HEPATITIS EDUCATION PROJECT: How I’m Learning To Help Those Around Me Be Safer
I never would have thought I would hold a condom in prison. Let alone talk about flavors, styles, sizes and lubricants. These are taboo topics for gay man in particular. But even for straight men in prison these are topics that aren’t taken with any seriousness. Usually accompanied by some sort of gay joke if it is talked about at all.
It was refreshing to sit in a class and talk about sex. Albeit it wasn’t to talk about sexual pleasure, rather, to address how we can promote safer sex to those we interact with. For me I need to talk about this frequently with my social group because sex in prison is not allowed, therefore condoms are not allowed.
The class I am talking about is the Hepatitis Education Project or HEP. The idea is 1-2% of the US population has Hepatitis C, but in prison its 20%. The numbers are concentrated here. Mainly because HEP A,B, & C and HIV, are spread through behaviors like sharing needles, unsafe tattooing and unprotected sex. 
This organization is really attacking the spread of these diseases where they are being concentrated. In prison guys get tattoos and have sex. There isn’t a whole lot you can do to stop them. But there is ways to reduce their chances of spreading and/or contracting diseases as a result.
I am especially interested because many of the LGBTQ individuals I deal with on a day to day basis have at some point engaged in sex work and usually injecting drugs intravenously. Its apart of their lives for this moment and its extremely dangerous. I would rather that they didn’t prostitute themselves at all, but if I can’t get them to stop perhaps I could convince them to do sex work as safely as possible. I really like that avenue because it keeps me close to them. Close enough that they will confide in me for resources and help when they do want to take the next step to sobriety or whatever their situation is.
My personal goal is to truly care for people, to legitimately love them. This class and the organization behind it is giving me realistic tools to help in that process. So while it was entertaining to watch a guy put a condom on a cucumber and keep a straight face, most impressive was that he did it in a prison environment. I can learn from that.
These guys are doing real things to clean up the community in which you live. They are the ones helping your loved ones when they are strung out and unreachable. They are making a difference, one class of 12 at a time, and were listening and putting to use their methodology of spreading knowledge. Check them out at
www.hepeducation.org for more info and what you can do to help or learn more!

With Love 
Jeff Utnage 823469