On April 21, she was summoned to meet with the prison superintendent.
“She asked, ‘Do you want to open the envelope, or do you want me to say the decision first, and then you can read it?’” Ms. Clark said. “I said yes. So she told me: ‘You didn’t get it.’ I read it. She said, ‘We were rooting for you.’”
On the way back to her quarters, other prisoners greeted her in excitement. “People said, ‘You made it,’ and I’m like, ‘No.’ And no one heard me the first time. No one. I had to repeat it over and over and over again. They weren’t asking me. They just assumed it. It was kind of communally painful.
“People here want to believe that what we do matters. That what we do wrong matters, and that what we do right matters. They had connected their sense of hope to me.”
The parole board — Tina Stanford, G. Kevin Ludlow and Sally Thompson, appointees of three different governors, including Mr. Cuomo — voted unanimously to deny her parole.
She was not likely to cause trouble in the future, the board said, and it commended her for accomplishing a great deal in prison. In effect, the board echoed the governor’s judgment about the strength of her case. But it had heard from thousands of people, including most police unions and organizations in the state, who had written, clicked online petitions or testified, convincing the board that her release would “undermine respect for the law” by depreciating the seriousness of her crime.
“You are still a symbol of violent and terroristic crime,” the board said.
For decades after the Brink’s robbery and killings, Ms. Clark kept public silence and developed what many prison officials saw as authentic, private remorse. “I had to grapple with what happened to my humanity,” she said. She became an educator for women in prison with AIDS, helped arrange college courses, led prenatal and newborn classes, became a chaplain’s assistant, trained service dogs. Mr. Cuomo met with her in September. At the end of the year, she was one of 113 people who received various forms of clemency, a sudden revival of a power that had scarcely been used by governors for years.
Of all of them, Ms. Clark’s case held the greatest political risk for a governor who is thought to harbor ambitions for national office. By denying Ms. Clark, the board overshadowed his decision, at least until her next scheduled hearing, in 2019.
She spent seven hours before the board, which rarely allocates an hour to a case. For much of that time, she said, commissioners read letters and other documents into the record. They asked many of the same questions the governor had, she said, but, she felt, with far less interest in her answers. The commissioners wanted to know what would happen if she were granted release.
“I thought it would show the success of their criminal justice system and that my punishment for the crime was serious,” Ms. Clark said. “It was 35 years, the bulk of my adulthood. It could point to the ability to change, and to take responsibility. In a time of enormous, heightened anger and clashing, I am someone who once believed in violence and now believes in respecting human life.”
And, she was asked, what if the board said no? Ms. Clark said she would not change, a statement quoted in the decision. The board, she said, did not include the rest of her response to that question: that refusing her would heighten cynicism among prisoners about the parole process.
That two of the victims were police officers plainly was decisive. “These are officers of the law, we are asking them to do a job and we have to let them know that we care about their lives,” Ms. Clark said. “That’s an aspect of the decision that is understandable. On the other hand, we don’t want to say some people’s lives are less important than other people’s lives.”
One letter to the board, from Nancy Gropper in New York City, captured the complexity of the issue. She wrote: “As the mother of a New York City police officer, I realize full well the unmitigated grief experienced by the families whose innocent loved ones died as a result of this 1981 crime. I have nothing but empathy for them and am not sure that I could ever endorse the parole of anyone who harmed my son, who works so diligently to protect the citizens of NYC. But perhaps this is why parole boards are charged with making these decisions — decisions too fraught with emotions for the families of victims.”
Many times, parole boards cite the “nature of the crime” in denying parole, invoking its symbolic weight. Without taking into account changes by the prisoner, a loop of routine denial is formed. “The nature of the crime never changes,” Ms. Clark said.
Last year, a man named John MacKenzie, who killed a police officer named Matthew Giglio on Long Island in 1976, was denied parole for the 10th time. Though his prison record was exemplary, parole boards repeatedly ruled against his release as police organizations lobbied against it. Mr. MacKenzie served 40 years on a 25-year minimum term. A judge held the board in contempt for failing to apply appropriate legal standards, but it made no difference in the decisions. Mr. MacKenzie, 70, took his life in August.
“I feel like I am sort of living with his spirit,” Ms. Clark said. “I wish he hadn’t done what he did. I totally understand why he did. I will certainly try hard not to do that. I want to live it out.”
As she spoke this week, Legend, a black Labrador dog that she is training, sat by her. The dogs typically serve disabled veterans, though some of her canine pupils went to work for law enforcement.
Referring to one of the board members, she said, “Mr. Ludlow said that he found it ironic that I raised dogs for veterans, and he said that work was noble, and yet the three people I killed were all veterans, and he talked about their service.”
She went on: “I said to him that I didn’t think it was ironic, and I don’t think that my work with the dogs is noble. I think it’s one of the ways that I try to reckon with the fact that I am responsible for those people dying.”
At 67, Ms. Clark no longer has the energy for puppies. In the early months of the year, as she was awaiting her hearing, three important figures in her life died: Steven McDonald, the police officer paralyzed by a teenager with a gun, who had visited her twice, discussing her Judaism and his Catholicism, and praying the rosary; and the journalists Wayne Barrett and Jimmy Breslin. “I felt like I was in a liminal period where life and death was in the air,” she said.
“I don’t live the way I do because I’m trying to get out of prison,” Ms. Clark said. “I live the way I do because it’s the only truth I can come and stand on, in the face of both my crime and the lessons of my life since then.”
Source: New York Times