Last year, you generously donated to our “Go Fund Me” account to support women in El Salvador who were imprisoned for “homicide” after losing their babies in naturally-occurring stillbirths.
We’re writing today to say thank you, and to let you know just how transformative your gift has been.
As you may recall, local groups have succeeded in freeing many of the women imprisoned for stillbirth. (See here , here , and here for stories of these releases.)
However, upon leaving prison, these women struggle to find the resources necessary to reconstruct their lives.
Most spent 10 or more years in prison for a crime they didn’t commit. And most lost everything while they were in prison—their homes, their possessions, their jobs, their health, their educational opportunities, and in some cases, even their families.
The $5,000 that we raised last year provided these women with life-changing services.
Specifically, some of the money raised supported the creation of a new “Casa de Encuentro” for the recently-released women. This casa provides a home for women to stay in when they get out of jail and have nowhere else to go. What’s more, staff from a local not-for-profit organization work with women in this house to provide job training and educational support as they seek to rebuild what they lost during their years of incarceration.
Most of the money raised provided desperately-needed health care to recently-released women. While in prison, women were subjected to years of malnutrition and water contamination in a facility that housed 9 inmates for every one available bed. As a result of living years under these horrific conditions, women released from jail often suffer severe health problems, including heart problems, kidney problems, and continued gynecological difficulties stemming from never getting the necessary treatment for the stillbirth that landed them in jail.
Please know that every cent of the money we raised went directly to provide services for these women; not a penny was spent on administrative costs.
Unfortunately, despite our best efforts to stretch the dollars as far as they would go, the funds sustaining these services have been exhausted. Currently, several Harvard students are working to find grants that would sustainably keep these housing and health services running. In the meantime, we would like to extend another invitation to you to help these women again. These women suffered obstetrical emergencies, and instead of treatment and support, they were given decades-long prison sentences. A donation of any amount would provide desperately needed support as they aim to re-start their post-prison lives.
Your contribution would truly make a great difference in the lives of these women. Thank you.
At least 35 women in El Salvador are serving decades-long prison sentences for “killing” their newborns. In the large majority of these cases, the infants were stillborn; they died in utero and were expelled, or they died tragically in the process of unexpected and unattended precipitate births--births that also left the mothers near death. In all cases, the wrongly-imprisoned women were poor, uneducated, subjected to violence, and received nothing that remotely resembled a fair trial.
I’m a sociology professor at Harvard who has studied these cases in depth, and in consultation with colleagues who have expertise in forensic pathology, law, and obstetrics and gynecology. We collectively and unambiguously agree: the evidence of wrongful imprisonment in these cases is overwhelming.
Would you help us reach our goal of $5,000 to support these women? The money will be used to provide recently-released women in El Salvador with the housing, food, medical care, and support they need to restart their lives after spending years in abusive prison conditions.
GoFundMe has asked that I add the following information:
Who you are:
My name is Jocelyn Viterna, and I'm a sociology professor at Harvard University.
Where you're from:
Your relationship to the parties you're raising funds for:
I first met the women imprisoned for obstetric emergencies in 2014 as part of my research into gender and criminalization in El Salvador. I have been doing research about these cases, and serving as an expert witness in trials related to these women, with the help of several local organizations. Now that more and more of these women are gaining back their freedom, I've been looking for ways to help them start over. There are other groups providing excellent legal support to women who remain in jail, and I am happy to refer anyone interested in supporting the legal battle to those groups. When it comes to helping women rebuild their post-prison lives, TNT was the organization that seemed to me to have the clearest and most supportive plan in place, and so I chose to partner with them. I especially appreciated that TNT hired one of the liberated women, Teodora, to help support other women as they left prison.
How the funds will be used (be as specific as possible):
The first $5,000 were distributed by Teodora, who is herself a recently liberated woman. Teodora is working with TNT, and has kept detailed accounting of how this money was spent. She will share this accounting to anyone who would like to see the records. The large majority of the funds served as medical insurance for the women released from prison, all of whom had profound health needs after their prolonged incarceration. More specifically, the money paid for the exams they required, the medication they required, and so forth. We also used some of the money ($50 per month for, I believe, 12 months) to subsidize the "casa de encuentro," which provided free housing to women who got out of jail and had nowhere else to go. This house is amazing--it also allows women a place to stay if they work in the city but live in the rural area, and the women collectively provide child care for each other at this house so that they can go to work. I'm planning to write more about this Casa de Encuentro in the next update. Finally, we occasionally used small amounts of money from the first $5,000 to fund an immediate need. For example, we gave $200 to one of the liberated women to purchase a small artisanal oven in which she bakes bread. This woman developed an independent bread making business from this $200 gift, and now actually makes enough money each month to support not just her own family, but she now employs other women as well. Importantly, Teodora's small monthly salary was paid for by TNT itself, so none of the dollars donated to GoFundMe were spent on administration--they all went to support the women themselves.
To date, the only money that has been distributed to TNT from this fund is the first $5,000 raised last year. The next $5,000 I send will be spent more heavily on maintaining the Casa de Encuentro itself. Specifically, it will be used to support rent, electricity, food for the women staying there, and incidentals like soap and toilet paper. The house has been a major space in which women can rebuild their lives in El Salvador, and it is struggling to keep its doors open right now due to lack of funding (it has been funded almost exclusively by TNT's own funds to date, and they have many other projects they need to keep going as well). This funding will ensure that the house can stay open until we can find another source of income. As mentioned above, I'm hoping to find some sort of re-integration grant funds to support this house so that it no longer has to rely on a gofundme page, but this has been more difficult than I anticipated. The house costs about $800 per month to run, so much of this renewed campaign will be spent to keep the house running.
The remaining money will again be used to support women's health care needs. When a woman like Mirna is ill (see the "update" section for Mirna's story), this money allows her to travel to El Salvador where she stays in the Casa de Encuentro the night before the exam. Then, Teodora or someone else from TNT accompanies her to the exam to help her with reading, writing, and just to provide moral support (this is part of Teodora's salary from TNT; it doesn't cost this fund anything). These funds also pay for the exams and medication women need, which are often extremely costly. For example, the funds you donated last year paid for Mirna's heart medication, and likely helped keep her alive so that she can see her daughter graduate from high school this year.
If you intend to withdraw the money, how do you plan to send the funds to the parties you're raising money for or use the money on their behalf?
I tried to send the money directly to TNT, but gofundme does not support international transfers of money. As such, the money travels briefly through my personal bank account, and then I wire it from my bank account to the TNT account in El Salvador. TNT then distributes the funds as discussed above. I am happy to provide evidence of this transfer to anyone who would like to see it, and also the distributional data.
What else do you need to know?
Please know that I never write about an individual woman's story without her explicit permission. Mirna gave me permission to share her story on behalf of TNT, but asked that I only share the story in English, since some people in El Salvador can still be quite mean when they hear that she was jailed for attempted murder. My next update will be about the house itself, and then I will try to write about more women's individual experiences, but I will always get their consent before using their stories, and I will always be clear that the money is going to TNT's fund and not to the women themselves.
In other news, the women themselves have decided that they would like to write a book (in English) about their stories; we hope to draft this book together when I am in El Salvador in July. My hope is that this book will provide a space where individual donors can choose to "adopt" individual women, such that each woman could count on a standard monthly donation from a specific donor or team of donors. This donation would be specifically designed to meet her needs and goals--maybe job training, or helping her kids stay in school, etc. I think a set up like this would give women more control over their own lives, and also allow donors to have a closer relationship with the women they are helping. I am still working on the details of how this might unfold, and obviously we haven't even written the book yet, but we make a little progress every day. If you are interested in doing something like this, please do let me know. I will of course not launch anything until the structure is in place to ensure success, but having a list of people who are interested in helping once the structure is figured out would be wonderful.
As always, please don't hesitate to contact me if you have any questions or concerns at [email redacted]vard.edu.
- Dong-Ju Lee
- Gregory Davis
- NICOLE MACLAUGHLIN
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