One-fourth of American HIVers pass through correctional facilities eachyear, the American Journal of Public Health reports. Yet feworganizations offer programs addressing their needs when they first hitthe streets. In 2000, employees at Philadelphia FIGHT, one of thecity’s largest AIDS service organizations (ASOs), noticed that manyex-prisoners were ditching their HIV-education classes. So the grouplaunched TEACH Outside, a course for the postincarcerated. “When peoplecan’t get the help they need, they may return to crime,” says JohnBell, a positive ex-prisoner and course instructor.  “And when youhave HIV, that can kill.” First, TEACH Outside offers the HIV basics.“Most enrollees did not treat their HIV in prison because of stigma anddon’t trust the system,” says co-instructor Laura McTighe. “They areoften sick, have little understanding of the virus, are afraid they aregoing to die and have no support on the outside.” Next, experts helpstudents access Medicare, housing and job training and placementprograms. Finally, the course pushes activism and self-advocacy. “Itwas enlightening,” says TEACH Outside graduate Keith Bennett, 46. “It’shard to readjust to society and all the taboos.”

If your arealacks a FIGHT-like service, don’t rely on a caseworker—check around.Many ASOs have at least one employee with prison-specific knowledge.Also, ask your ASO to start a weekly prisoner support group, a nearlycost-free way to find encouragement, discuss your problems and getadvice. Take care of your health first, says Bell—if you’re sick, youcan’t hold down a job. Asking for help in prison is considered weak, somany won’t acknowledge their needs on the outside. “If you just say‘I’m fine,’ your doctor, case manager and we can’t help you.” Letfreedom ring.

Prisoner Resources

For pointers inside or out, contact:

Black Coalition on AIDS
2800 Third St.
San Francisco, CA 94107

Correct HELP
8235 Santa Monica Blvd., Suite 214
West Hollywood, CA  90046

TEACH Outside
Philadelphia FIGHT
1233 Locust St., Fifth Floor
Philadelphia, PA 19107