“My Process of T’Shuvah,” from Fellowship of Reconciliation (2011)
The words, prison, and community are usually thought of as antithetical to each other. To be sentenced to serve time is to be removed from “the community” and sent “away” to prison. The nature of prison as an involuntary, isolated, guarded and oppressive institution runs counter to all that we associate with the notion of community. Yet, the very existence of this journal and many of its writings speaks to the ways that prisoners create community, often despite the prison’s structure, rules and mores, and in so doing, reclaim and grow our humanity.
Reflections on the Binding of Isaac (2005)
I made my way to Jewish services this afternoon, happy after a wonderful visit. I look around me, at the grassy hillside beside the road, at the wild flowers sprouting as the sun breaks through the last of the rain clouds. Even after all these years, there is always something new within this bounded familiar terrain. Always, in this season, approaching Rosh Hashannah, I try to remind myself of that, and remind myself that time, seemingly a burden, is my ally, in my own long journey toward teshuvah.
I was in a prison withing myself. The drugs controlled my life. If I’d been thinking about my daughter, I wouldn’t be here today. But I didn’t think that then. Then, I didn’t think I was doing anything wrong. It was fine. I was yound and could care less. That was my attitude. That’s the thing, if we were really thinking about our children we wouldn’t be here, right? But you couldn’t have told me then. I loved her, I did, but that’s not what controlled me.
In a period when greater numbers of women are being sent to prison nationally and many treatment and educational programs in prison are being eliminated., this “insider’s” ethnographic study of mothers incarcerated at Bedford Hills Correctional Facility in New York analyzes the problems and potentials of a model reform-oriented prison for women. Although the infantilizing, punitive character of the prision and its’ programs undermines the mothers’ agency and reinforces punitive parenting models, many women take advantage of the educational, vocational, self-help, and parenting programs available to undertake significant change and self-development, and to improve their relationships with their children and their role in society.
In Bedford Hills Correctional Facility, New York State’s maximum security prison for women, Aids has created a crisis. A recent study showed that almost 20% of incoming women were HIV infected (New York State Department of Health, 1989). This statistic does not include all the other women affected by AIDS: Those with friend and family members who are sick; those women wrestling wit hwhether to take the HIV antibody test; those concerned wit having safe sexual relationships and many not yet educated or concerned about this’ those with fear and questions about casual contact in an environment that necessitates sharing and closing living arrangements.
The Girl Behind the Smile, in Word: On Being a Woman Writer (Feminist Press, 2004)
Judith Clark is a poet, Independent scholar, peer-educator, and lifelong activist. Since 1983 she has been serving a sentence of seventy-five years to life at Bedford Hills Correctional Facility. Born in Brooklyn to a politically radical family, at age fourteen Clark began her activist work in the civil rights movement. As Clark notes, working “in the radical social movements of the era defined my life before prison. But my own unacknowledged needs and psychological issues drove me further and further into the extreme margins of those movements.” In 1981 Clark was arrested as the get-away driver in an armed robbery, “During which three people were killed.” Although she declared herself a political prisoner during her trial and moved herself to a basement holding cell, Clark’s later two-year lockup in solitary confinement nearly broke her. During this difficult time she turned to books, “particularly women writers.” It was also while in lockup that clark began writing daily. Initially a record of the deep resonance she felt when reading writers like Joan Nestle, Alice Walker, and Grace Paley, her journal soon evolved into a space for exploring, through poetry and memoir, her own voice and world.
So Here I Am, in Red Diaper Babies (University of Illinois Press, 1998)
Born in New York City in 1949, Judith Clark was active in the social movements of the 1960s and 1970s. She has been imprisoned since 1981 at Bedford Hills, New York, State’s maximum security prison for women, on charges stemming from an armed robbery in which three people were killed. Clark completed studies for her bachelor’s degree while in prison, twenty years after being expelled from the University of Chicago for participating in a 1969 sit-in. She then went on to earn a master’s degree in psychology.
Clark Teaches prenatal and parenting classes at Bedford Hills. She has published several articles about mothers in prison, and her poetry as appeared in the New Yorker and other publications. In this memoir, she describes, without self-pity, the political evolution that led to her imprisonment.