It’s Your Health: A Tribute to Peer Counselors

by Edaleene Smith, CCWF
The cover of the book Focus On Living: Portrails of people with HIV, showing a young black man with a shaved headIn this issue of The Fire Inside we focus on the critical role of peer health counselors and educators in building strength and unity among women prisoners. Against the odds, and often at risk of retribution from the prison authorities, these women make sure that other sisters are educated and supported in dealing with their health–from HIV to Hepatitis C, cancer to how to survive life inside the walls. A recent book, Focus on Living by Roslyn Banish, features two peer counselors from CCWF. We are proud to print this review of their work.
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My name is Edaleene Smith. I’m a long-termer with a sentence of 36 years. I’ve been in prison for almost 6 years. I want to tell you about two peer counselors who wrote their life stories to help teach other women in prison. When I first came over the wall from A Yard I feared so many things: the signs all over the place warning us about Hepatitis C and HIV; being surrounded by so many sick, infected people; and being afraid that I would die. I was thinking, “How could I live a normal life in prison around so many sick women?” At the time I didn’t know that two peer counselors BH and JR were sick.
They both reached out to me with open arms. They are always helping someone and teaching about good health. From them I learned how to take it one day at a time, dealing with my time and realizing that at any given time one could get sick. I learned from BH and JR not to mistreat or be scared of women who are ill, and learned more about myself. Just the fact that these two women who are both sick can help others made me a believer. I know that I am not better than anyone who has HIV or Hep C because it’s a fight for everyone to stay alive every day. I know now that people who are sick can also live strong and healthy lives.
Thank you BH and JR for sharing your stories and teaching other people to become strong, to believe in ourselves and to know that we all can live normal lives.