Free At Last

Submitted By catdragon22
Words: 1284
Pages: 6

Free at Last? Glenn Townes does a great job portraying what is happening in the American jail system regarding HIV/AIDS and how two role models, who are HIV positive and previously incarcerated, persevere the stigma and try to actively change the system in a positive way and spreading awareness. The article, Free At Last?, by Glenn Townes is not only inspiring but informative with real time facts about HIV, specifically in a prison environment. Townes writes about Waheedah Shabazz-El, Cathy Olufs, and African Americans, in particular women, who have been associated with the virus and the real struggles of being incarcerated and living with HIV. Waheedah Shabazz-El’s story was moving. Waheedah lead a comfortable life minus her party habits. Her party habits such as sex, drugs, and alcohol caught up to her and she landed in prison. Shortly after her arrival to jail, she found out she was HIV positive. She is an African American that is one of millions of women who are apart of disappointing statistics. “HIV is the number one killer of African American women ages 25-44”. “African Americans represent 45 percent of all new HIV infections in the United States”. These are sad statistics but the U.S. incarcerates millions of people majority of these prisoners are black. So why are these percentages not declining only rising? These prisoners lack knowledge, support, and resources to overcome becoming part of the growing statistics. It is hard to distinguish if these prisoners contracted the virus in prison or not. Majority of these prisoners entering the system are positive already they just do not know it until they are in jail. Waheedah was one of these prisoners. A woman who was sentenced to six months in prison leaving her family behind to serve time and then receiving news she was HIV positive? Waheedah was thrown into the system, clueless and helpless. It was disappointing to read that prisons lack meds and proper nutrition to provide infected inmates. What is worse to read is that inmates usually leave sicker than when they first arrive to jail. Shouldn’t we be providing these inmates knowledge about HIV? They need to know how HIV is contracted, spread, the symptoms, prevention, and how to treat the virus. Why in the world would this benefit the inmates infected or not infected? For many reasons! If prisons lack clean tools such as condoms and sterile needles to provide inmates, they should be at least educated. If these inmates were educated about HIV maybe they would make different decisions if they should engage in unprotected sex or reusing someone’s needle. But lets face it, these activities are still happening behind bars whether we try to deny it or not. The sad truth of it is that the system is just letting this happen without change. Condoms should be without a doubt offered in jail. We teach our students in school to practice safe sex. If we want the numbers of deaths due to HIV to decrease, we need to do something about it. Shouldn’t we be providing the example of what’s right (practicing safe sex) not what’s wrong (allowing unprotected sex)? We need to educate and provide the right resources and tools to these inmates because some eventually head back to society and we want them to enter society in a positive way. Just like Waheedah, she entered society head on to spread awareness. Not only are inmates uneducated but also the infected inmates are isolated and discriminated by the prison’s staff members, nurses, doctors, and fellow inmates. Waheedah mentions that she received her meds late multiple times and how even her relationship with her doctor had changed. I could not even imagine what Waheedah had to go through mentally and emotionally. I think that’s what kills me the most when I read this article, where’s the support? Where is the love? I hate to think I live in a negative society. What type of example is the system setting for prisoners and the general public? If we are seeing a common trend