Kathy Boudin, a former member of the radical Weather Underground who spent years behind bars after taking part in a deadly 1981 holdup of a Brink’s armored truck, has died at age 78.
The Columbia University Center for Justice, of which Boudin was a co-founder and co-director, announced her death on its website, saying she died “after a seven-year fight with cancer.”
Boudin died on Sunday, with her son, Chesa Boudin, who is San Francisco’s district attorney, and her partner, David Gilbert, by her side, the center said.
Boudin had graduated from Bryn Mawr College in 1965 and was “radicalized by the growing anti-war and racial justice movements of the 60s,” the center said, adding: “She was determined to make radical change by any means necessary.”
Both Boudin and Gilbert had participated in the Oct. 20, 1981, robbery of a Brink’s truck in Nyack, New York. Guard Peter Paige and two Nyack police officers, Sgt. Edward O’Grady and Officer Waverly Brown, were killed in the incident.
“Though Kathy and David were not armed and did not personally hurt anyone, three men were killed,” the center noted.
Both Boudin and Gilbert were arrested and sentenced to decades in prison, with Boudin receiving a 22-year sentence and her partner getting 75 years to life. Gilbert was granted parole and released from prison in 2021 after his sentence was commuted by former New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo just before he left office earlier that year.
Following their arrest, Chesa, less than 2 years old at the time, was adopted by Bernardine Dohrn and Bill Ayers, friends of his parents and fellow activists.
Boudin was able to hold regular visits with her son during her time in prison, but her experience behind bars pushed her to become an advocate for the incarcerated, advocating early on for the reunification of imprisoned women and their children and for higher education opportunities for those in prison.
Boudin became the first woman to earn a masters degree while incarcerated in New York State Prison, according to the Columbia University Center for Justice. And in the years after she was paroled in 2003, Boudin went on to earn a doctorate from Columbia University Teachers College in 2007. She later began teaching at the Columbia School of Social Work and co-founded Columbia University’s Center for Justice.
In a statement shared by the Columbia University Center for Justice, Chesa Boudin paid tribute to his mother and her legacy.
“My mom fought cancer for seven years in her unshakably optimistic and courageous way,” said Chesa.
“She made it long enough to meet her grandson, and welcome my father home from prison after 40 years,” he said. “She always ended phone calls with a laugh, a habit acquired during the 22 years of her incarceration, when she wanted to leave every person she spoke with, especially me, with joy and hope. She lived redemption, constantly finding ways to give back to those around her.”
Previously, he had spoken out about how his childhood growing up with both his mother and father incarcerated shaped his determination to “restore a sense of compassion” what it comes to the U.S. justice system.