This 1960s radical was given 75 years for driving a getaway car. It’s time to accept that perpetrators can be transformed
Judith Clark, a 1960s radical and the getaway driver of the 1981 robbery of a Brinks truck in Nanuet, New York, was the subject of a controversial article this Sunday, looking at her transformation in prison, and sparking a debate about rehabilitation.
At the time of the robbery, which left two police officers and a security guard dead, Judy was a member of an ultra-left group. Although she was neither a shooter nor armed – she was seated alone in one of several getaway cars – she received a sentence of 75 years to life. The sentence was so long because she refused to defend herself and made a spectacle of the courtroom.
I met Judy in 1996 at Bedford Hills correctional facility in upstate New York when, for five years, she participated in a writing group I ran. The group was mainly for long-term inmates who had committed violent crimes; the purpose was to give them a place, and a creative process, where they could come to terms with their actions, and take responsibility for their crimes, through writing – confessions, dreams, rants, memories.
It was an incredibly arduous, emotional process and in that time I got a deep look into the women in my group. I witnessed their bravery, their fear, but mainly their hunger for honesty – for themselves and each other. They were relentless in their insistence on discovering who they were, what drove them to do what they had done and, in the end, to make amends.