News of Kathy Boudin’s demise quickly spread, as quickly as news spreads through the prison grapevine, and I had hoped that it was greatly exaggerated! When I Googled “death of Kathy Boudin,” many articles popped up on my screen, far too many from the Crass Media. I chose not to read any of them beyond the headlines. I also glanced at the pictures. In one of them: Kathy as a mother in prison in Bedford Hills Correctional facility, her son, Chesa, on her lap. I stopped at that picture. That’s how I want to remember Kathy, not from a mug shot.
I met Kathy shortly after she was released from prison in 2003. We became fast friends. We both shared a passion for justice, and a love of poetry. Poetry is everything: it’s philosophical; it’s political; it’s prophetic; it’s probing; it’s penetrating. Poetry is also about love, a love that burns so bright it sets the world on fire, and it’s revolutionary.
I’m often taken aback how in a country that has its roots in a revolution, how almost any talk of revolution is thought subversive. One of the Founding Fathers, Thomas Jefferson, said, “Every generation needs a new revolution.”
Kathy spent a generation in prison. When she was released, immediately she thought of the women she left behind at Bedford Hills Correctional Facility, far too many with lengthy sentences, far too many the survivors of abuse and exploitation, on the outside, which often led them to prison, only to continue inside. The passion for justice, and the love Kathy possessed for the women she left behind, led Kathy to continuing her education and earning a PhD at Columbia University, and to found a justice organization at Columbia. While pursuing her education, Kathy was involved in advocacy for justice, specifically around executive clemency and parole., for the women she left behind at Bedford Hills Correctional Facility.
Kathy and I shared many stages, and although our parole advocacy is one thing I’m most proud of, there were other platforms where we got to be poets and read poetry. We supported the work of PEN America’s Prison Writing Program (PWP), and showed up at PWP ceremonies honoring people writing from prisons and jails, reading their award-winning works. When Kathy and I last talked, we talked about getting together for a “poetry night,” to read our works to each other, as well as other poets.
When I was teaching at York College, I invited Kathy to speak at my class, “The Psychological Impact of Mass Incarceration on Society and Families.” The students often Googled the guest speakers I was bringing. One student, whose father was in law enforcement, after Googling Kathy, said, “You’re bring her to speak at our class!” Or course Kathy showed up. She won over that student as well as all the other students who couldn’t help but feel her burning passion for justice.
One event with Kathy stands out. Her son, Chesa Boudin, invited me and his mother to the Rebellious Lawyers’ Conference at Yale Law School, where he was a student, to talk about our parole advocacy work. I could see how he was so proud of his mother, and she, of course, was very proud of her son. Years later, Chesa would introduce his mother when she delivered the 19th Annual Rose Sheinberg Lecture on the politics of parole and reentry at New York University Law School. It was a great introduction. Just having Kathy at that lectern was revolutionary. We both knew about the insidious intrusion of politics in the criminal legal and punishment system, and specifically how it was impacting parole determinations which, to this day, are arbitrary and capricious.
Kathy, in her legacy, leaves us a blueprint on how to “do justice.” People in the Crass Media who would simply reduce this remarkable woman to a crime – shame on you! If you look at some of the body of work of Kathy, you’ll see that she was big on “accepting responsibility.” She didn’t make excuses. She didn’t pick up and throw stones at people. Like the chronicler in one of my poems, “Chronicling Sing Sing Prison,” Kathy looked to dismantle an unjust criminal legal system built with stones of law, stone by stone, stone by stone.