Judith Clark (left), with her attorney, Sara Bennett
In the Fall of 2013, I photographed the sixteen following women. All had done time with Judith Clark, who was serving a 75-year-to-life sentence for her role as a getaway driver in a 1981 robbery where two police officers and a security guard were killed.
I was Judy's pro bono attorney, seeking clemency for her from the Governor of the state of New York. In an effort to humanize Judy, I took portraits of women who had been incarcerated with her and who could speak eloquently about her effect on them. The advocacy effort worked. In 2016, Governor Cuomo granted Judy clemency, giving her the opportunity to appear before a Parole Board. In April, 2017, the Board denied her release and she is still incarcerated.
DENISHA , 23 and ZEIYANA, 3
Served less than 1 year
Because of Judy, I’m more grateful for my life. I’m home, I’m raising my daughter, I’m being a good mom, and I’ve learned to take anything negative and turn it into a positive. I wish I could have put Judy in my bag and taken her through the gate with me.
ALASIA, 29, GABRIELLE, 10, ADAM, 8, and LAILAH, 3
Served 1-1/2 years
Judy empowered me to hear my children’s anger – their anger at me for leaving them – and to be open with them so that we can discuss everything, from why mommy stole from her job to why mommy went to prison. My goal is to break the cycle of going to prison, but also to break the cycle where nothing is discussed and children don’t have a voice.
Served 15 years
When I got out of prison, I stayed in touch with Judy because she’s the person who keeps me the most grounded — I know that’s a little selfish of me. At first it was through letters, then phone calls, and for the past ten years, I’ve been going up to see her.
MONIQUE, 49 and JOY, 16
Served almost 10 years
I was known as a crier in prison – I always cried a lot because I was separated from my infant daughter, Joy. And people thought there was something the matter with me, but Judy never made me feel as though there was anything wrong with being a mother missing her child.
AWILDA, “WINDY,” 55
Served 10 years
Granted clemency by Governor Mario M. Cuomo
Judy believed in me and pushed me to get an education and to dream big. I ended up getting my B.A. and then my M.S.W. and I have taken what I learned from Judy out into the world and have been able to share her wisdom with hundreds of my own clients over the years.
ANGELINA, 29 and ELIJAH, 2
Served 1 year
When I gave birth to Elijah in prison, I still wanted to get high. But Judy told me that “nobody in this world will love your child like you do and no one will do as good a job of raising him as you will,” and that I better take a good hard look at what I was doing and who I wanted to be. And thanks to all of the advice and care I got from Judy, I’m home, I’m not getting high, I’m in college, I’m off parole, and I have Elijah and I love him so much.
Served 35 years
I was at Bedford when Judy arrived. I was an inmate plumber and I was called to her unit to do some work and she said, “you’re working awfully hard. Would you like something to drink? How about an apple, an orange?” That’s Judy — always looking out for others.
Judy says I gave her strength but I look at her the same way. In the beginning, she was following in my footsteps and then we were there side by side. She’s a wonderful person —compassionate, sensible, intelligent. She goes out of her way for everyone. I was drawn to her because she was so unselfish.
TONI, 65, LEAH, 45, and LIAM, 11 months
TONI: Served almost 25 years
LEAH: Served almost 10 years
Granted clemency by Governor George Pataki: 2001
TONI: When my daughter, Leah, came to Bedford it was really difficult. Judy mediated disputes between us. Today, my daughter, 3 grandkids, and my great grand have a close loving relationship. I give thanks to Judy for this.
Served 12 years
In the beginning of my sentence, I was crying over something and Judy said, “do you want to talk?” And then it dawned on me that I was crying over my 9 years and she had a life sentence. She said, “it doesn’t matter how long your sentence is or how long mine is, we share a common pain of not being with our children and loved ones.” And that stuck with me.
Served almost 27 years
Judy tells you the truths about yourself that you don’t want to know or see. At first she pissed me off for doing that. But I am forever grateful to Judy for being one of the catalysts who allowed me to work on “me” and who instigated my changing into the person I am today.
Served 2-1/2 years
Even though Judy’s an inmate, she basically runs the parenting classes. But because she’s an inmate, we can relate to her. I didn’t think I could be a good parent because I had substance abuse issues and I lost my first son, but she told me I could be a good parent as long as I’m physically and emotionally healthy. I still use what Judy says in my day-to-day life. I take care of myself so I can take care of my son.
Served almost 9 years
Judy was a good role model, for me and others. Just seeing her walking around the compound — a woman who had served so much time and had a lifetime to go — was inspiring.
VENITA, 42 and SAVION, 5
Served time on and off since 1997
My daughter was born in prison in 1998 and my son in 2008, both at Bedford. I met Judy in 1998 when I was on the nursery – she facilitated the parenting classes. When I came back to Bedford in 2007, she was like, “you’re pregnant again?” I was there on a parole violation. She told me that I looked beautiful and that I was glowing and she said, “I don’t think I’m going to see you here again.” For her to say that, it made me think that she saw something in me spiritually. And it made me feel like I was going to make it. And I have.
ANAEL, 29 and RAYNE, 2
Served 8 years
Judy’s great. She’s so insightful. In prison, I always said, “I don’t care, I don’t care, I don’t care,” and she would say, “you do care.” Judy taught all of the mothers on the nursery the same thing – we have to learn how to love ourselves because we’re no good to anyone if we’re not good to ourselves. I carry that with me.
Served 12 years
Judy guided me, she mothered me, she befriended me. She encouraged me to go to school; she encouraged me to be in the puppy program so I could live near her. We ate together, she’d cook for me, we’d watch movies together. I’d play with her hair, I’d lean on her. No matter how much work she’s doing during the day, she still has time for everyone who needs her. I don’t understand how she does it.
If they said to me, “Judy can come out if you’ll do a certain amount of time for her,” I’d do it. I wouldn’t do it for anyone else, but I’d do it for her. She deserves it.