[News] Kathy Boudin: A Great Life and A Great Loss

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Mon May 2 12:56:47 EDT 2022


centerforjustice.columbia.edu
<https://centerforjustice.columbia.edu/news/kathy-boudin-great-life-and-great-loss>
Kathy Boudin: A Great Life and A Great Loss

May 02, 2022

Celebrating the life and mourning the loss of our co-founder and
co-director Kathy Boudin
[image: Kathy Boudin, May 19, 1943–May 1, 2022]

Kathy Boudin died on May Day 2022 at 12:59 PM. Her son Chesa Boudin and her
life partner David Gilbert were by her side. After a seven-year fight with
cancer she died surrounded by lifelong friends and family members. Born on
May 19, 1943, Kathy spent her childhood in New York’s Greenwich Village
with her father, renowned civil liberties lawyer Leonard Boudin; mother,
poet Jean Boudin; and brother, now-retired federal appellate judge Michael
Boudin. Their home was a gathering spot for political activists,
intellectuals, and artists.

Kathy graduated from Bryn Mawr College in 1965 and was soon radicalized by
the growing anti-war and racial justice movements of the 60s, beginning her
lifelong work as an activist, organizer, teacher, and champion of social
justice. From her engagement with the early days of the civil rights
movement in the Cleveland-based ERAP Project (a multiracial movement of the
poor), to her work with Students for a Democratic Society and the Weather
Underground, Kathy was most of all an organizer, who loved talking to and
learning from people; she built community toward overcoming oppression and
disenfranchisement. She chose to work on behalf of marginalized communities
and against war and imperialism, forgoing the comforts and privileges
available to her. She was determined to make radical change by any means
necessary.

In 1981, trying to raise money to support Black revolutionary
organizations, Kathy and her partner David Gilbert participated in the
robbery of a Brinks truck in Nyack, NY. Though Kathy and David were not
armed and did not personally hurt anyone, three men were killed. Kathy and
David were arrested and sentenced to decades in prison.

Kathy entered Bedford Hills Correctional Facility with remorse for her role
in the deadly robbery, and serious questions about the role of violence in
political movements and the consequences of her political choices.

Her then 14-month-old son, Chesa Boudin, was adopted by friends and fellow
activists Bernardine Dohrn and Bill Ayers, who raised him in partnership
with Kathy and David; she had regular visits with Chesa for the next 22
years, helping to parent him from the distance her incarceration created.
[image: Kathy Boudin with her son Chesa]

In prison, Kathy underwent a profound transformation, grappling with her
crime and its consequences. She became a leading advocate for women in
prison, fighting for the reunification of imprisoned women and their
children, bringing college courses back to Bedford Hills after the
termination of Pell grants, and building a community response to the
HIV/AIDS epidemic, saving countless lives. She was the first woman to earn
a masters degree while incarcerated in New York State Prison. Her
outward-facing initiatives became a path to seeking restorative justice for
many, and eventually led to parole and release from prison.

After Kathy was paroled in 2003, she avoided public appearances or
statements, seeking private reconciliation and time with family and
friends. She founded the Coming Home Program at the Spencer Cox Center for
Health at Mt. Sinai/St.Luke’s Hospital in Morningside Heights, which
provides health care for people returning from incarceration. She went on
to earn a doctorate from Columbia University Teachers College in 2007; to
teach at the Columbia School of Social Work; and to co-found and co-direct
the Center for Justice at Columbia University
<http://centerforjustice.columbia.edu/>. Among other things, since 2010 the
Center for Justice organized an annual movement building conference,
“Beyond the Bars” which attracts thousands of activists, organizers,
academics, and justice impacted people from down the block and around the
world. “More than just an academic conference, Beyond the Bars is led by
formerly incarcerated people and has built a global community at the
forefront of justice reform,” said Cheryl Wilkins co-founder of the Center
for Justice. “Kathy was instrumental in developing Release Aging People
from Prison (RAPP), uplifting the voices of women through work with the
National Council for Incarcerated and Formerly Incarcerated Women and
Girls, and so much more.”

Kathy’s work had a major impact on the struggle for the decent treatment of
incarcerated people, the fight against mass incarceration, and on criminal
justice reform. Jarrell E. Daniels, a staff member at Columbia’s Center for
Justice and a formerly incarcerated person says, “Kathy’s legacy, mission
and lifetime commitment to advancing social justice, supporting
disadvantaged communities and reforming the criminal legal system will
never be forgotten, especially by those whose lives she touched…
Her leadership with the Center for Justice empowered community members and
returning citizens to stand as advocates for institutional
and systematic change. Although she was a mother of one, she was a mother
and fearless leader in the global movement for justice reform, social
equality and re-enfranchisement. For so many of us, Kathy was a legend that
defied odds and broke through the boundaries. She will never be forgotten.”

Activist and Professor Angela Davis said, “Kathy is one of my oldest
friends. We’ve known each other since high school, and we’ve done work
against the prison industrial complex for the last twenty some years since
Kathy herself was released from prison.”
[image: Kathy Boudin and family]

Kathy’s articles have been published in *The Harvard Education Review;
Journal of Corrections Education, Women and Therapy;* *Columbia Journal of
Gender and Law;* and *Liman Report of Yale Law School. *She is editor and
co-author of the book *Breaking the Walls of Silence: AIDS and Women in a
New York State Maximum Security Prison. *Her research interests included
the impact of higher education and peer support on incarcerated women,
recidivism rates and life experience of people serving long sentences and
parole policy, and the experience of adolescents with incarcerated mothers.

“Kathy’s commitment to higher education opportunities for people who are
incarcerated and who have returned from incarceration inspired Columbia’s
Justice-in-Education initiative which provides educational opportunities in
prisons and jails and on campus. Seven formerly incarcerated students will
celebrate their graduation from Columbia this month as a fitting tribute to
Kathy’s effort to ensure college access to people with a criminal
conviction,” said Geraldine Downey, Niven Professor of Humane Letters,
Department of Psychology, and the Director of the Center for Justice.
“Kathy exemplified a meaningful life after decades in prison. Her influence
will be felt for years to come in our work and the efforts of so many
others.”

Her years of separation from her own son led Kathy to pursue and keep close
friendships with the children of her many friends – and their children too,
as they grew up and became parents themselves. An avid reader and inspired
story-teller, poet, and gift-giver, she was a beloved aunt and adopted
grandmother for dozens of young people. Her love of music – folk,
political, feminist, classical, jazz – brought her joy. And she was a model
for other generations who were inspired by her thoughtful introspection,
kindness, and fierce determination to make the world a better place.
[image: Chesa Boudin, Kathy Boudin, and David Gilbert]

“My mom fought cancer for seven years in her unshakably optimistic and
courageous way,” said Chesa Boudin, Kathy’s son and the San Francisco
District Attorney. “She made it long enough to meet her grandson, and
welcome my father home from prison after 40 years. She always ended phone
calls with a laugh, a habit acquired during the 22 years of her
incarceration, when she wanted to leave every person she spoke with,
especially me, with joy and hope. She lived redemption, constantly finding
ways to give back to those around her.”

Kathy is survived by her brother Michael Boudin, her life partner David
Gilbert and their son Chesa Boudin, daughter-in-law Valerie Block, grandson
Aiden Block Boudin, and Chesa’s two brothers Zayd and Malik Dohrn and
honorary daughters-in-law Rachel DeWoskin, Lisa Freccero, and five honorary
grandchildren: Dalin, Light, Jacai, Nala, and Teo.

Donations in Kathy’s honor should be made to:

Columbia’s Center for Justice:
https://socialwork.givenow.columbia.edu/?alloc=19488#
<https://socialwork.givenow.columbia.edu/?alloc=19488>

Release Aging People in Prison: https://rappcampaign.com/donate/

or

The National Council for Incarcerated and Formerly Incarcerated Women and
Girls: https://secure.actblue.com/donate/free-her
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