The Real Cost of Prisons on People with HIV/AIDS: Conversation Starter from the CHAMP Academy

NOVEMBER 2006 • Issue 1

Incarceration issues are not easy to discuss in the HIV/AIDS community. They tap into deeper debates — about punishment, of retribution, of penance or forgiveness — that are rooted in our personal histories, our political beliefs, our faith traditions, or our values as individuals. They may bring up feelings from having friends or family who are locked up, or from having been locked up ourselves. They also can provoke our anger or pain as the victims of crime or violence. Some of us found recovery, education, or faith when incarcerated, while others found only pain, humiliation, violence or isolation.

What is clear is that prisons and jails are a major part of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the United States, and in many places around the world. Talking about the realities of incarceration in the epidemic — and the responsibilities, opportunities and challenges that face us as AIDS activist with so many people incarcerated in our nation – is a necessary struggle on the road to HIV/AIDS justice.

But we don’t have to do it alone. We encourage you to check out the Real Cost of Prisons Project (, which provides information, tools and trainings for those who want to have a deeper understanding of the facts and the skills they need to make effective arguments that specifically deal with changing the criminal justice system.

Here’s one conversation starter we’ve developed using tools from the Real Cost of Prisons Project:

Conversation Length: 40 minutes or so, depending on size of group

Materials: One piece of flipchart paper and 3 markers, for every three to four people
The Real Cost of Prison’s “Map of Obstacles,” one copy for each person
(download it here:

Before handing out the maps, the conversation facilitator should explain that “criminal justice,” or incarceration issues, can bring up feelings for a lot of people. It may be good to ask the group to establish ground rules for the conversation, such as recognizing that this short discussion will not cover broader issues of crime and punishment, and honoring the different experiences and opinions of all in the room.

The maps are in the form of flowcharts that address three common challenges faced by those
leaving jail or prison: earning money, reuniting family, and finding housing. They can also be made into powerpoint slides and projected, so all participants can view the maps at once. The whole group can discuss the maps, and people may choose to share relevant personal experiences.

Then, the facilitator can ask “what would it look like to make a map of obstacles faced by people leaving jail or prison with an HIV diagnosis?”

Split into small groups of three to four people for this discussion. Each group should appoint a
timekeeper, and another person to track the conversation on the flipchart. Groups can choose to draw their own map, or make a list of points to consider. After 10-15 minutes, the small groups rejoin into a whole, and take turns sharing their maps or lists.

A good way to end the conversation is a go-around, in which each person can contribute one new thing they learned in the conversation, or a point that was made that was challenging for them. Remember, the Real Cost of Prisons Project has comic books, more tools, and information on their website – and they can also do in-depth trainings on these issues. For more information about the Real Cost of Prisons Project, or to schedule a workshop in your community, please contact:
Lois Ahrens, 5 Warfield Place, Northampton, MA 01060

CHAMP Academy is developing trainings and resources to help AIDS organizations and activists clarify our perspectives on incarceration and to deepen our role in fighting for a public health response to HIV/AIDS and incarceration, and invite you to contact us as well.
293 Oxford Street, Providence, RI 02905
t. 401.427.2302 f.401.633.7793
32 Broadway, Suite 1801, New York, NY 10004
t. 212.937.7955 f.212.513.1367

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Filed under prison, Solidarity Project, stigma, Uncategorized

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