Bertha 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. Some of her favorite memories were 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. During the time her son was incarcerated, Bertha took in Nick’s wife and children while working overtime to make sure the family stayed afloat.

Bertha started her journey as a social justice warrior fighting for her son's freedom, and after 30 years, in October 2023, Nick was finally exonerated.  He is now seeking his certificate of innocence, which will expunge his record and allow him to file for compensation for his wrongful incarceration.  Bertha's powerful activism extends outside of her own son’s case- she has conducted critical grassroots research documenting cases of police torture since 1993. This research has been used to inform letters to the United Nations, and in reports on CPD patterns & practice of abuse that have been presented to the Cook County State’s Attorney. Bertha’s passion for changing the prison system still drives many of her efforts today, and when she isn’t spending time with her grandchildren, she can still be found providing support and speaking at events fighting for survivors of torture.

No items found.
No items found.
"People who haven’t gone through this just don’t believe us. They believe the police. People need to know that this corruption is ongoing…because of these crooked cops. Things have gotta change."
Bertha Esacmilla

Clayborn Smith (CCJ 20220728132), Kilroy Watkins (CCJ 20220427033) & Yohn Zapada (R17740) are loved ones of Mama Bertha Escamilla, and survivors of torture by notoriously corrupt CPD detectives. They have all filed for clemency- you can take action by calling 312-814-2121 & 217-782-6830 and urging the Governor to sign and free them now or by making a donation.

go up