(Part 2 of guest blog series about HIV Awareness in correctional facilities)
Arriving in the Michigan Department of Corrections at the age of 20, most would say I was old enough, but some would say I was a baby, especially if it’s my mom or grandmother; I am their baby. Entering prison, I was an educated young man, book smart, and had a college degree. What I lacked was the attachment of emotion for others issues, thoughts, and etc. In 2007, The Mound Correctional facility was my third facility. The facility was a program facility, which means they had various programs a person can advance themselves in any area of their life that they needed. I attend a seminar about AIDS/HIV. I met Rosalind Andrews-Worthy. My understanding of the topic was simple. It’s something happens when you have unprotected sex. Now mind you this is coming from a 26-year-old man. So I challenged myself after the seminar, which was very informative, to learn more since I did not know anything.
Mr. Raymond Carr introduced me to Mrs. Worthy. My work began with GAA right then and there. I started taking more classes learning more and more information and asking a lot of questions. I then began the process of training with Mrs. Worthy and what I liked about her was that she was patient. Before I knew months and years begin to pass, and we did great work training leaders with the facility, fellow prisoners, such as having a testing month. An impact and imprint was made. My commitment grew. I fell in love with this new found understanding of something that could affect anyone at any given time from something has simple as getting a hard cut at the barbershop and the clippers was not clean properly.
Each facility I arrive at there are two things on my mind: What can I learn from being here and What do I have to offer. GAA is always a priority for me to get inside the facility because of the life styles most prisoners live. I am committed and love to raise the awareness of AIDS/HIV because that conversation is the elephant in the room. No one wants to address it; only when someone is affected by it and then the question is WHY? No one talks about how to prevent it. One of the best preventions methods is awareness and talking about it.
There are some challenges. Some of the challenges I have encountered are staff believing it’s not worth it. Why would we want to inform prisoners about this? Having sex is against the rules, tattooing is against the rules. I humbly explain it does happen, but those are not the only things that causes one to contract the virus. When I encounter those challenges, I always call on Mrs. Worthy to deal with the staff. Now when it comes to my fellow prisoners. My integrity carries me a long way. But I explain how dangerous it could be by not knowing something. During the workshops if 5 people show up and learn something, we have started a trend where the information will be shared. I have had success by inviting other volunteers who come inside the facility that is not aware of the information to attend the workshops and they are blown away and take that information back to the community and churches.
When I connect with people I often think about my favorite quote by the late Poet, Author Dr. Maya Angelo.
" I've learned that people will forget what you said, People will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel."
I hope people learn from the information, and they also remember how we made them feel by engaging with them.