Bertha Escamilla

Bertha Escamilla was born in Corpus Christi, TX, and moved to Chicago with her family as a child. When Bertha was a child, she remembers always daydreaming about what she wanted to be when she grew up. Her childhood occupational daydreams included being a nurse or a teacher. Given that she grew up wanting to help people, it is no surprise that Bertha has dedicated her life to activism and social justice.

Bertha is the mother of Nick Escamilla. One of her favorite memories was attending Nick’s baseball games and bowling games. He was the youngest member of the team and she loved being there to cheer him on. That zeal to support her son picked up steam in 1993, when Chicago police took Nick Escamilla into custody from his home without an arrest or search warrant, physically tortured him and threatened his family, coercing Nick into signing a false confession. In turn, Nick served nearly 15 years of a 29-year sentence before being released under a no-contest agreement. Bertha started her journey as a social justice warrior fighting for Nick's freedom and she continues to fight for his exoneration today.

Bertha’s powerful activism continues even after her son's incarceration. Bertha has conducted critical grassroots research documenting cases of police torture since 1993. This research has been used to inform letters to the United Nations. She also took in Nick’s wife and children while working overtime to make sure the family stayed afloat. Bertha Escamilla is an active member of Mamas Activating Movements for Abolition and Solidarity. When she wasn’t taking care of her family, Escamilla spoke up at events fighting for survivors of torture and working with the Campaign to Free Incarcerated Survivors of Police Torture (CFIST). Bertha’s passion for changing the prison system drives many of her efforts today.

The Founders Award honors a leader who has been working and advocating for women and girls for 30 years or more.