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Book Review: Breaking the Walls of Silence

Book review by Laura Whitehorn

Breaking The Walls Of Silence: AIDS and Women in a New Youk State Maximum Security Prison was written by the members of the ACE Program (AIDS Counseling and Education) of Bedford Hills Women's Prison. It is a compelling book which should be read by anyone with an interest in AIDS education or prisoners' rights. It's unique: it does not objectify women, prisoners, or PWA's, because it's written by them. It is a necessary book.

The book consists of two sections: a moving, exciting history of ACE, and a complete outline of the ACE curriculum -- fittingly entitled "Empowerment through Education." Although some of the information in the book is dated (the women completed the book in 1995; inexplicably, it wasn't issued by the publisher until this year), the basic content of the lesson plans and the approach to AIDS education is both creative and, in my experience as a peer educator, effective. It is very difficult to find any educational materials appropriate to prisoner peer education -- especially for women prisoners. This book provides exactly that resource.

Useful as the curriculum section is, it's the first half of the book -- the genesis and history of ACE -- that I found the most enthralling. The history is made up of personal accounts by many women prisoners as well as some staff members (including the Warden!) and outside volunteers. Some of the women are HIV-positive, others are not; they come from a wide spectrum of backgrounds, too. The history encompasses emotional, factual, and analytical descriptions of the stages of the AIDS crisis as it affected women in prison. It provides a narrative of the process of organizing to combat the crisis, and in so doing, suggests a guide to organizing for any cause to protect and empower women prisoners, or to educate ourselves about vital subjects other than AIDS itself.

I know that every AIDS peer educator in prison (and, hopefully, outside) will devour this book as I did. My fondest wish is that some open-minded prison administrators may also read it, and be moved by it to allow prisoners to do the work that needs to be done to combat AIDS -- work that only we can do, as peer educators.

Thank you, women of ACE, for writing this book. Contact info: Jenifer Wohl, The Overlook Press, Peter Mayer Publishers, Inc., 386 West Broadway, New York, NY 10012, tel. 212/965-8400. Hardbound, with photos, 408 pp., $29.95.

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