TIM’S STORY: GETTING HEP C TREATMENT IN JAIL
I’ve done lots of hep C education courses in jail, so I know a fair bit about hep C, but there always seems to be more to learn. I think telling people about hep C is important. It’s great how treatment is getting easier and better.
I found out I had hep C in the mid-1990s. I went into jail in Victoria, where blood testing is mandatory. They look for sexually transmitted infections and blood borne viruses like hep B, hep C and HIV,
and I came up positive for hep C. I worked out I’d got it from sharing equipment with an ex-girlfriend.
I didn’t do anything about it then. Apart from the fact that I didn’t have any symptoms, the only treatment at the time was interferon and I knew that not only did it make you sick, it didn’t work for most people. I knew a guy whose skin fell off. It just didn’t seem worth it.
I had heard whispers about the new treatments so when the nurses here offered it to me I went for it. I didn’t hesitate at all, I just said “sweet” and got onto the Harvoni. It’s been good. No side effects at all. I’ve just had my last blood test and am waiting for the results but the way I feel says I’ve cleared it.
It didn’t feel like the hep C had been holding me back, but now I’ve finished the treatment I feel 18 again. I have so much more energy. I can work all day solid in the gardens and feel great afterwards. Before I was doing the work OK, but felt sluggish after. Now I feel fantastic at the end of the day.
There’s a few in treatment here. It’s a pretty supportive place, people actually talk about hep C here, and if you’re on treatment they’re likely to say “yeah, good on you mate”. It’s not like that in most jails. People think about their health here and the nurses are the best anywhere.
Outside, I’m a tattoo artist. When I was a kid I enjoyed drawing birds and animals. Then I saw my first tattoo and loved it. I practiced on myself and on guys in jail and had a job in a tattoo parlour out west. There’s no tattooing in this jail, but I draw a lot of designs for the guys in here so they can get them done outside. I really like the process of working with someone to get a design they really love.
I remember when I was working as a tattoo artist, a girl came in and was really scared, but I talked her through it and made sure she was happy with the design. She came back to show me how much she loved it and brought her girlfriend and they both got tattoos on that return visit. That’s what I love, what I find really satisfying. Working with people to get a tattoo they will really love and connect with.
I’ll work as a tattoo artist again when I get out and get somewhere to live. I got the sack last time because I was using too much, but I’m not using now so I think it will work out this time. I’m glad I’ve cleared hep C. No-one wants to be tattooed by someone who has hep C. If you’re tattooing, you need to know about blood borne viruses like hep C. People think you just need to change the needle but you have to change the barrel as well. You have to use all sterile equipment and work really cleanly.
In jail, you need to use Fincol [Fincol is jail bleach: Ed] if you want to be safe and healthy and avoid hep C. Fincol is not always easy to get in jail. And often when you use, it’s not planned, it’s spur of the moment and happens in the yard. I knew one guy who carried around a urine sample jar full of Fincol just in case. But of course, if you’re caught with it you get charged for it. I think there should be a dispenser in every yard.
As far as me and drugs are concerned, I’ve decided I’m over chasing it in jail. I’ve been doing it for long enough. I don’t use inside any more. If I do use outside at any time in the future, I’ll make sure I do it properly with sterile equipment. I am never getting hep C again.