The Imprisonment of David Pasquarelli
14 April 2002
AN UPDATE FROM ACT UP ACTIVIST DAVID PASQUARELLI FOLLOWING HIS RELEASE FROM S.F. COUNTY JAIL
Dear Friends and Supporters:
My apologies for taking so long to communicate to
you events following the release after my unforeseen 72-day
incarceration at San Francisco County Jail.
As you probably recall, I along with my colleague
Michael Petrelis, participated in a phone, fax, and e-mail zap to draw
attention to antigay statistical scapegoating of gay men by public
health authorities and consequent calls for quarantine of people with
HIV/AIDS and homosexuals that do not wear condoms.
For this act of direct action we were served with
civil restraining orders and required to appear in civil court, which
we did. At the conclusion of this civil hearing, on our way out the
door and in the presence of our attorneys, Michael and I were ambushed
and arrested by police officers, inspectors, and representatives of the
District Attorney's office.
Media photographers and TV news crews had been
alerted in advance by the D.A.'s office to capture the shocking arrest
of “San Francisco's AIDS Stalkers” as we were
“captured” out in the hall. Michael and I were then
vilified in the media by our very own “progressive”
District Attorney Terence Hallinan who told the media we were dangerous
“terrorists”. Articles in The San Francisco Chronicle
unfairly accused us of issuing bomb threats and representatives of The
Chronicle claimed we threw bricks through the windows of their offices
and reporters homes — allegations that were entirely false.
These misrepresentations of actual property damage
and threats of violence with explosives were presented to the Court as
facts despite no supporting evidence. Our bail was kept at a phenomenal
$1.1 million until Judge Perker Meeks examined the case and found no
evidence of bomb threats or bricks. Consequently, our bail was reduced
to a still exorbitant $220,000 but, luckily, we were able to secure our
freedom with a bail bond.
In describing events while in custody and following
my release, I can only speak for myself and not my colleague Michael
Petrelis, who has his own experiences to share.
Without going into too much detail, I can say my
imprisonment was sudden, grueling, and extraordinarily stressful
— more so than my body could endure, as I later discovered.
While in jail I could eat very little of the food I
was served due to allergies I suffer to milk, oranges, and peanut
butter. Each day, I slowly starved and lost weight as my repeated
requests for a high-protein/dairy-free diet were ignored throughout the
duration of my time in custody. Amazingly, I couldn't even obtain a
daily Ensure protein drink or a supplemental snack to help maintain my
weight despite being diagnosed as “HIV-positive” by the
jail's medical personnel.
Needless to say, sleeping was difficult to
impossible. Loud sounds of clanking cell doors and jangling keys, the
snores of scores of inmates, sudden fights and screaming guards
translated into 72 days of seriously disturbed sleeping patterns
complete with little rest and loads of nightmares. Add to this the poor
ventilation, the harsh toxic cleaning chemicals we were forced to use,
zero access to outdoor air and sun, and lack of facilities for exercise
and the rapid breakdown of my body became increasingly evident.
Thrush took over my mouth and throat. I was plagued
by repeated painful eye infections and weird skin outbreaks. I rapidly
lost weight and became weak. Of course, being classified as
“HIV-positive” meant I was repeatedly pressured into
submitting to every imaginable blood test, pill, and available
vaccination. I refused all attempts by medics to rope me into the
“AIDS standard of care” but it was difficult and
contributed greatly to my stress. The prospect of being forced into the
medical ward and violated in some way always loomed large in my mind.
Thankfully, on February 8 at 9:30 p.m. I was finally
released from the jailhouse hell that had lasted two-and-a-half-months.
I had spent behind bars my birthday, Christmas, New Year's, and the
five-year anniversary of meeting my partner.
Upon my release things seemed pretty good as I was
operating on adrenaline. I was eager to return to my previous busy life
but then four days later everything crashed.
On February 12, while walking down Polk Street, I
collapsed and had to be rushed to the emergency room. I was diagnosed
with malnutrition, dehydration, and severe anemia. I was rehydrated and
discharged that day. For the next month I endured batteries of blood
tests to determine the extent of the damage done to my immune system
due to my time in custody. The deterioration was devastating.
Prior to being arrested I was vital and thriving
with T-cells in the 600s and CD8s in the 800s along with no detectable
“viral load” (for those who put stock in such blood tests.)
Immediately after my release my T-cells had plummeted to 14, my CD8s
dropped to 200, and my “viral load” had skyrocketed to
450,000. While I personally don't put much faith in these blood-borne
numbers, the physical symptoms of my immune system destruction were
also obvious and undeniable. A month later, on March 12, I began to
have serious difficulty breathing. Late at night I was once again
rushed to the emergency room. X-rays were taken and I was diagnosed
with PCP pneumonia. I was so weak I needed assistance standing and
walking. It was so hard to breathe I lost all color and my hands and
feet were completely numb due to lack of circulating oxygen. I had to
be put on a breathing assistance device and heart monitors.
Desperate to return to health I followed the
doctor's orders of taking two double-strength Bactrim three times a
day. I consumed the Bactrim for 48 hours and I almost died because of
The Bactrim prompted such a severe allergic reaction
I became anxious, disoriented, and forced to endure spiking fevers of
105-degrees for days. My body began to shut down and on March 13, for
the third time, I was rushed back to the emergency room and finally
admitted to the hospital (I have no medical insurance.)
Despite being so disoriented and obviously harmed by
Bactrim's effects, I was infused with even more Bactrim as well as
additional antibiotics — expressly against my wishes and those of
my caregiver. My condition deteriorated so badly hospital officials
threatened to use bed restraints to keep me in the room while my
closest friends pondered what appeared to be my imminent death. I was
so gravely ill, I too believed my life was over and started the sad
process of “letting go”.
Then, suddenly, on March 14, while lying in this
hospital bed hooked up to all these machines, something compelled me to
leave immediately. I awoke to a nurse who had quietly entered the room
and begun to inject a large syringe of serum into my intravenous drip
— without my knowledge or permission. It burned my arm so I
ordered her to stop immediately. She protested and I screamed at her to
TAKE IT OUT! She removed the syringe and I decided this poisonous
medical care I was receiving was my real problem. I demanded to be
discharged IMMEDIATELY knowing it was my only hope of survival. I
called friends and demanded that they “get me the hell out of
this deathtrap NOW!” They quickly arrived, helped me out of bed,
into my clothes, and quickly out the doors.
Even after that dark day, my health continued to go
from bad to worse for a time. Then, miraculously, my condition began to
slowly improve thanks to the advice of an incredible physician and
But there were still emerging problems. In addition
to the candida overgrowth in my mouth, the anemia, and the lung
infection impeding my breathing, I developed a terribly severe herpes
simplex outbreak. It rapidly spread painful, raw lesions over the
entire area of my upper and lower lips. This condition is still not
resolved and the pain is excruciating. It's now been four weeks of this
nightmare. Eating is agonizing, speaking is almost impossible, and
sleeping is frequently interrupted by spontaneous bleeding episodes
where I wake up drenched. Basically, I just endure the raw pain as day
by day the lesions gradually heal and become ugly, blackened scabs.
But the good news is I am healing — slowly. My
symptoms are resolving with the passing of time and with the help of
some incredible friends, doctors, acupuncturists, and body work
practitioners — plus, of course, lots of food, water, and rest. I
guess if it takes 72 days to destroy an immune system it takes just as
long or longer to put one back together! I have learned so many
important lessons over the past two months about life, faith in God,
patience, and what's truly important when your health is in jeopardy.
It hasn't been pleasant but I suppose lessons of life aren't
necessarily meant to be. Most importantly, I've finally learned to
trust my body to tell me what it needs. And although it almost killed
me, I got a glimpse inside the AIDS machine that treats all
HIV-positive people as though they are already marked for death. The
“well-meaning” fools that keep the machine humming pump
their victims full of poisonous drugs like Bactrim that end their lives
and they never feel guilty about it. After all, “they're just
doing their job” — their treatments are the standard of
care and the patient was dying of AIDS anyway.
All I can say is “NEVER AGAIN!” I will
never again out of fear and hysteria of ailing health be prompted by
megalomaniacal doctors to sacrifice my body to their monstrous machine.
Instead, I choose to survive! In closing, I want to offer my sincere
thanks and appreciation to the hundreds of supporters who helped
Michael Petrelis and I make it through our ordeal. Your letters, cards,
drawings, books, and kind words of encouragement kept us going on the
right path of our journey. I also especially want to thank those very
special people that gave their time, energy, and love to bring me back
from the brink of death. You all know who you are and I don't know how
I'll ever repay you. I love you with all my heart and truly owe you my
26 April 2002
HEALTH UPDATE OF ACT UP ACTIVIST DAVID PASQUARELLI FOLLOWING HIS RELEASE FROM S.F. COUNTY JAIL
The health of ACT UP activist David Pasquarelli, who was jailed for 72
days for participating in a phone, fax, and email zap to protest
inaccurate statistics and calls for quarantine of gay men, has
unfortunately taken a turn for the worse. On April 17th, David began
having excruciating painful headaches that would not respond to pain
relievers. On Monday April 22nd, David was rushed to the emergency room
and admitted to a San Francisco hospital where he was diagnosed with
life threatening cryptococcal meningitis. He is currently on treatment
with friends and family at his bedside.
David Pasquarelli never regained his health. He died in March 2004.