María Medrano

Ashoka Fellow
Fellow Since 2014


This profile was prepared when María Medrano was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2014.
The New Idea
Maria designed the first program that addresses the most destitute and isolated in Argentina, the population of incarcerated women. Through a multi-faceted approach she seeks to make prisons and the systems surrounding them a productive “eco-system” that ultimately allows for reintegrating women and their families into society. Convinced that the prison is the last link in a chain of exclusion and disenfranchisement that ensnares poor women, Maria pioneered a relationship-centered continuum of education and engagement for women prisoners and ex-convicts to create concrete opportunities for women out of prison and to change the mindsets of prisoners, their families and communities. Yo no fui (It wasn’t me) offers new, needed tools so that these women can imagine a new life for themselves within a community that they choose, and adopt the practical skills and attitudes that will make this a reality. Maria’s work proposes to reset and reorient relationships—familial, social and political—in which the women are involved.

Yo no fui offers a systematic and holistic approach to transform the way the criminal justice system conceives of and treats women prisoners, making it a productive and more nurturing place. Maria’s program works to form new communities, families, and support networks for the first time in their lives. Through establishing safe environments for personal development, relationship-building and learning, Maria’s program deals with the root problems affecting the women, including their lack of labor skills, emotional marginalization and poor self-confidence. Maria also works closely with the administrative bureaucracy of the penitentiary system, engaging with and shifting how the prison guards and wardens perceive the women, and reshaping the roles and interactions of the relevant public ministries involved in imprisonment.

For these women, Yo no fui is a place of belonging comparable to the families from whom most are estranged. As it assists women in acquiring the technical and psychological skills to reintegrate permanently in society, Yo no fui is becoming a model not just for women prisoners but also for larger prison reform programs, including interventions with male prisoners, while contributing to the reform of the infrastructure of the penitentiary system. As Maria extends the reach of Yo no fui, she has begun to work in jails and prisons at both the provincial and federal level, and has embarked on a long-term strategy to change the mindsets and practices of the next generation of prison authorities.
The Problem
The Strategy
The Person

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