By Allen Roskoff and Tony Hoffmann
As a young woman, Judy Clark was involved in a horrendous crime. She drove one of two get away cars for a botched robbery where two police officers and a Brinks guard were killed. For her crime, she has spent the last thirty-four years in prison. She will not be eligible for parole until 2056 when she will turn 107.
The Judy Clark of today is not the same person who committed that crime thirty-four years ago. She has paid her debt to society. Everybody agrees that she has been totally rehabilitated. She has mentored and helped turn around dozens of women in prison. Nobody, including prison officials who have overseen Bedford Correctional Facility, where Clark serves her time, deny that she has made a complete change and deserves to go free. The only way she can be released from prison is through a gubernatorial clemency.
Governor Cuomo has received formal clemency requests for Judy Clark and has refused to act on them. As a matter of fact, until Thursday, October 22nd Governor Cuomo had not issued a single clemency to anybody in prison during his four and a half years as governor.
When Allen Roskoff was approached by his close friend and political activist Ronnie Eldridge to help Judy get clemency, Allen went to the Bedford Hills Maximum Security Prison for women to meet her. What he found astounded him. He met a woman who was remorseful for her crime, compassionate, caring and incredibly helpful to others in prison. Knowing that getting clemency for Judy would be a gargantuan task, Allen approached Tony Hoffmann for help. Tony also went up to Bedford Hills to meet Judy and came to the same conclusion. The visits substantiated what both Tony and Allen had heard and read about Judy. She was not the same person she was thirty-four years ago and deserved to be free.
Allen and Tony started organizing and building on the work that others had started. The major difference was they went through the political route rather than the legal one. First, they brought in their political clubs, the Jim Owles Liberal Democratic Club and the Village Independent Democrats.
When they recruited other activists outside of their clubs they soon realized that there were many people like Judy Clark who had paid their debt to society, had been rehabilitated, had shown remorse for their crimes and were deserving of clemency. Thus Candles for Clemency was born to support people in prison who were deserving of clemency. Allen and Tony became co-chairs. Over one hundred and sixty activists, politicians, political and civil rights organizations, good government groups, celebrities and faith leaders were recruited on behalf of the clemency cause. Two candle light vigils were held at the home of Governor Cuomo. Meetings were held with his staff, visits to Judy took place, and people close to the governor were recruited to lobby him.
A couple of weeks ago, Allen Roskoff picked up his phone and on the other end was the Governor. The Governor said “Allen, I get it.” A meeting was set up with the Governor’s legal counsel and, at that meeting, we were informed that clemencies would soon begin and that the governor was asking outside organizations to give legal help to prisoners seeking clemency.
On October 22nd, the Governor issued a press release stating that he will be issuing four clemencies—two of which would be his first commutations of sentences for people in prison. The press release also stated that “To assist individuals in applying for clemency, Governor Cuomo is partnering with several organizations from the legal community including, the New York County Lawyers Association, the New York City Bar Association, the New York State Bar Association, the Legal Aid Society and the New York State Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers to provide pro bono clemency petition services to individuals incarcerated by the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision.”
As far as these two clemencies go, Candles for Clemency considers them an anemic beginning. There are many, many more people in prison deserving of clemency and we will monitor this situation closely. Candles for Clemency will continue to demand clemencies/commutations be granted swiftly and in generous numbers to those worthy. Candles for Clemency will continue to demand that clemencies be issued based on merit and not politics and will strongly advocate for Judy Cark’s release and for the many others like her who otherwise will die in prison.
Candles for Clemency will continue to educate, organize, agitate and demand until justice is done.
Allen Roskoff and Tony Hoffmann are
Co-Chairs of Candles for Clemency.