Few of us have committed a transgression as dire as that of Kathy Boudin, who, 22 years ago, was involved in the killing of two police officers and a Brinks security guard. But it is also true that few of us have lived the past two decades with her dedication to charity. Boudin, who spent much of her time in prison advocating literacy and empowerment for women, was recently granted parole and was offered the job of establishing a women's HIV/AIDS program at St. Luke's Hospital. Community members, police advocates, and the families of those killed in the Brinks robbery have condemned St. Luke's, and although their pain deserves the utmost sympathy, their criticism is misguided.
As a member of various radical militant groups during the 1960s and 1970s, Boudin advocated extreme measures to combat what she saw as racism, sexism, and American imperialism. And then, in 1981, she participated in the armed robbery of a Brinks security truck--and although she carried no weapon nor directly caused any injuries, she was, in her own words, "morally responsible for all the tragic consequences that resulted." Nobody pretends to justify Boudin's actions--they were repugnant.
However, in the years that followed, Boudin tried to make amends. At Bedford Hills Correctional Facility, where she was incarcerated, Boudin founded AIDS Counseling and Education, a women's group that provided support for HIV-infected women, combated stigmatism and harassment in the prison, and made sure that women had access to needed medication. She organized programs for teenagers with incarcerated mothers, taught classes on parenting, and helped Columbia Law School teach inmates about the rights and responsibilities of incarcerated parents. She published scholarship about her work in--among other places--the Harvard Educational Review.
Boudin has expressed great remorse for her crime. "As I look back, I feel enormous regret," she recently wrote. "While looking back, I am also looking ahead. I think eagerly of using what I've learned here to give back to society." Skeptics may say that these comments were simply attempts at gaining parole. But the evidence suggests otherwise: although Boudin destroyed lives 22 years ago, she has since made many others better.
If St. Luke's believes that Boudin can make a valuable contribution to the hospital, it should weather the storm of criticism and continue with its plans to employ her. In our country, where health and education remain elusive for many, we face a shortage of civil servants. Those willing to work toward the alleviation of suffering should be embraced, not rejected.
It is true that Boudin's presence in the community brings great pain to many, and their pain should be acknowledged. Those not personally affected by Boudin's crime may be able to take a different, more hopeful perspective. After all, our prison systems should do more than punish. They should rehabilitate. They should transform criminals into active and productive members of society. Boudin has taught us that, even from the darkest depths, reform remains possible.