Almost 20 years ago, Andrew Yancy felt a small lump on his neck. He told a nurse he thought it was a spider bite. There were examinations and tests — the results shocked him — he had been infected with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).
Since then, Yancy says he’s serious about educating people about HIV. He had a chance to make good on his word, when two local non-profits geared to serve those suffering from HIV/AIDS came to San Quentin the day after World AIDS Day.
Acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) is a term that applies to the advanced stages of HIV infection.
“The most important thing is keeping the conversation going,” Yancy said, “and not for just HIV patients — everyone needs to be involved.”
“This is an important issue,” said Lisa Strawn, a San Quentin prisoner and emcee of our first-ever Transgender Day of Remembrance. “It’s about saving lives, not just the LBGTQ community. There’s tattooing, drug use and not everybody is going to be up front. This day is important in so many ways. So, it’s disappointing that there aren’t any medical staff here.”
The non-profits that came to talk to the prisoners, Until There’s A Cure and AIDS Project of the East Bay (APEB), work toward HIV/AIDS awareness and providing services to those directly impacted by the virus.
“We need to get past being shunned, afraid to shake hands,” said Ed Jones of APEB. “Those living with HIV should not be shunned away.”
APEB holds discussion groups to talk about the stigma and challenges faced.
“It’s a good way to vent and share when there’s something going on,” Jones said. “It’s a great place to go, and we feed you.”
The National Institute of Health reports that, today, there are medications for HIV treatment and to prevent its transmission, which enables a person to live a nearly normal lifespan.
APEB operates a health clinic that, in addition to offering patient care and case management, is involved with community outreach and testing. The non-profit also has a workforce education and training program, transgender support services, youth activities as well as pastoral care and counseling.
“I can relate to being here,” said APEB staffer, Mikiya “Fefe.” “I’m transgender, and I was in prison for three years and transgender.” He told the audience that he knows firsthand what it’s like not to be educated and not have support or guidance and then go back to the streets. I want to be a beacon so no matter what background you come from you have support.”
Dora Hanna, executive director of Until There’s A Cure, assists those with felony convictions obtain housing. The organization also has raised more than $23 million by selling bracelets to support non-profits focused on HIV/AIDS related issues.
“When you’re homeless, the risk of infection from HIV goes up,” Hanna said. “If you self-medicate and engage in risky behavior and have poor eating habits, the risk goes up. Until We Find A Cure aims to eliminate barriers and to make the drugs more accessible. Everyone deserves a place to live.”
HIV is found in certain bodily fluids of people living with HIV, including blood, semen, vaginal fluids, rectal fluids and breast milk. HIV can be transmitted by:
- Unprotected vaginal or anal sex, and, in very rare cases, through oral sex with a person who has HIV; blood transfusion of contaminated blood.
- Sharing of needles, syringes, other injecting equipment as well as exposure to other sharp instruments.
- From a mother with HIV to her infant during pregnancy, childbirth or breastfeeding.
If a person living with HIV is on antiretroviral therapy, which effectively suppresses HIV in the body, their chance of transmitting HIV to another person is greatly reduced. This class of drugs is available to prisoners in California.
For more information, write to:
8400 Enterprise Way, Suite 118
Oakland, CA 94621