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The Sad Story of Judith Clark: How Ideology can Ruin a Life. The Question Remains: Should She Go Free?

Clark, to put it starkly, is the opposite of those like Bill Ayers and Bernardine Dohrn, who to this day revel in their revolutionary ideology, and have never seen fit to apologize for anything they and their movement wrought. Clark’s sentence stemmed most not from her crime -- since she herself did not kill anyone -- but from her arrogant pantomime of a revolutionary that she played in court.

The parole board has received hundreds of letters asking that she now be pardoned. As one of her lawyers argued, clients who committed brutal murders received sentences of 25 years to life and some are now even free. Clark received 75 years to life, and is not eligible for parole until 2056, by which time she will no longer be alive. Among those favoring her release are the former warden of the prison in which Clark resides. Elaine Lord, the prison superintendent, told Robbins that “she is not the person who was involved in that crime.” Lord called her “one of the most perceptive, thoughtful, helpful, and profound human beings that I have ever known.” Robert Dennison, state parole board chairman during the governorship of George Pataki and a member of the Conservative Party in New York State, called her “the most worthy candidate for clemency that I’ve ever seen.”

The relatives of the dead police officers are not so forgiving. Any governor contemplating releasing Clark would have their wrath, and they are, as one would suspect, skeptical that she has been rehabilitated. They see Clark’s stance as phony, a staged play meant to get a groundswell of support for her release.

Robbins, who says he too was skeptical that Clark had changed at first, now too has “come to see her differently.” Inmates he interviewed told him how she had helped them, and he too thinks in prison she learned who she was.

My friend David Horowitz, whom I talked with on the phone after he read the article, also thinks she has not really changed. Horowitz points out that as part of the May 19 Communist Organization, a breakaway splinter from the Weather Underground at an earlier period in the 1970s, Clark and her comrades backed the actions of the so-called Black Liberation Army that engaged in the murder of two black and white police teams who had been honored in the black community in Oakland, California.

Horowitz’s point, which is solid, is that Clark may well know who did what in various attempted assassinations and bombings that her comrades engaged in during the late 60s and early 70s that to date no one from the Weather Underground milieu has owned up to -- aside from the snide bragging engaged in by Bill Ayers in his memoir, in which he acknowledges that he is guilty as sin and yet “free as a bird.” Does, in fact, Clark know anything at all about what her comrades in past “revolutionary” ventures actually did? What bombings were they responsible for? Who pulled the triggers that killed the cops murdered by the BLA, and supported by the May 19th group?

Remember that of all the defendants arrested after the Brinks job, Clark was the single most radical and rhetoric filled of all of them. The rest of them, like Boudin, were wise enough to take legal help and get out early, despite their own guilt. A true revolutionary knows that one can lie for the cause, and using the legal system one wants to overturn is one tactic available so they can play the system they despise and even be released without any repentance at all. True, Boudin helped AIDS victims in prison. That is not exactly rectitude for acts of murder.

Yet, unlike her cohort David Gilbert -- the father of Boudin’s child who was raised by Ayers and Dohrn -- Clark has shown repentance. Gilbert still plays the revolutionary, and unlike her, seems willing to live his entire life in prison in service to the Communist revolution he still believes in.

So after reading Robbins’ article, decide what you think. I come down on the side of leniency. We must have a different standard than those whose politics we abhor, and acknowledge that sometimes prison can result in rehabilitation and remorse, even for the horrible crime in which Clark took part. In my eyes, she has served her time for the crime of which she was guilty, and deserves the few years left to spend with her daughter out of the limelight and out of prison. I would feel differently if Clark herself had pulled the trigger, although by her silence, she helped those who did.