A story for Thanksgiving (Isidro and Teresa Aviles)


I’d like to tell you about a remarkable woman and her son. As you join with your family and give thanks for what you have, maybe her story will move you to help those who have been separated from their families.

Isidro Aviles

A picture named aviles.jpg
Isidro was 26 years old in 1990, when he was arrested in New York on a crack-cocaine conspiracy charge along with 109 others. He was caught with $52 and no drugs, and the case was based solely on the $52 and the bargained testimony of a repeat criminal.

Isidro was given about 45 minutes to accept the plea bargain offered. The deal: if he pled guilty, his mother and sister wouldn’t have to go to jail! His mother begged him not to sign, but an FBI officer told her to sit down or she’d go to jail. He signed.

Isidro’s plea bargained sentence? 23 years.

7 years, 7 months and 1 day into his sentence, Isidro died of an untreated, undiagnosed illness.

The first Teresa learned there was a problem was when she got an anonymous phone call that her son was seriously ill and was being tended by other inmates. She immediately called the prison and an investigation was started… into who had called her.

Prison officials refused to let Teresa see her son and said he was fine, but soon the anonymous caller told her that Isidro had been moved to a hospital. It took her weeks to find out where he had been taken, and longer to raise the money to travel to the federal hospital in Minnesota. The guards refused to let her speak to the doctors. She was told her son was dying.

11 days later a prison official called her to say that Isidro would be given a “compassionate release” since he had less than a year to live. 1/2 hour later another prison official called to tell her that Isidro was already dead.

Isidro left behind 3 daughters.

How did he die? The death certificate she was given identified Isidro as a white male and spelled his name wrong, which made her justifiably suspicious. I talked to Teresa recently and she said she still doesn’t know the cause of death. The FBI apparently did some investigating, but she said she was told that to really find the answers, she’d have to hire her own investigators (something well outside her means).

Teresa Aviles

I still can not get used to the fact that there is no common sense in the criminal justice system. The only thing that kept me going the 7 years, 7 months and 1 day that my son was in prison was HOPE. Once that was gone I became and I am fueled by ANGER.

Isidro was a father to three daughters as well as a son to Teresa. After his death, Teresa decided to dedicate her life and energy to Isidro’s memory through working to change the drug laws and through helping other families that have been torn apart in the war on drugs.

Teresa is a regional leader with the November Coalition (see her profile there for more information about her activities and a much more detailed account of Isidro’s case). Be sure to check out The November Coalition’s Stories from Behind the Wall for the personal stories of other prisoners of the drug war.

Teresa is also very active in Drop the Rock – a powerful effort to reform New York’s Rockefeller drug laws, and has been a speaker for some of their events and has been interviewed by a wide range of media.

Every July, Teresa holds the Isidro Aviles Memorial Picnic for families whose lives have been shattered by the drug war, and in December, the Isidro Aviles Memorial Christmas Party.

This year’s Christmas Party (2004) will be held on Sunday, December 19 at The National Council of Negro Women Day Care Center, 4035 White Plains Road, Bronx, NY (2-6 pm).

Like so many children of prisoners sentenced under harsh drug laws, Isidro’s children have missed Christmas with their father many times. Unlike some others, however, they will never share any holiday with him again. In this time of giving, and in Isidro’s memory, let us open our hearts and arms to the children of this terrible drug war that is shattering families by offering a loving, family environment in celebration of Christmas.
There will be food, music, arts and crafts, entertainment and gifts for the children. Please bring kids whose parents or guardians are incarcerated on drug charges (and who are between the ages of 3 and 15) out for some fun.

Now here’s where I’d like you to take a little of your Thanksgiving cheer, and make a difference in some children’s lives.

Send donations of food, clothing, toys, or other gifts to:
(Or contact for more information):

The Isidro Aviles Memorial Chapter of The November Coalition
c/o Teresa Aviles
Suite 765
2081 Wallace Avenue
Bronx, New York 10462


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