Bronx, NY Recent Drug War news items from New York E-mail Teresa
July 13, 2008, Yorktown Heights, NY. 10th Annual Isidro Aviles Memorial Picnic, 10:00 AM 6:00 PM at FDR State Park, Yorktown Heights (just north of New York City). Sponsored by the Isidro Aviles Memorial Chapter of the November Coalition. Come join the Aviles family and the November Coalition to remember Isidro Aviles, who passed away in federal prison on 7/13/98 while serving a harsh mandatory sentence for an alleged drug crime. Download a color flyer here. For more info, contact Teresa Aviles at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The 7th Annual Isidro Aviles
July 16, 2006, FDR Park, NY
Watch the Movie: Windows Media (68 Mb) -- Quicktime (73 Mb)
I was honored to be a part of this years Isidro Aviles Memorial Picnic, an experience I won't soon forget. I would like to thank Teresa Aviles (Mama T) and her friends and family: Peanut, George, Steven, Beverly, Ricky, Melanie, my new pal, young Isidro, Paul Morgan Sr. and Jr., and all the good folks who made me feel welcome, and who made this year's picnic a success. Special thanks go to Paul Bennett of The Mertz-Gilmore Foundation for helping make this event possible. -- Tom Murlowski, November Coalition
Teresa Aviles and Tom Murlowski of the November Coalition
Teresa Aviles welcomes her friend Reggie,
home from a stint in prison
The members of The November Coalition extend their thanks and love to Mama T, who vowed on her son's deathbed that she would devote her life to ending the injustice of the War on Drugs. She fights tirelessly still. Teresa has been a steadfast volunteer with the November Coalition since that dreadful day in 1998. Every year she organizes demonstrations, sponsors a Summer Picnic and hosts a Christmas Party for local children of incarcerated parents, all in honor of her fallen son, Isidro Lamont Aviles.
Two published authors; cousins Melanie Scott and Teresa Aviles
Paul Bennet of the Mertz Gilmore Foundation
A truly heated Scrabble game -- temperatures that
day approached 100 degrees
For a QuickTime Slideshow with music, Click Here (800x600 screen resolution recommended)
December 29, 2004 - The New York Amsterdam News (NY)
Fighting For Reform
Bronx Woman Victorious In Fight Against Rockefeller Drug Laws
By Jamal E. Watson, Amsterdam News Staff
For the past six years, Teresa Aviles bas been on what seems to be a lonely crusade.
Six years ago, her 33-year-old son Isidro, who was sentenced to 26 years in prison under the Rockefeller Drug Laws, died while in the custody of prison officials.
Devastated by his death, Aviles began to call for reforms in the draconian sentencing guidelines, pointing out that the harsh sentences didn't meet the alleged crimes.
She began testifying before state and federal legislators and started a New York chapter of the November Coalition, a national nonprofit group that calls for drug reform.
But what has helped her to get through each Christmas season without her son Isidro, who prison officials say died from AIDS in 1998, has been the Christmas party that Aviles has been hosting for dozens of Black children across New York whose parents are currently serving long prison sentences under the Rockefeller Drug Laws.
At this year's Christmas party, held at the National Council of Negro Women Day Care Center in the Bronx, there was reason for Aviles and many of the women who brought their children to the event, to be a bit more hopeful.
Two weeks ago, Governor George Pataki signed into law a bill calling for reforms in the way that the Rockefeller Drug Laws are implemented.
"I've very hopeful," said Aviles, 56. "You have to have hope. Seven years ago, no one was talking about this. We've come a long way."
Among the 50 or so wide-eyed children who attended Aviles' annual party, most have not lived with their biological fathers, who they've only come to know through weekly visits to the prisons, surrounded by dozens of other visitors.
Aviles recounts the devastation that her 13-year-old granddaughter felt when she went to visit her father in jail before his death.
"It was really sad," she said. "She would say ,'Dad, I want you to come home,' and he would just say that he couldn't."
Aviles said that her son never used or pushed drugs. He happened, she says, to be at the wrong place at the wrong time. A neighborhood drug dealer fingered Isidro, and without much evidence, she said that he was prosecuted, convicted and shipped off to prison to serve out his lengthy sentence.
When he fell ill, Aviles said, Isidro was withheld medical treatment and was later transported to Minnesota for 22 days, though she said that she had no contact with her son during that time.
Shortly thereafter, she was informed that her son's health had taken a turn for the worse, and within days, he was dead.
While Pataki's new bill will help to reduce the sentences of some inmates, Aviles and other activists say that change is not likely to be immediate. She points out that many were given long sentences in the face of court-appointed attorneys who were ill-equipped to deal with complicated cases.
"I think this gathering is a terrific benefit to families and children so that they don't feel so isolated during the holiday season," said Paul Bennett, a community organizer who helped to start the New York based organization called Partnership for Responsible Drug Information
Bennett said that racism in the criminal justice system has been one of the reasons why African Americans and Latinos have received stiffer sentences than whites. While he thinks that Pataki's reforms are a good first step, he says that much more needs to be done.
Tania Thomas' husband, Antoine Thomas, has been incarcerated for the past six years Soon, the self-published author, who has written two books, may be released.
"I think this is a beautiful event," Thomas said of Aviles' Christmas party. "I think it's an important event."
After all of the Christmas presents were handed out to the children, Aviles summoned the youngsters and their parents into a circle, where they held hands and said a prayer for Isidro
"You have to have hope" she said later. "This is not just about changing things on the state level, but also the federal level. People are tired and are no longer going to go for these unjust laws."
Jamal E. Watson ran be reached at email@example.com.
5th Annual Isidro Aviles Memorial Christmas Party
December 21, 2004, Bronx, New York
For a QuickTime Slideshow with music, Click Here (800x600 screen resolution recommended
Paul Bennett (left) & Teresa Aviles
Teresa Aviles, TNC leader & sponsor of the annual Isidro Aviles Memorial Christmas Party
4th Annual Isidro Aviles Memorial Picnic
July 2003 - Please take a look at these photos from the 4th Annual Isidro Aviles Memorial Picnic. Also, I did a show about the drug laws on WBAI (Wake Up Call) the day before, and News 12 wants to do a second interview.
Actually the group was much larger but we had a real tough time keeping everyone in one place at one time so I gave a little speech and some folks actually stuck around to hear it.
Everyone had so much fun that they decided we should get together in Aug. At that time we will be giving out materials and having little groups of 5 to 6 for a teach-in. I will keep you posted. - Teresa
The Razor Wire, Spring 2002, Vol. 6 No. 1
Christmas and activism from the Bronx
The Christmas party went very well this year. I had a great crowd, including a schoolteacher who teaches special education in Harlem with several children in her class who have parents in prison. A few came with the parents and grandparent in one case. An actor who was on vacation visiting family in New York City also came by. He read Christmas stories to the children.
We were fortunate to find a church in mid-Manhattan at a modest price. A December meeting with the League of Women Voters went VERY well. Paul Bennett and I attended, and we both came away with the same feelings. It was the first of four meetings held in several places in NYC. There will be two more sessions, and then there will be a combined meeting of all of the smaller groups.
I think it is very important that the League has come out for this issue. The theme was balancing justice. We discussed fairness and justice, drug policy reform, the prison industrial complex and
the fact that current drug policy was ineffective, expensive and cruel. In the next session we will address what should and could be done about this. If readers want to share ideas that I could bring
to these meetings, please let me know. All in all I thought it was a giant step in the right direction.
Paul and I discussed some plans for our next couple events. We have scheduled the 3rd annual Isidro Aviles' picnic for July 13, 2002. We will have some t-shirts made, and use them as a fundraiser. Instead of doing the Mother's Day march this year, we are going to send inmates a copy of our "disappeared" poster, letting them know that we are out there doing what we can for them.
The Razor Wire, Spring 2002, Vol. 6 No. 1
Teresa Aviles named to NY Archdiocese Advisory Board
Teresa Aviles of Bronx, NY has been asked to participate in the formation of a special advisory board. The Archdioceses of New York and Justice Works Community are currently collaborating on a criminal justice reform project in New York State, funded by the Catholic Campaign for Human Development.
Teresa founded the Isidro Aviles Memorial Chapter of November Coalition to remember and honor her son who died mysteriously in prison while serving a first-time, nonviolent drug prisoner. This project will "educate citizens in New York State about problems in the criminal justice system and encourage them to take action to demand reform in criminal justice policy," wrote Teresa. One of the objectives of this initiative is the formation of an Advisory Board composed of ex-prisoners and their family members to oversee and administer the project jointly with the Archdiocese and Justice Works.
The Razor Wire, March/April 2001, Vol. 5 No. 2
The death of Isidro Aviles
By Mark Harrison, TNC contributing writer
Teresa Aviles may never learn what finally killed her son while in custody of the Bureau of Prisons. Why was medical treatment denied for months until her first-born child was unable to walk, speak or eat? Moreover, as a black man, why was he identified as 'white' on his death certificate? Was it Isidro's body the coroner examined or that of another? Teresa was even forbidden to speak with the Mayo Clinic physician who knew why her son was dying. Errant laws and rogue conduct resulted in the shameful
conviction, the negligent incarceration and the untimely death of this mother's son.
Isidro Aviles was sentenced to 27 years for a crack-cocaine conspiracy on the basis of $52 and the bargained testimony of a long-time criminal. The most incriminating evidence in the crack-conspiracy charge was lacking - the crack.
The cruel odds of racial prosecution were against Isidro from the start. Black males are ten times more likely to be arrested than whites. From 1985 to1995 the incarceration rate of black men increased ten times over that of white men. Isidro was arrested in 1990 and Teresa remembers the man who implicated her 26-year-old son and109 others - including some "kids from the projects"- in the drug conspiracy. He was a bully who had been in and out of prison since Teresa was in high school. He lured young people into selling drugs for him and got rough when they were
slow to pay. When he was arrested about a decade ago, he was given an 'opportunity' to reduce his sentence by providing the names of other members of the "conspiracy."
Isidro Aviles was given about 45 minutes to accept the plea bargain offered - the time it takes to drive from the US Attorney's office to the court house in New York. If he pled guilty, then his mother and sister wouldn't go to jail. That was the deal! Teresa was told by Isidro's court appointed attorney that the plea hearing was rescheduled from Monday to Tuesday. But Isidro told his mother he hadn't heard about the date change when she visited him in jail. Suspicious, Teresa showed up on Monday as originally scheduled and somehow wasn't as shocked to see Isidro and his attorney at the hearing as the attorney was to see Teresa. She approached Isidro and begged him not to sign the plea agreement. A FBI agent told her to be seated or she was going to jail, too. She believed him since her son had been arrested just for having $52.
Isidro had served about eight years in prison when Teresa received an anonymous call on May 18, 1998 from a woman who said Isidro was sick and not receiving medical attention at the Low Security Correctional Institute in White Deer, Pennsylvania. Isidro had collapsed in the shower - unconscious. Other prisoners cared for him for ten days before he received any medical attention. He needed assistance to walk to the restroom and had stopped eating and speaking. Teresa was advised to confront the "big shots" about why her son was denied medical care. When she called the prison, she was told that Isidro was "fine." "I knew this was a lie because, with 1,400 inmates in the institution, there was no way for them to know that one man was 'fine' in such a short time." An investigation at the prison ensued, but not about Isidro's health - rather, about who was talking to Isidro's mother.
The following day Teresa traveled from her home in New York City to Pennsylvania to visit Isidro. She was denied a visit after the long journey and simply told that Isidro was fine and was being taken to a local hospital for testing.
For six months Teresa had been warning prison officials about disturbing physical and mental deterioration that she noted in Isidro in phone conversations, from photographs and prison visits. He was constantly blinking, and the whites of his eyes were red with blood vessels. The last Mother's Day card he sent looked like an elderly person had written it- "kind of shaky looking." He didn't want to eat because other inmates "did things" to the food. His skin became pale and ashy and his curly hair went straight. He began saying things that didn't make sense. And as Isidro's health continued to decline, prison officials repeatedly rebuffed Teresa by saying he was fine.
Two days back in New York, Teresa received word from the anonymous caller. Isidro had been moved from the prison and was finally in the care of a physician. But where? Numerous calls to the prison to ascertain the whereabouts and condition of Isidro were stonewalled. For three weeks she was put on hold for long periods of time before being disconnected or told no one was available to speak with her. She wrote letters to prison officials, television and radio stations, later to BOP Director Katherine Hawk and then President Clinton. Finally she received a message that Isidro was in the Federal Medical Center, Minnesota. He was very sick, but with rest and medication he would be fine. At a time when Isidro needed his family the most, Teresa wonders why her son was sent further away, rather than closer, to those who love him.
When Teresa arrived at the hospital, Isidro was near death and surrounded by guards. "They acted like he was going to get up at any moment and bolt from the room," she said. Mayo Clinic doctors were in attendance, but the guards explicitly forbade her to speak with them. A prison doctor - who was never available and wouldn't respond to phone calls - would provide all the medical details that Teresa would ever need to know about her son. She followed the guards' orders until the second day when, in desperation, she questioned the Mayo physician. He held her hand and spoke words that she'll never forget.
"Mrs. Aviles, your son is dying. He is dying, and the process has already started."Prison officials had told her that Isidro had AIDS. She cried, "How can he be dying of AIDS so quickly?" The Mayo physician was incredulous. "AIDS? What made you think AIDS?" AIDS was the reason of death confirmed on the death certificate of the "white male." The guards interrupted and threatened to remove Teresa from the hospital if she dared to speak with the physician again. Miles away from home, all alone, Teresa returned to her hotel room in shock and fell apart in private.
Without eating or sleeping she walked back and forth from the bedside of Isidro to the hospital chapel to pray. After three days she decided to return to work in New York and pay for his burial. "After kissing my son goodbye one last time, I ran from the room blinded with tears, barely able to breathe."
From New York she called several times a day to check on Isidro and remembers speaking with "the most mean-spirited people on the planet." But on July 13, 1998 a prison official called and gave her new reason for hope. Maybe her many prayers had been answered. With less than a year to live, Isidro qualified for the compassionate release program. He was alive and coming home. Teresa was overjoyed with the thought of caring for her son before he died. She immediately called members of the family asking for prayers that Isidro would live long enough to enjoy his final days with those who love him. Twenty minutes passed and there was another phone call. She heard from a prison official what she thought must be part of a cruel joke: "Isidro passed away this morning." The phone fell from her hands and she screamed, "Noooooo."
"I promised on the first day he was born that I would always love him and be there for him. But when he needed me the most, I was nowhere around. I was miles away as he lay dying, sick, afraid, unable to speak or to care for himself; no one to sponge his fevered forehead, unable to ask for a sip of cool water??and all alone. This pain was nothing like the pain that I experienced during birth. It was ten million times worse and I still feel it today.
Teresa is there for Isidro still, just as she promised him so many years ago. And she is there for other sons and mothers and daughters and fathers whose lives have been shattered by the drug war. At rallies and vigils she carries a poster that reads, "This is how my son went to prison, and this is how he came out." The poster has a photo of Isidro in his casket.
She organized and leads the Annual Isidro Aviles Memorial Chapter of the November Coalition there are picnics in the summer and the Children's Christmas Party in December. Teresa corresponds with several prisoners and helps families with drug war prisoners with letter writing and phone calls. Teresa is the grandmother of Isidro's three girls, 15, 11 and 9, who grew up without their father and have now lost him forever. Isidro Aviles is no longer with us, but his spirit is kept alive through the work of his mother in behalf of hundreds of thousands who have fallen victim to this cruel war against our own people.
The Razor Wire, Dec 2000, Vol. 4 No. 6
How leaders often begin
Editor's note: the following email language is what a lot of Internet communication actually looks like on paper. This electronic correspondence from TNC's John Chase in Florida to November l-list people (all over the country) is the organizational 'blood' of our large and growing network of local volunteers. John simply shares Teresa's dedicated commitment with
Wed, 25 Oct 2000 02:18:07 -0400
From:"John Chase" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Organization: November Coalition http://www.november.org/
This message is from Teresa Aviles, a woman in the Bronx whose son, Isidro Aviles, died in prison, probably from lack of medical care, even though she will never know for sure.
She and I have been in touch ever since I helped her with a flyer she used to announce periodic lunch-vigils at a public park in the Bronx to tell the world about her son.
Please read on . . .
Every morning I get up filled with rage and thinking of my son. I try to channel that anger towards something positive, and this morning I was thinking about something that was said in Church on Sunday about November being the month that we remember those who have passed away.
I decided that I would hold a vigil in memory of those who are casualties of the war on drugs. I will get a few of my family members together and march to the cemetery with my posters. This way I will feel that I am keeping the vigils alive and doing a little public awareness at the same time. I think it is very important to keep this going. I know we all have a tendency to stay inside during the winter months, but I think that one day a month during the winter is not too much to ask of friends and family so I am committing myself to one day a month.
In December I will do the Christmas party and I will decide on something for January. If you get any ideas let me know. Also, if you or anyone you know wants to donate items suitable for a gift for a child, please let me know.
Until then, peace and love, - Teresa
The Razor Wire, Dec 2000, Vol. 4 No. 6
A Jubilee Christmas
The year 2000 is a Jubilee year, a mark in time happening every 50 years. People of faith around the world are recommitting themselves to faith, to mercy and to justice. And, as always, when holiday season rolls around, we tend to think of those people who are less fortunate than ourselves. In this Jubilee year and season for giving we would like to share the holiday cheer with some of the many children whose parent(s) are serving long prison sentences under the harsh federal mandatory minimum sentencing laws.
Many of these children have spent years with one or, in some cases, both of their parents in prisons or jails. This is especially hard on these children at this time of the year when most families are getting together to celebrate the holiday.
In memory of my son Isidro Aviles, who passed away in prison while serving a harsh mandatory minimum sentence and whose children have no hope whatsoever of him ever celebrating Christmas with them again, we hope to make this a special Christmas for some of these children.
In the spirit of Jubilee we are asking that you, your company/organization donate a toy, an article of clothing, or anything that would make a suitable gift for a child. You may also want to invite a friend or relative to donate a gift. You can send your gifts to: Teresa Aviles, 2081 Wallace Ave., #765, Bronx N.Y. 10416. Call 718-931-8471 or email Teresa at email@example.com
Let's make this Jubilee year a very special year for some very special children.
The Razor Wire, Dec 2000, Vol. 4 No. 6
Letelier-Moffitt Award: acceptance speech
Editor's note: The following is a portion of the acceptance speech given by Nora Callahan at the Institute for Policy Studies Letelier-Moffitt Human Rights Award ceremony in Washington DC on October 16th, 2000.
On behalf of all members of The November Coalition, many who languish behind prison walls, I thank the Institute of Policy Studies for their decades-long commitment to human rights both at home and abroad. An overwhelming tide of drug war prisoners and those who love them, take great hope in knowing that the Institute's commitment to expose human rights' abuses has not been dulled into silence by the pounding drug war rhetoric that has dominated legislative and media discourse for more than 30 years.
That dominance is fast losing steam as the dark failure of the drug war is brought into the light. The facts are now in, dozens and dozens of studies finished, innumerable statistics - this isn't working. Today, many more of our esteemed leaders, some of them guests here tonight, are committed to ending this war on drugs that is really a war on people.
We know that the drug war is waged primarily on those who are our most vulnerable citizens, people of color, the poor and the sick. They have become the political punching bags and scapegoats of those who would moralize about some behavior, those who would rather wage war than seek peaceful, compassionate solutions to the troubling aspects of illegal drug use.
There was an eerie silence as prison expansion became a prison industrial complex. My brother was swept into it, during the first wave of increased imprisonment in the late 1980s, and since that time, though separated by many miles, together we watched an epidemic of imprisonment crawl across the country. Our families, in a sea of millions of people who grieve the losses from imprisonment, question the injustice, but then are forced to endure a prison system that has little regard for humanity and fails to meet basic human needs.
Nine years ago, Teresa Aviles' son Isidro was arrested with $52 dollars, no drugs. There was no evidence against him except the word of a life long criminal. Police threatened to arrest his family; so he plead guilty to a cocaine conspiracy and was sentenced to 23 years in federal prison without hope of parole or earned release. There is no parole in the federal system.
After seven years into that sentence, Teresa received a call from a woman who would not identify herself, but told Teresa that her son was sick and not getting medical care. Teresa called the prison and was told that Isidro was 'fine'. He would be taken to a hospital for tests, but he was 'fine'. She drove from New York City to White Deer, Pennsylvania where she was denied a visit with her son and told that he was 'fine'. He was going to be taken to a hospital for testing, but he was 'fine'.
The unidentified woman called again to tell her that Isidro had been taken from the prison. It would be 22 days before she found her son, and two additional weeks before she could afford to travel.
Isidro lay unconscious in a hospital bed surrounded by guards, guards who told Teresa, "You are not allowed to talk to Mayo Clinic doctors or staff! You can see your son, but for information, you have to talk to the prison doctor."
She broke the rules. One of the Mayo doctors took her hand and told her that Isidro was dying. How? What? But before any answers could be given her, the guards intervened. The prison doctor never came, never returned this mother's calls, and while in grief, shock, confusion, with guards surrounding her, she held her son in her arms to tell him good-bye. Enduring such calamity, with her job in jeopardy, she clung to one frantic thought. She would need money to bury her son; she would need money to bury her son.
She would need money to bury her son.
Eleven days later a prison official called to tell Teresa that Isidro, because he had less than a year to live, could come home on what is called a "compassionate release". "Can you care for him?" she was asked.
Can she care for her son? Of course she could care for her first-born son. Within the following half-hour another prison official called. Isidro had died earlier that day.
The autopsy report, among other discrepancies, documented the young black man as a white man, and it's been two years since his death, and, still, Teresa Aviles has questions about the circumstances of her son's illness and death while in the custody of the Federal Bureau of Prisons. This mother deserves some answers.
There are too many sons and daughters in our 'American Gulags' and too many mothers who have no answers to the injustice, the brutality and death that comes to those in our prisons. American prisons are not places of rehabilitation; they are places of torment and despair, as if separation from those you love isn't punishment enough.
The Razor Wire, Sept/Oct/Nov 2000, Vol. 4 No. 5
Jubilee Justice picnics for petitions
Editor's note: Teresa is a new Regional Leader in New York City and has been very active getting signatures for the Jubilee Justice petition campaign. Her son, Isidro, died in prison in July 1998, and she wants to see our laws changed so others don't have to go through what her family has experienced. This is her report on the memorial picnic that she had scheduled for her son in conjunction with PRUP vigils.
There was a rainstorm in New York on Saturday, July 15, 2000. The people who came from a long distance came to the house for dinner so all was not lost. Kiovanna Rodriguez arrived and spent the day with us. I decided over the weekend that I would devote one day a week to the petition drive.
Since I already had everything that I need for a large picnic, I am going to cook out in the park every weekend until it is time to send in the Jubilee Petitions to TNC for delivery to the President. This way I can get the word out, get some signatures, and use up all of that "stuff" that I got for the memorial picnic. Also, there were so many people in the house that we held up the banner and took some pictures. Kiovanna is a very good speaker.
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