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Prison Health News Issue 6 Spring 2006

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prison health news

-better health care while you are in and when you get outIssue 6, Spring 2006

Who We Are...

We are on the outside, but we
were inside before. We’ve been
where you are now and know
what it’s like...and survived it. We
are ex-offenders talking about
health issues and trying to bring
about a positive change for all
people who are in prison now or
ever have been in the past. This
newsletter is about all of us.

We will be talking about health
issues. For example, what is
good nutrition? Where can you
get services and information on
the outside? We want to take
your health questions seriously
and break down complicated
health information so that it is

We’re also here to help you
learn how to get better health
care within your facility and how
to get answers to your health
questions. Don’t get frustrated.
Be persistent. In prison, it’s
often hard to get what you want,
but with health information, it
doesn’t have to be impossible.
Join us in our fight for our right
to health care and health
Read on...

John, Waheedah, Jeanette,
James, & Sam

In this Issue:

The Prison Health News Cross, by Tyler Kemp,
#55423, PO Box 22800, Lincoln, NE 68542-2800

Who We Are.....................................1

Write An Article!..............................2

Roll Call for COs: What You
Need to Know about HIV............2-3
Make Sure You’re Staying Healthy:
Routine Health Screenings.........4-5

General Advice on Getting Out......6
Words to Live By..........................6-7

Advocacy and Support
Resources for People in Prison.......8
page 1

Call for COs:
write an article! Roll
By Waheedah Shabazz-el

We have gotten lots of requests
for articles already, and we know
that everyone who reads this
newsletter will have questions or
his or her own story to tell.

We have given this presentation to every
CO in the Philadelphia Prison System. Now
we want to pass on the facts about HIV to
PHN readers--COs and prisoners--so you
know how to keep yourselves safe.

We know you see a lot of people with
HIV at your correctional institution. As
many as 7% of inmates test positive, and
we all know that more people probably
have HIV because many don’t talk about
If you have a question, write to
their HIV status while they’re locked up.
us. We will write you back and
We know you’re worried about getting
may publish an article on your
HIV and you have every right to be.
question in Prison Health News.
How Can You Get HIV?
There have always been a lot of rumors
If you want to write an article
about how HIV can be spread, but in realon something you think is
ity there are only a few ways to get HIV.
important for prisoners’ health,
send it and we will consider
HIV is only in: Blood, Semen, Vaginal
publishing it in Prison Health News. Fluids, and Breast Milk. For you to get
You can also write us first to
HIV, that fluid has to get inside your
discuss ideas for articles.
body. So people get infected by having
sex, sharing needles if they
If you want your name kept
confidential, you can sign your article use drugs, and breast-feeding their babies.
with your first name or “anonymous.” People don’t get HIV through: Spitting
or Coughing, because HIV isn’t airborne;
In coming issues, we will cover:
Sweat, because HIV isn’t in sweat;
* Nutrition,
Touching, because HIV can’t live on the
* Exercise,
skin; and Feces, because HIV isn’t in
* Getting Support While You Are
feces (it’s Hepatitis A that is in feces).
HIV exposure at your job: For most of
* How to Advocate for Yourself,
the things you will encounter on the job,
* HIV Treatments,
your risk of getting HIV is really low.
* Hepatitis C Treatments,
Fights—If you have to break up a fight,
* Treatment strategies for HIV
if there is blood, so long as you
and hepatitis C Co-infection,
don’t have an open cut, HIV cannot get
* Depression,
* Getting Out,
into your body. Bites—Even getting bit* Staying Clean When You Get
ten doesn’t put you at much risk for HIV.
HIV isn’t in spit, and when you get cut
* Welfare, Food Stamps, and
blood rushes out not in. So even if an
Medical Assistance,
inmate breaks your skin with their teeth,
* Housing,
it would be hard for HIV from their body
and much more!
page 2
to get inside yours.
If you have advice for other
prisoners dealing with health
issues, write to us. We will
feature you in “Words to Live By.”

You Need to Know about HIV
and John Bell, ex-offenders

Protect Yourself!
But “hard to get” isn’t zero, so we
want you to know about how to keep
from becoming HIV positive even if
you are exposed. If you get exposed
to HIV, you can take 1 month of HIV
medications-called Post Exposure
Prophylaxis (PEP). It is best to start
PEP within 2 hours of being exposed.
But as long as you start PEP within 48
hours, you won’t get HIV.
If you are worried that you might
have gotten exposed to HIV, talk to
your supervisor so you can start PEP.
Take A Stand!
We know that all of you have fears
about getting HIV. These are the
same fears going through the inmates’
heads. Many people find out they
have HIV in prison. They are scared
and upset, because they don’t know
that there are medications to fight HIV
that will let you live a healthy, normal
life. Those who do know about HIV
meds often won’t access them because
they are afraid of the bad treatment
they will receive from other inmates.
You can really help with this in your
professional roles as COs. Discourage
negative behavior from other inmates.
If you find out an inmate on your
block is HIV positive, keep that information confidential. If an inmate is
going to see the HIV doctor, pull him
aside one-on-one instead of announcing it on the block. Do whatever you
can to protect inmates’ privacy in med
lines, so that other inmates don’t see
them taking a handful of HIV pills. If
you do something special to protect
HIV+ inmates’ confidentiality, do the

same thing for everyone. Otherwise
you single people out, and other
inmates may catch on.
Keep It Safe!
The inmates with HIV will thank
you and that will keep you safer.
When you help an inmate get to sick
call, you are making the jail safer.
When you help an inmate get his
meds, you are making the jail safer.
When you help an inmate with his/her
referral for HIV/AIDS counseling or
testing, you are making us all safer.
We’re Here to Help!
On the last page of this newsletter,
there is a list of health organizations
that work in prisons. Or you can
always write to Prison Health News
for information. We’re here to help
however we can.

John Bell, Philadelphia FIGHT with Commissioner
Leon King, Philadelphia Prison System (PPS).
Commissioner King told John, “If you are in PPS and
have HIV, please go see Dr. D and take
page 3
your medications. I want you to live.”

Sure You’re Staying Healthy:
by Karen Goldstein, MD

Most of us only go to the doctor
when we are sick or don’t feel well.
But part of staying healthy is getting
regular check ups, so that you can
catch serious illnesses early enough
before they have a chance to make you
sick. Your primary care doctor should
offer you certain tests depending on
your age. In this article, we will tell
you what they are and why you need
them, so that you can ask your doctor
about having them done.
What are Routine Health
Routine health screenings are the
tests that your doctor gives you to
make sure that you do not have an illness/disease or are at risk for developing one. Even the healthiest person
has a chance of getting sick. Certain
illnesses are relatively common, and
can be doing damage to your body
even before they cause symptoms.
But many of these illnesses are very
treatable if they are caught early on.
Your doctor should offer you screening tests to look for these illnesses or
diseases on a regular basis. This means
that even if you feel well, you should
still have these tests done!
Sometimes, because of illness your
family members may have had (like
colon cancer) or other illnesses that
you may have (like HIV or Diabetes),
you can be at increased risk for developing similar or related conditions. If
you are at increased risk, your doctor
may offer screening either more often
or starting at a younger age. Ask your
doctor if your particular health issues
put you at increased risk!
page 4

Screening Tests for Women
Pap Smear (or Papanicolaou test):
What is it? A pap smear helps your
doctor know if your cervix is healthy.
Your cervix is the lower end of the
uterus, located at the top of the vagina.
With a pap smear, your doctor can
look for cervical cancer or signs of
abnormalities (like HPV—the human
papillomavirus) that can lead to cervical cancer later on.
How is it done? Your doctor does a
pap smear during a pelvic exam by
collecting a small number of cells
from your cervix. Your primary care
doctor can perform a pap, or you can
go to a gynecologist to have it done.
Who needs it? Every woman should
have a pap smear once a year starting
at age 21 years or when she becomes
sexually active. Women who have
HIV or who have had abnormal paps
in the past may need them more often.
What is it? A mammogram helps
your doctor know if your breast tissue
is healthy. With this screening test,
your doctor can tell if you have breast
cancer or abnormal breast tissue. A
mammogram can find early signs of
cancer even before you can feel a
lump in your breast.
How is it done? Your doctor will
write you a prescription to have a
mammogram. Your doctor’s office will
help you to find a facility nearby to
perform the mammogram. That facility
will send your doctor the results.
Who needs it? In general, women
should have a mammogram once a
year after they turn 40 years old.

Routine Health Screenings

Who needs it? Everyone should have
this checked at least once after age 20
and then every five years depending
on what their levels are. If you have
diabetes or a history of heart disease,
you may have different goal levels.
What is it? A colonoscopy is a test
your doctor can do to make sure your
colon is healthy. Your colon (large
intestine) is the last stop on your
digestive tract. It is responsible for
absorbing water and other body fluids
from your food waste so that it can be
eliminated as a bowel movement.
With a colonoscopy, you can look for
early signs of cancer in your colon.
How is it done? In a colonoscopy,
the doctor uses a tube-like camera to
look at the inside of your colon. Your
doctor will write you a referral to go
see a specialist who will perform the
colonoscopy, and the specialist will
send the results back to your doctor.
Who needs it? Everyone should
have this done after the age of 50. If
you have anyone in your family who
has had colon cancer, you may need
to have this done at an earlier age.
Staying Healthy
It is important to realize that these
tests are not perfect! Occasionally
they can miss evidence of disease.
However, if you don’t look, you
may not know until it is too late.
Staying healthy is important for
everyone, especially if you are HIV
positive. Ask your doctor what
screening tests are right for you.
Take charge of your health!

Breaking Free, by Bernard Patrick, Books Through Bars, Contexts

Women who have a family history of
breast cancer may need to have them
at a younger age.
Screening Tests for Men
PSA (or Prostate-Specific Antigen):
What is it? A PSA is a test your doctor can do to see if your prostate is
healthy. Your prostate is the gland that
makes the fluid in semen. With a PSA
test, your doctor can check the level of
prostate-specific antigen (PSA).
Everyone’s prostate makes PSA, but
high PSA levels can be a sign of
inflammation in your prostate
(Prostatitis) or prostate cancer.
How is it done? A PSA is a blood
test. After you get your blood drawn,
the tube of blood will be sent to a lab
to analyze. The results will be sent
back to your doctor.
Who needs it? There is disagreement
on who should take this test. You
should discuss whether this test is
right for you with your doctor.
Screening Tests for Everyone
Lipid Panel:
What is it? A lipid panel measures
your cholesterol to see if you are at
higher risk for heart disease. This test
looks at four things: Triglycerides
(TG), Low-Density Lipoprotein (LDL
or “bad cholesterol”), High-Density
lipoprotein (HDL or “good cholesterol”) and Total Cholesterol (TC).
Having high “bad” cholesterol (LDL)
or low “good” cholesterol (HDL) can
increase your risk for heart disease.
How is it done? A lipid panel is also
a blood test. Your blood will be analyzed at a lab, and then the results will
be sent back to your doctor.

page 5

General Advice on Getting Out

I work in the prison systems in New
Jersey. I assist inmates preparing for
discharge into the community. I
receive many inquiries from inmates
already in the community or in
Halfway Back programs needing assistance. While I am limited in what I
can do for them because they are not
my clients, I would like to offer some
general advice for those currently in
the correctional system.
If you’re in need of housing, be forewarned there is very little out there.
Be prepared that you may have to stay
in a shelter. As soon as you are
released, the local Board of Social
Services is the best place to start.
Make an appointment if possible with
someone who can offer you information and referrals. If appointments
aren’t possible, get there early in the
morning. Speak clearly, have your
questions and concerns written down.
Be organized and polite. If you are
from a particular community (Latino,
Black, HIV+, gay) there may be local

Words to Live By

agencies that can also assist you in
finding services.
Local libraries are also a good source
of information. You can look through
local newspapers and find information
on jobs available. The also have internet access and computers for preparing
resumes. Many larger areas have
career centers that can assist former
inmates in obtaining employment.
If you are fortunate enough to have
family to stay with, find a local food
bank service. This is a good way to
assist your family until you get back
on your feet.
When you find employment, set up a
bank account and a budget. If your
money is in the bank, you are less
likely to spend it frivolously. Only
keep out what money you need to get
you through the week.
Lastly, be patient! You are going to
have difficulties and frustrations.
Reestablishing yourself is not easy, but
life in prison is even harder!

-By Raymond G. Gerth, prisoner

testing their stamina with experiIt’s near impossible to measure all of
ments of incarceration, which will
the forces that assault an inmate’s
ultimately change for the worse even
frame of mind, throughout their senthe most positive of attitudes.
tence, due to the thousands of comYou cannot weigh the burdens one
plex environmental, psychological,
bears from guilt, sorrow, and dehuand metaphysical variables, which
combine to create an emotional storm manization, with any kind of scale.
You cannot check the temperature of
of immense proportions, under their
one’s fury at repeated and senseless
long dark cloud of confinement.
integrity and intelligence insults with
You cannot estimate the staying power
a thermometer. (continued on pg 7)
page 6

(Words to Live By, continued from pg 6)

You cannot determine the level of one’s
anxiety by adding equal amounts of
counterproductive therapy to the balance.
You cannot assess how apathetic the
creative brain becomes after years of
tedium with a common rule.
You cannot gauge to any degree the empty
vacuum that forms when one is desolate
and lonely beyond hope, within the crush
of unwanted humanity with any
You cannot judge the decline of
spirituality in anyone after they discover
the denial of religious services on any
type of value score.
You cannot regulate the tendency towards
violence in anyone who is constantly
disrespected, day in and day out with
some sort of calibrator.
You cannot rate the pressure one
undergoes in conditions of overly
crowded confinement with areas of
You cannot evaluate the terrible stress one
experiences, weeks on end with a tensile
strength indicator.
You cannot plumb the depths of anyone’s
depression with a sounding line, nor
fathom the hopelessness that strikes the
one who receives an unjust and too long
prison term with a simple timepiece.
Yet, pretty much the only psychological
therapy that an emotionally distraught
person can hope to receive is from a
salaried prisons staff member whose
driving motive will be to protect both his
own paid position, and that of his
employer’s, for the most part, by making
their patient
Raymond G. Gerth
Reg. No. 14844-056
feel at fault.
Man with Black Ink Pen,
by B. Pat, Books Through

Bars, Contexts Collection

USP Big Sandy Camp
P.O. Box 2068
Inez, KY 41224

resources for
people in prison

If you need information while
you are locked up, contact:

Project Inform

Outreach and Education Department
205 13th Street, Suite 2001
San Francisco, CA 94103-2461
information & newsletters on HIV
*free to prisoners

Fortune News

c/o The Fortune Society
53 West 23rd Street
New York, NY 10010

newsletter on criminal justice issues
*free to prisoners

National HCV Prison Coalition
Hepatitis C Awareness Project
PO Box 41803
Eugene, OR 97404

newsletter & information on hepatitis C
*free to prisoners

Prison Legal News

2400 NW 80th St. #148
Seattle, WA 98117

newsletter on prisoner rights&court rulings
*sample issue $1. unused stamps OK.

Southern Poverty Law Center
PO Box 548
Montgomery, AL 36101

Publish “Protecting Your Health and Safety:
A Litigation Guide for Inmates”
*$10 for inmates.

The Books 4 Prisoners Crew
P.O. Box 19065
Cincinnati, OH 45219

Publishes “Inside Out” a prisoner resource
guide with over 600 listings for prisoner
support groups and a review of services
provided by each one.
*$6 for free world folk. Prisoners who
would like a copy should send one of the
following--$0.60 in unused stamps, a
$0.60 prisoner money order made out
to “Books For Prisoners,” or 2 clean
embossed envelopes.

page 7

advocacy and support
resources for people in prison

If you need help while you are locked up, or when you get out,
In Philadelphia, PA
Philadelphia FIGHT
1233 Locust Street, 5th Floor
Philadelphia PA 19107
(215) 985-4448--no collect calls
Contact: Laura McTighe

In New York City, NY
Women Prison Association
& Home Inc.
175 Remsen Street, 9th Floor
Brooklyn, NY 11201
(718) 797-0300--for collect calls from
inside New York Jails/Prisons
(718) 637-6818--no collect calls
Contact: Leah Bundy
In New Brunswick, NJ
Project Connect
PO Box 824
New Brunswick, NJ 08901
999-999-9999--for free calls from
inside New Jersey State Prisons
1-800-433-0254--toll free in NJ
Contact: Nadia Matar


In Miami, FL
Care Resource, Miami
3510 Biscayne Blvd, Suite 300
Miami, FL 33137
(305) 573-5411--no collect calls
Contact: Intake Counselor

In San Francisco, CA
Continuum Springboard
225 Golden Gate Avenue
San Francisco, CA 94102
(415) 823-0414--no collect calls
(415) 823-0415--no collect calls
Contact: Helen Lin or Charlie

In Houston, TX
Houston Montrose Clinic
215 Westheimer
Houston, TX 77006
(713) 830-3000--no collect calls
Contact: Chris Jimmerson

Every organization on this list provides case
management, medical care and support services
for people when they get out of prison. Most of

If you need resources in a city not listed here, write to us!
We will help you track down answers to your specific questions.
Write to us if you know a great organization that is missing from this list.

page 8

Edited By:
Laura McTighe
John S. James
Adam Feldman
John Bell
Waheedah Shabazz-el
Jeanette Moody
James Seldon
Sam Morales
We are grateful for
financial support from
Boehringer Ingelheim
and Orthobiotech


If you would like to have Prison Health
News mailed to you, write to:

Prison Health News
c/o Philadelphia FIGHT
1233 Locust Street,
5th Floor
Philadelphia PA 19107

All subscriptions are free, and are mailed
First Class.



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