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First Person  (cont.)

First Person Faculty
Susan G. Sherman, Assistant Research  Professor, Epidemiology

Studying the social factors behind drug use and prostitution is Susan Sherman’s professional passion. Making jewelry is her hobby. She never really planned to put the two together.

I was at a high point with the jewelry thing, making jewelry in any free moment. A friend jokingly said, “Why don’t you get the women in your studies to help?”

I couldn’t do that, obviously, but it did get me to thinking. And what I came up with was a study called JEWEL—Jewelry Education for Women Empowering their Lives. Fifty-four women went through the pilot project.

Every group in the study went through six sessions. The first half was on HIV risk reduction, in terms of sexual behaviors, and in the second half the women made and marketed their own jewelry. We’d hold sales in the Outpatient Center of Hopkins Hospital, on tables we set up in a corridor.

Melanie—these aren’t real names—was a crack user with a messy, complex life. But when it came to jewelry, she was so talented! She learned these really complicated beading patterns. She probably made about $200 at the sales before Christmas. She sent most of it to her son.

Then there was Joan. She was living in a homeless shelter, using crack. Joan wasn’t the best jewelry maker, but she was a great marketer. So articulate! Whenever Joan was there, we sold a lot more jewelry. During the program, she went into outpatient treatment. Last time

I saw Joan, she’d been clean for two months.

We did a follow-up survey to see how the study affected their risk behaviors: The women absolutely reduced their numbers of paid sex encounters, and they absolutely increased their condom use. Now we’re hoping to get 400 people in a randomized trial, to do this on a much larger scale.

I’ve always come to public health from the viewpoint of social justice. The behavior change outcomes are great, but helping some of these women create economic opportunity for themselves—that’d be true success to me. ?