SUBMITTED TO: STAFFORD CREEK CORRECTIONS CENTER IN ABERDEEN, WASHINGTON
LGBTQ & HIV/AIDS Peer Support & Education Group:
Having a sexuality or gender identity divergent from the norm can be difficult under any circumstances, not to say anything about the life altering prospects of contracting a potentially fatal immunodeficiency disease. Inside prison, however, one’s experience with these kinds of challenges can be especially difficult, which can lead to emotional turmoil at least or even complete disruption of one’s life at worst. Even the best case scenario could lead to diminished likelihood of success upon release, which is adverse to what should be the preeminent penalogical objective: rehabilitation. That is why a group where
individuals among the LGBTQ & HIV/AIDS positive community could engage each other therapeutically and educationally is called for.
In a nutshell, these groups would convene up to once a week and begin with a few short, prepared remarks about an
educational/therapeutic topic of interest (see list under *Topics). This would be followed by group discussion centered around the topic transitioning into an open discussion moderated by the group’s sponsor and/or chosen participant (see * under Notes). During the group no one would be compelled to contribute to any of the discussions. Pertinent literature (i.e. books, pamphlets, leaflets covering topics such as PREA, safe sex practices [to be clear, inmate relations will always be strongly discouraged generally in the group, however, most attendees will have release dates and so safe sex practices in the “free world” will be touched on], hygiene, disease prevention/maintenance, therapeutic topics, etc.) will be made available. Fifteen minutes before each meeting adjourns we would allow everyone to finish up or make any last minute additions or suggestions for future meetings.
Rules & Restrictions:
*Must not have been CONVICTED of a Prison Rape or Strong Arming within the last five years. (Hopefully, this will deter potential predators from joining the group.)
*The group will be open to anyone who would like to participate, not just the GBTQ & HIV/AIDS community. (We hope this will encourage openmindedness through exposure and education.)
The group will provide emotional support to the LGBTQ & HIV/AIDS positive community within prison and encourage beneficial, healthy behaviors through peer education and continued peer support.
Individual members of this community may feel isolated which could lead to crisis. Access to peers in a safe, monitored, group environment may serve to prevent crises by connecting these individuals to a support system that may be able to help them recover. Because the LGBTQ & HIV/AIDS positive community is unique and faces
correspondingly singular challenges it is necessary to broach topics not otherwise addressed. Tough and emotionally challenging topics will be regularly discussed for the amelioration of the whole community. The desired end is that men will gain a better sense of their identity and as a result will be able to appropriately handle adverse situations. Men equipped with healthy emotional responses to their day-to-day lives can only benefit and compliment any former and/or current available cognitive programming that addresses prison recidivism.
Being isolated and unable to express ourselves can be psychologically damaging. The availability of a peer support group where we all have a common tie will allow for healthy and safe expression of our identities.
The initial structure is planned to be very basic and loose. This is intentional so wr can practically determine a solid format, though we are highly confident that in its current plan it will be valuable and productive. This plan entails: a one-hour block of group discussion on a topic, allowing for discussions of personal experiences and advice on how to cope and deal with certain experiences followed by around an hour of open discussion. At the end of each group a topic from the list will be given (or chosen by forum) for the next group, a short lecture (usually taken directly from the literature and only long enough to engender ideas for discussion; discussion being promoted but never required) will be prepared (or retrieved) , then given the following group. Continual attempts will be made by the sponsor/moderator to educate the attendees on positive & healthy behaviors as outlined by literature approved by SCCC medical staff.
The curriculum is intended to be ongoing to stay on top of
political/social/scientific/medical developments. It will also revolve to deal with the anticipated high turnover rate that will render any formal, linear curriculum impractical. A list of core topics will be kept and added to at the suggestion of group members. We do want to allow some leeway for experimentation as well as additional small, subtle format changes to keep the group alive as an ongoing, continually improving process and reflection of its current members’ interaction styles, while always retaining the bare bones formal structure (as formalized in this document or any future proposals) that can be taught and handed down to subsequent facilitators for future groups.
The initial sponsor (see *notes) will more than likely not lead the group. However, the hope is that a permanent sponsor will be located who will be available to host group meetings regularly, eliminating the need for inmate facilitators. Of great importance to our cause are the significant benefits to an inmate-led group discussion, such as openness and trust. This is proven with other current successful groups that are still used currently. They are highly successful with breaking trust and empathy barriers, especially when DOC staff is present.
During open discussion, on weeks when a participant volunteers, a segment called “My Story” will be allotted time. During this period, the volunteering group member will be able to share elements of his life experience relating to contracting HIV/AIDS or being LGBTQ, coming to terms with these facts, and/or coming out to friends and family and how these have impacted his life. This could provide a way to tie the group together emotionally, promote awareness and compassion, allow a person the chance for some catharsis. It could take the difficult topics one cannot usually share with the straight community and immediately bring them to the surface. We think this will allow a courageous
participant to own up to a past that may have otherwise remained repressed and internally malignant.
Sex, PREA reporting and education, disease control and prevention, gender identity, LBGTQ definitions, stigmas, spirituality, resource availability, mentoring, cellmate relations (non-sexual, obviously there will be no advocating/condoning sexual relations between inmates), family, drug and emotional dependency, self esteem, self acceptance, how to ask for help, when to get additional support, ostracism, social treatment, other topics as they arise.
Other Items Of Concern:
CALLOUT: To protect the anonymity of the attendees the call-out should read “educational programming” or something equally unidentifiable. It should be note that we expect this to changed over time to a formal name as dictated by the facility climate and increased
awareness/comfort of the inmate population.
PROMOTION: The promotion of the group could be multi-faceted: word of mouth, a single page flyer on the bulletin boards, a facility
memorandum entry, and an update to the unig counselors and mental health staff should suffice. Counselors and mental health staff are often the first staff to know of an inmate’s sexuality or identity and/or related struggles. If they are informed about the group theh can pass thay on to the inmates on their caseloads at their discretion.
SAFETY & SECURITY: All attempts will be made to thwart any efforts by participants to organize inside and outside of the group for any other reason than peer support or other items outlined in this proposal. This group will not be used as a conduit for the formation and/or meeting of any security threat group. Members will be asked to leave immediately
if there is any suspicion that they are interested in the group for those purposes.
For additional information and/or questions please contact:
Jeff Utnage #823469
H-3-A-20-U Stafford Creek Corrections Center Aberdeen, WA
>We have secured a provisional sponsor, INFORMATION REDACTED, who will act as moderator/observer until a more appropriate (by which we mean outside) replacement is approved. Said sponsor will be there to ensure the safety and security of the institution and inmates is not comprimised. Said sponsor will not be offering mental health advice or counsel and will operate within the parameters and guidelines
prescribed by DOC/SCCC.
>Jeff Utnage #823469 will be the facilitator until an outside sponsor is comfortable and capable of facilitating.
Thank you for your consideration!