Monday, January 28, 2008

73-Year-Old HIV+ Texas Lay Chaplain Arrested for Needle Exchanges

Yet one more story convincing me that parts of this country are incredibly backward:
SAN ANTONIO -- Bill Day doesn't fancy himself an outlaw -- and with his Mr. Rogers demeanor, he definitely doesn't look the part. But soon the 73-year-old lay chaplain could spend up to a year in jail for breaking a law that he considers immoral.

Day hands out clean needles to drug addicts on some of the seediest streets in this south Texas city. He does it because he's convinced that it reduces human suffering by curtailing the spread of HIV, a view that has been supported by medical research for more than a decade.

However, Day's actions are illegal in Texas -- the only state that has not started a needle-exchange program of some kind. So when a San Antonio police officer spotted him swapping syringes with prostitutes and junkies this month, he was arrested on drug paraphernalia charges.

"This is a moral imperative," said Day, whose nonprofit group, the Bexar Area Harm Reduction Coalition, gets funding from his church. "I come from a family of altruistic people. My mother made clothes for the poor during the Depression. My father never turned down a hobo. I have to keep doing what I think is right."

Day also has a personal reason for wanting to stop others from contracting AIDS: He has the disease. Sick and weary a decade ago, he called an ambulance, thinking he was suffering from pneumonia. At the hospital, he was informed that he had full-blown AIDS -- and about two weeks to live. He fiercely fought on and overcame the odds, but not before his once-athletic frame had shrunk to 120 pounds.

"I don't want anyone else to go through that," Day said as he stood on San Antonio's west side next to a vacant lot strewn with used needles. He said his AIDS, which he did not contract through drug use, has been stabilized for six years.

I'm encouraged that there are people out there like Day putting themselves on the line to help people and to combat this kind of nonsense thinking that the righteous politicos of Texas seem to keep generating inside their thick skulls.
Neel Lane, a high-powered San Antonio lawyer who agreed to defend Day for free after learning about his case through their church, St. Mark's Episcopal, said it was time for the Lone Star State to admit it was behind the times.

"When you're the only state that doesn't have [a needle-exchange program], you're either the 2% smartest or 2% dumbest in the country," Lane said.

You've got that right.


The Angry Young Man said...

Dude, it's Texas.

Salty Miss Jill said...

Oh, this is just heartbreaking. And inspiring. Maybe we should start a campaign to free this amazing man.

And as an often do you hear people use the word 'hobo' outside of describing a Halloween costume? At age 73, one can certainly get away with that!

Ladron de Basura (a.k.a. Junk Thief) said...

Texas, backwards? How could it be, didn't they write the Bible there?

kusala ~ joe said...

AYM: Texass... I know... but the ONLY one of the Fifty States to not have any needle program? Alabama starts to look more progressive all the time, dudn't it?

Jill: I was hearted to see that a big name lawyer is at least taking his defense case pro bono. Gives me hope. Also, we've had discussions at work about the use of the words "hobo" and even "derelict" (as a noun, not an adjective). I'm not sure that hobo itself is absolutely perjorative, but it's funny to hear someone use it. I do, however, often like to do my best Jerri Blank impersonation when she claims that V-I-C-T-O-R-Y spells "hobocamp".

LDB: They may not have written the Bible there (GOD wrote it, after all)... but I do think that the tablets were delivered directly from the Mount somewhere in the vicinity of Plano.

Ladron de Basura (a.k.a. Junk Thief) said...

Was it Plano or Far, Far North Dallas? I understand that people in Texas get upset when they hear "Feliz Navidad" since they don't like other religions being mentioned during Christmas.

SubtleKnife said...

"When you're the only state that doesn't have [a needle-exchange program], you're either the 2% smartest or 2% dumbest in the country," Lane said.

I imagine Texans celebrating their smartness...

Salty Miss Jill said...

Right-I wasn't addressing the use of a seemingly pejorative word, but an outdated calling jeans 'dungarees', brown-skinned people 'colored' and Asians 'Orientals'.
I had a prof in his 80's who used the word 'cripple' in reference to people with disabilities...which made us giggle. A prof half his age could never get away with that.

And how did I know you also like Jerri Blank? ;)

Stash said...

Texas might as well be on another planet.

Oh wait. Look at our president.

BigAssBelle said...

My other home state is such a disappointment. When even my current home state, as redneck bible thumping and conservative as they come, has a program, that texas doesn't is ridiculous.

I would think that even the rethugs could get behind the idea of reducing public health costs by this kind of prevention. it's as stupid to think that clean needles will encourage drug use as it is to think that thorough sex education will make little kids go fuck like bunnies, but there it is.

stupid, stupid, stupid fucking people. i remember my dope using years and how we'd all sit around a table, 8-10-12 of us, using the same needle over and over and over again, rinsing with water between shots. crazy. but the worst thing that could happen then was hep B. or at least we thought it was the worst thing that could happen.

that was stupid, stupid, stupid behavior, but pharmacies refused to sell needles for any reason. getting them was almost impossible. i often wonder how many of my doper buddies from that time are dead. i feel so so so fortunate some days. undeservedly so.