Meet Mothers of the Kidnapped
April Ward is a passionate MAMA born in Louisiana, and made her way to Chicago because of her mother. Today, April works for the City of Chicago Department of Streets and Sanitation. When she does have spare time, April likes to read and go bowling.
April’s family and friends would describe her as trustworthy, honest, always working, quiet, passionate about the work she does. Her children are a prime motivator for her work ethic, and much of her time is spent fighting injustice for her son, Mickiael Ward. Mickiael Ward is a survivor of Chicago police torture who was charged with first degree murder in the 2013 death of Hadiya Pendleton. Ward was also found guilty of aggravated battery to Sebastian Moore and Lawrence Sellers. Yet, evidence shows the use of psychological torture to coerce confession. April has always been a hard worker and committed to what she starts; fighting to secure her son’s freedom is no exception.
Armanda Shackleford was born in Marion, Arkansas where she lived there until she was 12 years old. She then moved to Chicago at the age of 16 via Memphis, TN.
As a child, Armanda loved to use her imagination and loved to cook. Growing up, her aunt used to cook with all natural food and plants. Because of her aunt's example, Armanda used to go outside to pick dandelions and big green leaves and pretend to create a meal for her and her brother. This childhood love for cooking followed her into adulthood when she started her career with the Board of Education (BOE) as a lunch room attendant. When she retired 23 years later, she was the lunch room manager.
Armanda is the mother of Chicago police torture survivor Gerald Reed, who was wrongfully convicted on two counts of murder and has been incarcerated since 1990. Reed's conviction has been overturned with a new trial pending, now delayed due to of COVID-19. Armanda not only stands up for her son and other torture victims, but also victims of police brutality by organizing with the Campaign to Free Incarcerated Survivors of Police Torture (CFIST) to hold the Chicago Police accountable for their actions. Armanda has never been shy to voice her opinion on the injustices within the Chicago Police Department -- she has been on the front lines protesting and pushing for her son's story to be heard.
Armada is passionate about freedom for all people, so much so that she is affectionately called “Mama Justice” by her son Gerald Reed and other incarcerated individuals in the prison. Armanda draws her strength from God and her long-time friend and fellow MAMA, Rosemary Cade.
Bertha Esacmilla 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 Esacmilla. 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 won.
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. When she wasn’t taking care of her family, Esacmilla 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.
Denise Joyce-Bronis is a go-getter born and raised in Chicago, IL. She has 25 plus years experience as a project manager currently working for a marketing company called AND Agency. Her family and friends would describe her as resilient because there are many hardships she has had to overcome. Knowing how far she has come keeps her motivated.
Denise is the mother of Matthew Echevarria who was framed by Chicago Police in 1999. Matthew was wrongfully convicted at the age of 17 after being psychologically tortured into confessing to a crime he did not commit. He was sentenced to 50 years and is currently incarcerated at Menard Correctional Center. Matthew, like so many others incarcerated in prisons across the country, is medically vulnerable to COVID-19. Denice has been fighting with MAMAS to ensure that her son, and all inmates, do not die in COVID-infested prisons and jails. You can learn more about Matthew’s case and how you can help at www.freematthew1999.com.
When she is not fighting for justice, Denise loves fishing, riding motorcycles, and cooking with her husband, who is her best friend. Denise is passionate about women’s rights and working alongside some of the fiercest mamas and papas in the MAMAS collective.
Esther Hernández was born in Puerto Rico and moved to Chicago at the age of 9. Growing up, Esther has fond memories of holiday celebrations in Puerto Rico, like when her father would roast a pig in the back of her childhood home to celebrate Three Kings Day. As children, in honor of Three Kings Day, her and her siblings would hide a box filled with grass and place it under their beds so they could get a gift in exchange.
Esther graduated as a Certified Nurse’s Assistant in 1986, and began working as a nurse assistant. After 25 years of service with Illinois Masonic Hospital across several departments, Esther retired in 2010.
Esther Hernández is the mother of Rosendo and Juan Hernández, also known as the Hernández brothers. In 2000, the Hernández brothers were sentenced to life in prison. The lead detective involved in their case, Reynaldo Guevara, has been accused of framing at least 56 people for murder. The fight for her children has been going on for 23 years. Realizing that she can’t depend on the system to free her children, she has begun to take matters into her own hands, with the power of the lord, to fight for what is right.
Esther is the President of Innocent Demand Justice, an organization fighting to bring awareness to wrongfully convicted people through protest and court support. Esther mobilizes people to show up at court hearings for all the victims since an empty courtroom could harm a case.
Esther’s family and friends would describe her as a warrior and a fighter. She is passionate about fighting for all wrongfully convicted people -- not only her sons. When she’s not fighting in court for those who are incarcerated loved ones, she is busy researching ways to secure their freedom. Esther has documented the cases of close to 66 individuals who have been framed by Guevara who used systematic and repeated patterns of police torture and other forms of frame-ups.
Frank Ornelas was born in Mexico. As a child, he was always a dreamer -- he dreamed of a better life and believed that moving to the United States would provide that. He had a business in Mexico, and he was in college when he took a flight to O’Hare at 21 years old. Frank is a hard worker and recently retired in 2015 after working for the biggest manufacturer of disposable products, SOLO cup company.
Frank comes from a loving family that has always tried to help and care for each other. His brothers and sisters in Mexico say that he is the best family member and they describe him as an angel, though he humbly says, “I am far from perfect, but I try to correct things.”
Frank is the father of police torture survivor Robert Ornelas. Frank’s wife, who he describes as a warrior and great cook, passed away in December 2018. After her passing, he started teaching himself how to cook Mexican cuisine. He also tries his best to learn about new technology, and even went to school a couple of years ago to learn about computers.
Frank believes that there are a lot of innocent people who have made mistakes and believes that people can change. When Frank is not fighting for incarcerated individuals, you can find him gardening, praying, and exercising.
Regina was born and raised in Chicago IL. Regina was an only child, so going to her grandparent’s home in Lansing MI, especially around Christmas, was especially memorable to her. She recalls the beauty of her grandparent’s home, and how much she appreciated the love and warmth of having her grandparents around.
Regina loves being able to advocate on behalf of people, and this shows up in so many aspects of her life. She works in the healthcare field at UIC Medical Center and has been there for 24 years pre-certifying patients for radiology tests. She also serves as the co-chair of the Chicago Chapter of the Chicago Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression (CAARPR), is an elected Union Steward with the Local SEIU, and is on the executive board and the contract negotiation team with SEIU. Regina has always been demonstrably passionate about fighting for other people’s rights.
Regina Russell is the mother of Tamon Russell, a survivor of Chicago police torture. Regina has dedicated her life to bringing awareness to the injustice brought upon her son Tamon. Tamon Russell was accused of first degree murder after police ignored statements proving his alibi as well as witnesses who confirmed he was innocent. While in police custody, Tamon was punched in the face, was refused the right to an attorney, was interrogated for 19 hours without access to a restroom. As of today, Tamon continues to serve his sentence at Hill Correctional Center amid a pandemic as an innocent man. Regina is fighting even harder for Tamon’s freedom during this pandemic to help her son, as he is medically vulnerable to COVID-19. Her family motivates her to work hard, and she will continue to stand up for her son and will not stop until he is released.
When she is not fighting for justice, Regina enjoys shopping and outdoor activities like bike riding and attending concerts in the park, especially if it’s a Jazz concert. Regina also enjoys traveling and her favorite place is Punta Cana.
Rosemary Cade was born in Meridian, Mississippi and lived there until she was 12 years old. When her mom secured work in Chicago, Rosemary and her family moved to IL. Rosemary used to work for a pharmaceutical company with her mom. Rosemary’s mom’s position was in quality control and she helped Rosemary secure a position with the company. Rosemary then started working for the post office as a clerk for 18 years until she went on disability due to sarcoidosis.
Rosemary is the mother of Antonio Porter, who has been incarcerated since 2002 and was framed for a murder he did not commit. For the past 18 years, Rosemary has been an active community member in Chicago working to reform the justice system. Her activism does not stop there; she also fights for medical rights for those in prison after seeing her son's health decline while incarcerated. While in prison, he developed blood clots in his lungs that were not adequately treated; now, he has to be cautious for the rest of his life in regards to his health.
In order to fight back against the injustices inflicted on her son, Rosemary joined Chicago Alliance Against Racist Political Repression’s Campaign to Free Incarcerated Survivors of Police Torture (CFIST) and Mamas Activating Movements for Abolition and Solidarity (MAMAS). She speaks out at events and raises awareness of her son's story. By speaking at events, continuing interviews and fighting against injustice with CFIST and MAMAS, Cade is a strong advocate for those who are wrongly accused, not only has her fight not ended but she has firsthand experience to help those around her.
Rosemary is passionate about her family and taking care of them. When she is not busy with fighting for her loved one, you can find her shopping and spending time with her grandchildren. Her strength comes from God and her good friend and fellow MAMA, Armanda, who encourages her to keep moving forward.