Judith Alice Clark
Judith Alice "Judy" Clark was a radical political activist in the 1960s and '70s. She became a prominent member of the Weather Underground Organization and participated in much of its political agitation and criminal activities. Still pursued by police after the WUO's dissolution in the mid-1970s, Clark continued her course independently through the rest of the decade, working frequently with other radical and extremist groups including the Black Panthers and the Black Liberation Army. She was finally captured during the infamous Brink's robbery of 1981 in Nyack, New York. Unrepentant in the courtroom, she was sentenced to the maximum penalty allowed by law; she is currently serving a sentence of 75-years-to-life at the Bedford Hills Correctional Facility in New York.
Clark was born on November 23, 1949. She grew up in a Jewish family with her older brother and parents, Ruth Clark and Joe Clark. Her parents were members of the American Communist Party for many years. As an infant, Clark lived in the Soviet Union from 1950 to 1953. After the family returned home to the U.S., her parents withdrew from the Communist Party, disillusioned with the Soviet Union.
Judith Clark became active in the Civil Rights Movement at the age of 14 when she was in junior high school. She participated in the New York City-wide boycott led by the African American community in Brooklyn calling for equality in education. Throughout high school she was a member of Student CORE. She went to the University of Chicago where she joined Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) and helped to found the Women's Radical Action Project, one of the first organizations of the early women's liberation movement.
Weather Underground Organization
In 1969, Clark participated in the "Days of Rage" in Chicago, and she was arrested, along with several hundreds of others, for "mob action." Clark jumped bail and was considered a "fugitive from justice." When she was caught, she pled guilty and served nine months in Cook County Jail in Chicago.
Two months after her release, there was a prison uprising at Attica. In its wake, Clark was one of the founders of The Midnight Special, a newspaper affiliated with the National Lawyers Guild. Clark was also a member of the Women's Bail Fund and worked in support of political prisoners.
When the May 19th Communist Organization was founded in 1976, Clark became a member, continuing her work as someone who visited political prisoners. She was a named petitioner in the lawsuit Clark v. U.S.A., which challenged the FBI's Cointelpro Program. That suit was eventually settled in the plaintiffs' favor.
Ultimately, May 19 became an isolated remnant of the dwindling "anti-imperialist" movement, and Clark became more isolated from society at large.
On October 20, 1981, a Brink's armored truck was robbed by six men in Nyack, New York. During the robbery, Peter Paige, a Brink's guard, was killed. As the men escaped from the robbery, the van into which they had switched was stopped by a police barricade and two officers, Waverly Brown and Edward O'Grady, were killed during the gun battle that ensued. Clark was the driver of a nearby getaway car, into which one of the robbers and David Gilbert jumped after the gun battle. After a car chase, Clark was arrested. Also arrested at the scene was Kathy Boudin, who served 22 years in prison and has been released on parole.
Clark was charged with three counts of felony murder and was tried together with David Gilbert and Kuwesi Balagoon. They refused to be represented by counsel; instead, they decided to represent themselves. But when they refused to adhere to decorum of the courtroom, they were banned from the courtroom and ended up sitting in cells in the basement, where the trial was piped in over a speaker system. No standby counsel was appointed to represent them. All three were convicted of all charges and each was sentenced to three consecutive 25-year-to-life sentences. Boudin, who was represented by counsel, entered a plea of guilty to a single count of felony murder and received a sentence of 20 years to life.
Clark's sentence remains 75 years to life imprisonment; she has been incarcerated at Bedford Hills Correctional Facility since 1983. In September 1985, letters implicating Clark in a possible escape plan were found. She was charged with conspiracy to escape and sentenced to two years in solitary confinement in the Special Housing Unit (SHU). In SHU, Clark began a process of self-reflection, which ultimately led to her renouncing her status as a "political prisoner," and publicly apologizing for the crime.
Clark earned her Bachelor's degree in 1990 from Mercy College and gave the valedictorian address. In 1993, Clark earned her Masters in Psychology from a graduate program of Vermont College of Norwich University. She is currently working on her Ed.D in Psychology and Theology. Clark was one of the two first prisoners in New York State to receive certification as a chaplain after completing three years of clinical pastoral education, after which she worked as a chaplain's assistant for seven years.
In 1987, Clark (with Kathy Boudin and other prisoners) helped found and develop the curriculum for the AIDS Counseling and Education (ACE) Program in prison. The program was designed to build peer-to-peer support and education around the AIDS epidemic. Both Clark and Boudin have published articles on ACE in Social Justice and The Columbia Journal of Gender and Law (1991). The articles were cited in a 1990 U.S Department of Justice Report on AIDS in prison.
Clark was a founding member of the Inmate Advisory Committee and was instrumental in bringing a college program to Bedford Hills Correctional Facility in 1996, through the joint effort of administration, inmates, and community members after state funding cut all college programs for prisoners. The college program has graduated more than 100 prisoners, and Clark continues to work with and encourage students in the degree program.
Clark has been on the staff of the Nursery Program at Bedford Hills Correctional Facility since 1993, teaching pre-natal and parenting classes, facilitating group discussions, and acting as an informal mentor of incarcerated mothers.
Clark has participated in a number of writing groups, including one led for twelve years by poet Hettie Jones. Clark is among the inmates at Bedford Hills featured in the 2003 documentary What I Want My Words To Do To You, about a writing workshop in the prison led by playwright and activist Eve Ensler, author of The Vagina Monologues.
Clark's work has appeared in publications, such as The New Yorker, The Prison Journal, and in anthologies of prison writing, including Doing Time and Hauling Up the Morning: Writings & Art by Political Prisoners and Prisoners of War in the U.S. She has won several awards for her poetry in the annual PEN prison writing contest.
Clark is a long-time dedicated member of the Puppies Behind Bars program at Bedford Hills, through which inmates raise and train puppies to become guide dogs for the blind, explosive detection dogs for law enforcement agencies, and service dogs for disabled people, primarily veterans.
In 2006, a United States District Court granted Clark a writ of habeas corpus, reversing her conviction on the grounds that she was deprived of her Sixth Amendment right to counsel. The court ruled: "During the prosecutor's opening statement and during the government's entire direct case against defendants, which spanned at least seven trial days, no one was present in the courtroom to represent Clark's interests. Clark was without assistance of counsel for her defense, in clear abrogation of her Sixth Amendment right to counsel." However, the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit reversed the district court's decision on the grounds that Clark had procedurally defaulted on her claim by not raising it on direct appeal before the state court, and also had knowingly and intelligently waived her Sixth Amendment rights by choosing to represent herself. Clark has no further legal avenues for relief. Clark will be eligible for parole in 2056, when she would be 107 years old.
Clark petitioned Governor Paterson for clemency in 2010. More than 900 people wrote letters in support of her petition, including: Robert Dennison, the former chairperson of Parole under Governor Pataki; Elaine Lord, the superintendent of Bedford Hills for the first 22 years of Clark's incarceration; and Frank Olivier, a corrections officer of 23 years who grew up with one of the deceased as a role model.
Lord wrote to the governor, "I watched her change into one of the most perceptive, thoughtful, helpful and profound human beings that I have ever known, either inside or outside of a prison." Dennison wrote that she was "the most worthy candidate for clemency that I’ve ever seen."
Judith Clark is currently represented by Sara Bennett, formerly a Legal Aid attorney and chair of the Wrongful Convictions Project.
In popular culture
- Judy Clark Affidavit
- Kirkpatrick Sales, SDS: The rise and development of the Students for a Democratic Society, Vintage (1973)
- Harold Jacobs, ed., Weatherman, Ramparts (1970); Jeremy Varon, Bringing the War Home, University of California (2004)
- Max Elbaum, Revolution in the Air, Verso (2002)
- Dan Berger, The Hidden 1970s, Rutgers University Press (2010)
- G. Zwerman and P. Steinhoff, "When Activists Ask for Trouble," Repression and Resistance, University of Minnesota (2004); G. Zwerman, P. Steinhoff, and D. della Porta, "Disappearing Social Movements," Mobilization 5:1 (2000)
- See People v. Brown, 525 N.Y.S.2d 618, 620 (N.Y. App. Div. 2d Dep't 1988) (saying the shooters were "as many as six armed men").
- New York State Department of Corrections Inmate Population Information Search, last visited May 13, 2012.
- Fortune News; Rockland Journal.
- Judy Clark Resume
- Breaking the Walls of Silence: AIDS and Women in a New York State Maximum Security Prison (Overlook Hardcover 1998)
- New School Faculty Page for Hettie Jones
- What I Want My Words To Do To You, PBS, premiered December 16, 2003
- Puppies Behind Bars website
- Spirit Magazine, How Mya Saved Jacob
- Clark v. Perez, 450 F. Supp. 2d 396 (S.D.N.Y. 2006)
- Clark v. Perez, 510 F.3d 382 (2d Cir. 2008)
- Judy Clark Quick Facts
- Judith Clark's Radical Transformation, N.Y. Times Magazine (Jan. 12, 2012)
- Judy Clark Letters of Support
- Public Lives: Defending Those Not Likely to Be Called Choirboys, N.Y. Times (Sept. 25, 2002)
- Lahr, John (10 December 2012). "Rough Justice". The New Yorker. Retrieved 29 July 2015.
- Jacobs, Ron (1997). The Way The Wind Blew: A History of the Weather Underground. New York: Verso. ISBN 1859841678.
- Gilbert, David (2012) Love and Struggle: My Life in SDS, the Weather Underground, and Beyond. Oakland: PM Press. ISBN 9781604863192.