Who is Judy?
Born in Brooklyn to a politically radical family, Judy Clark began her activist work in the civil rights movement at age fourteen. She became involved in the movements again racism and imperialism, the feminist and queer movements, but grew increasingly isolated and radicalized. She was arrested in October 1981 and ultimately convicted of felony murder for her involvement in the armed robbery of a Brinks truck during which a guard and two police officers were killed. Judy was unarmed and played a secondary role as a getaway driver.
Now 67 years old, and in the 36th year of her imprisonment, Judy is a profoundly remorseful woman. She says, “While my life is fueled by a hope-filled commitment to repair, I never forget that the lives lost on October 20 cannot be redeemed. I will always live with sorrow, shame, and regret for my role in their deaths.”
Judy’s time at Bedford Hills
Judy’s accomplishments at Bedford Hills Correctional Facility are extraordinary: she earned a BA in Behavioral Sciences in 1990 and a MA in Psychology from Manhattan Marymount College in 1993. Since that time, she’s been on the staff of the Nursery Program, where she wrote the curriculum for the prenatal parenting classes and has been a mentor and role model to the mothers who live with their babies on a residential nursery unit.
During the 1980s, to address the impact of the AIDS epidemic at Bedford Hills, Judy co-founded the groundbreaking ACE, an organization so effective it has been replicated at prisons across the country. She was co-editor of Breaking the Walls of Silence: AIDS and Women in a New York State Maximum Security Prison (Overlook Hardcover 1998). Judy also helped to rebuild a prison college program when public funding for it was eliminated in the 1990s, and, as a result, more than 150 women have been awarded Associate’s or Bachelor’s degrees in the past ten years. Judy continues to be an ongoing informal adviser to many of those students.
Judy lives in an honor unit and participates in the Puppies Behind Bars program. The program raises and trains puppies to become guide dogs for the blind, explosive detection dogs for law enforcement agencies, and service dogs for disabled veterans. As of spring 2017, Judy is raising her twelfth puppy.
Judy’s poetry has been published in numerous journals and The New Yorker, she won the 1995 PEN Prison Poetry Writing Award, and her scholarly essays have appeared in such journals as The Prison Journal, Zero to Three, and The Women’s Passover Companion: Women’s Reflections on the Festival of Freedom. In recent years, Judy, who was raised in the tradition of radical secular Judaism, has immersed herself in religious studies and Clinical Pastoral Education and she has completed certification as a Chaplain. The training lends a framework to her ongoing role as an informal mentor and confidante to women like herself, who are serving lengthy sentences and are trying to come to terms with their pasts and lead compassionate, fulfilling and useful lives.
Perhaps her most significant accomplishment is that, despite incarceration, Judy has been a warm, loving and influential mother to her now 36-year-old daughter, Harriet, a graduate of Stuyvesant High School in New York City, Stanford University, and the Iowa Writer’s Workshop. Yet neither mother nor daughter has taken their relationship for granted. Currently a writing teacher at Stanford University, Harriet writes:
While the separation from my mother has been the major loss of my life, our relationship has always developed alongside the losses of other people, most significantly the nine children who have grown up without their fathers as a result of the crime in which my mother participated.
That I have been able to share my life with my mother, even through separation, has never been something I could take for granted. And so my mom and I have always been committed to each other, grateful for each other. For over thirty years Judy Clark has worked to become the mother she wants me to have, a mother I feel so blessed to have. At the moments and places where my mother’s remorse and shame could have broken her apart, she has worked instead to break herself open. And she is now the most open woman I know.
She is open to my pain and needs, to the pain and needs of others, but she is open, also, to what is beautiful and possible all around us. A woman who wants to mother her child as fully as my mother has committed to mothering me cannot give up on herself. My mother didn’t give up on herself and I want very much to believe that this legal system hasn’t given up on her.
Judy’s current legal situation
On December 31, 2016, Governor Cuomo granted Judy clemency, making her eligible for immediate parole. Despite Judy meeting, all of the criteria for parole—including expressions of remorse, an exceptional record over thirty years inside, a lowest-possible risk assessment and support from thousands of individuals and public officials— in April 2017 she was denied parole. She is in the process of appealing that decision.
One woman previously imprisoned with Judy wrote, “Judy opened my mind to seeing what others go through and she helped me develop a conscience, to look at others, to recognize their suffering, and to do something.”
If you want to take action for Judy, take a look at the What You Can Do page.