testing and helping HIV-infected persons, but it also provides services for people who are HIV-negative. "We need more placements," said Caroline Williams, project coordinator, referring to places where former inmates and people with HIV can live.
At the health fair, Linda Warren, a human services program specialist with the county Health Department, challenged inmates to name three ways people can become infected with HIV. Their reward, a 15-minute telephone card, is highly valued among incarcerated persons. Warren also works in neighborhoods and said many people, not just inmates, fear testing because they do not want to know if they are HIV-positive. The inmates' response to Warren's quiz showed that some believe HIV status can be determined by whether a person looks sick, has open sores, or has lost a lot of weight. Warren, however, stressed that "You have to get tested to know the truth."