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Justice for Las 17

Sister Kathleen Desautels (middle) and members of the U.S. Citizens in Solidarity for the Freedom of Las 17 at a press conference in El Salvador.

Sister Kathleen Desautels (middle) and members of the U.S. Citizens in Solidarity for the Freedom of Las 17 at a press conference in El Salvador.

Recently, Sister Kathleen Desautels joined the group U.S. Citizens in Solidarity for the Freedom of Las 17 in El Salvador. The delegation traveled there after learning the women had been accused of aggravated homicide and sentenced for decades for essentially suffering miscarriages or stillbirths.

When discussing about the women currently imprisoned in El Salvador, Sister Kathleen paints a dark, bleak picture.

Her words clearly echo the sorrow in the eyes of these women, all of whom who know their story believe have been wrongfully imprisoned.

She used rich words such as unconscionable, unbelievable, heartbreaking and more. And through the sound of her voice and each passing syllable, you could sense her heart was aching.

While there, Sister Kathleen said she visited with a dozen or more of the women in ILopango prison, where they shared their harrowing stories.

“Each one’s story would break your heart,” Sister Kathleen said. “Through my work at 8th Day Center for Justice (where Sister Kathleen ministers), we are advocates for women. But I have not had the experience of visiting with such women in this kind of an abusive situation.

“None of us could listen to these women’s stories without being brought to tears.”
– Sister Kathleen Desautels
“None of us could listen to these women’s stories without being brought to tears.”

According to a press release issued by U.S. Citizens in Solidarity for the Freedom of Las 7, ILopango prison is “notorious for its deplorable conditions.”

The prison, according to the release, has a 900 percent occupancy rate, and up to nine women are housed in a one-person room.

In regard to the Las 17, Sister Kathleen said many of them had medical emergencies that resulted in the loss of their pregnancies.

“Each of these women when brought to the hospital were handcuffed and shackled,” she said. “Some who were unconscious when brought in woke up not knowing why they are shackled.

It’s a terrible injustice to these women. This is the most heartbreaking experience that I’ve had in a long time. Both the condition of the prison and listening to their stories was numbing to my spirit.”

The women were all from rural communities, economically challenged and had little education. They could not afford their own lawyers and were eventually found guilty of aggravated homicide. El Salvador has very strict laws regarding abortion and there appears to be confusion as to what miscarriages or stillbirths are.

However, “Providence, that so far has never failed us,” said Sister Kathleen, is at work.

There is a local group of women and men in El Salvador, including a small group of lawyers, and international partners, organizing to free these women.

Hopefully, the telling of their stories to all who will listen will raise the issue on the international level so that pressure will be put on the government officials there to once and for all change the restrictive laws against women in general.

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Jason Moon

Jason Moon serves as media relations manager for the Sisters of Providence. Previously, he spent more than 16 years in the newspaper industry.

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