To the Editor:
I want to thank Fortune News for its issue on women in prison, and for including my poem, “Reasons.” Richard Stratton’s thoughtful editorial underlines your interest in including the voices and concerns of women prisoners in Fortune News. I wish to comment on one particular point in Richard’s editorial. He draws a distinction between most women prisoners, who, he believes, are not proud of what they have done, and political prisoners, who “were active, knowing participants in endeavors labeled criminal because they were directed toward attacking the status quo.” Because I was one of the writers featured in that issue, and my case, stemming from a 1981 attempted Brinks car robbery in which two policemen, Waverly Brown and Edward O’Grady, and an armored car guard, Peter Paige, were killed, was a highly visible, politically charged case, I feel it necessary to address this point personally.
I am not at all proud of the actions for which I am in prison. As a woman who has lived in prison for over twelve years, witnessing the toll of violence and broken lifes and families, and as amother whose child has had to grow up without me, I can not feel pride in actions which left three men dead, others injured, three grieving widows and many fatherless children. I feel only enormous regret, sorrow and remorse.
My actions, and my life until my arrest were motivated by my rage at injustice and a sense of urgent need for change. But if there is anything I have learned over these years, it is that justice cannot be achieved through vengeance and retribution. No social vision gives me the right to wreak violence and havoc on others’ lives. While my views might still be considered radical and I am critical of current social policy, I could never again rationalize my using violence against others, or violating another person’s rights in the name of my social vision.
In this editorial, Richard sheds light on the social and personal realities that often lie behind the crimes that women in prison have committed. I agree with him that society must look at those underlying causes, just as we inside have to understand our reasons and motives. But for my own reclamation, I had to stop using a social critique to rationalize my actions. I, like other long termers I know who are in for violent and drug-related crimes, have had to take responsibility for our mistakes and reckon with the cost to the victims and survivors, as well as ourselves and our families. I, like others, feel a need to repair what can be repaired, by becoming socially productive and responsible — a difficult challenge in a prison setting.
It took me many years to open myself up to genuine feelings of loss and remorse. My starting point was realizing that my daughter needed something more from me than unspoken, paralyzing guilt. I stopped putting my energies into being a public political figure and worked on reclaiming myself and my relationship with my family. I’ve also involved myself in work that is in various ways reparative and useful to others. I have been fortunate in having family and friends who have been supportive of my efforts toward reclamation and repair. I realize, though, that while I can work to rebuild family ties, the families of Peter Paige, Waverly Brown and Edward O’Grady could not reclaim their fathers, husbands, loved ones. Their losses are irrevocable.
While I know there is no way that I can take back the consequences of my past actions, or recover the lives that were lost and maimed, I feel a responsibility and a desire to extend myself to victims and survivors. It is for this reason that I know break with a long public silnece and move beyond what has been an essentially private process of change, to express my remorse publicly here and elsewhere.
Respectfully, Judith Clark
Fortune News | 1994