Playing it Safe Inside is an HIV peer education programme, designed to help inmates make healthier sexual choices and reduce the high incidence of HIV disease in prisons. Mothers for All ran a very successful pilot in 2012 at Dwarsrivier Correctional Centre and was therefore given funding to roll out the programme in a further two prisons: Worcester Male Centre and Worcester Female Centre.
The programme also helps inmates to understand what drives behaviour generally and therefore to make safer choices on many different levels. Several different workshops are held for the selected peer educators that explore, in a practical way, the following topics: HIV prevention; gender-based violence; behaviour and choices; personal development and leadership; and project management.
The trained inmates then run sessions targeting individual inmates, cell rooms and the whole prison. They use DVDs, games, sports, role play, competitions and events to get the message across that HIV is no longer a fatal disease but a treatable condition which, with the correct treatment, means that a person can now live a long and healthy life. Their aim is to normalise the disease and therefore remove the stigma that has for so long bedevilled effective prevention. They also explore the nature of gender-based violence and cultural practices that disempower women and children and help to drive the epidemic.
Playing it Safe Inside is an evidence-based programme as the impact of the peer educators is measured on a monthly basis by the number of inmates who get tested for HIV, the rate of condom uptake (condoms are freely available within prisons) and the incidence of violent assaults. During the pilot project at Dwarsrivier Correctional Centre the atmosphere in the prison changed so much, with the six-week long games tournament, that the unit manager said, “I am enjoying coming to work for the first time in my life.” The trained inmates also proved that they could be very effective educators and agents of change by getting 250 inmates to agree to test for HIV (75% of the prison population) and by doubling the uptake of condoms from 2000 a month to 4000, indicating significant behavioural change towards safer sexual practices.
After the programme has been assessed the trained inmates volunteer to move to other prisons so that they can train new inmates as peer educators. Mothers for All under our new arm, Brothers for All, continues to act as a mentor during this process. It is our hope that, with appropriate support, this programme can eventually spread to most prisons in South Africa and beyond. When asked if the prison gangs gave the peer educators any problems this was one notable reply; “Yes, they showed a bit of resistance in the beginning but we have far more effective weapons: laughter, joy and hope.