A pencil-thin man with piercing eyes looks straight at you from the video screen. He’s a prison inmate, and he’s dying from AIDS.
“I want you to listen to me because I don’t have much longer,” the young man says. “Don’t engage in homosexual sex. It’s not worth it. All it earns you is `an early ticket to the grave.'”
This video is being used in Florida prisons to educate inmates on the risks of AIDS. But AIDS activists object to efforts at education like this. It’s moralizing, they say. And it won’t work: Prisoners are going to have sex regardless, so the only solution is give them condoms.
Safe sex, they call it.
So, unlike Florida, Washington, D.C., is considering distributing condoms in its jails–notwithstanding the fact that sodomy is illegal under D.C. law. Other corrections systems are experimenting with the condom solution as well.
But wait a minute. The idea that condoms stop AIDS depends on two dubious assumptions. The first is that prisoners would use them; the second is that they work.
Most homosexual acts in prison are forced. Some of the victims are just kids. Kids like Tim–a shy teenager who tried to buy popularity by dealing marijuana. Police caught him forging checks to pay for the drugs, and he was sent to prison.
Tim’s mother tried desperately to prevent it. “He was one day over eighteen years old,” she said. “He was a pretty boy. I knew what would happen to him in prison.”
And it did. Tim was raped and beaten mercilessly by a gang of older inmates.
Let’s be serious: Do we really expect men who rape teen-aged boys to pause beforehand and put on a condom? Not likely.
Of course, consensual sex happens in prison, too. But giving out condoms is no solution there either. It only condones the behavior. What a bitter irony if prisons deny inmates conjugal visits (as most do), but sanction homosexual sex.
It would be a policy favoring perversion.
The second assumption, that condoms give protection from AIDS is even more dangerous. Because it’s a lie. Condoms are not foolproof. One study found a 4 percent breakage rate–even higher in homosexual relations. Condoms aren’t made for this unnatural act any more than people are.
But whether condoms work is only the immediate issue. Beyond it is a far more important question, one that goes to the very character of our society.
Distributing condoms in prison is a form of moral surrender. It’s an admission that we can’t maintain the rule of law–even in prisons.
And what message does government send to the wider community when it provides protection for an act it has already defined as both illegal and dangerous? A double message that condemns while enabling at the same time. It undermines government’s credibility and robs laws of their moral authority.
I have sat in isolation cells with inmates dying from AIDS. I have embraced them, prayed with them, and offered them the Good News. I know only too well that for many in prison, AIDS has become their death sentence, imposed without jury or judge or hope of reprieve.
For government to participate in imposing that sentence by promoting the lie of safe sex is the ultimate betrayal of their trust, and of the public trust as well.
Story of Tim is in Charles W. Colson and Dan Van Ness, Convicted: New Hope for Ending America’s Crime Crisis (Westchester, IL: Crossway Books, 1989): 20-22