Saturday, February 24

Kathy Boudin, leftist educator and mother of Chesa Boudin, dies


Kathy Boudin, a radical leftist convicted in the fatal Brink’s robbery who went on to help former inmates, and the mother of San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin, died Sunday afternoon at her home in New York, according to a statement from the district attorney’s office, and reports from the San Francisco Chronicle and other news outlets. She was 78 years old.

Chesa Boudin told the Chronicle, which was first to report the news, that his mother had been battling with cancer for seven years. (SFGATE and the San Francisco Chronicle are both owned by Hearst but operate independently of one another.) He said he took a red-eye flight to New York to say goodbye and to see her one last time, describing her nature as “unshakably optimistic and courageous.” 

“She made it long enough to meet her grandson, and welcome my father home from prison after 40 years,” Boudin said in a statement his office shared with SFGATE. “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.”

Born on May 19, 1943, Kathy Boudin was raised by civil rights lawyer and left-wing activist Leonard Boudin and poet Jean (Roisman) Boudin while growing up in New York City’s Greenwich Village. She went on to attend Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania, majoring in Russian studies, and was valedictorian of her class in 1965. She “was soon radicalized by the growing anti-war and racial justice movements of the ’60s,” the district attorney’s office said, leading her to become an active member of radical leftist organization the Weather Underground. Kathy Boudin married David Gilbert in 1970, the same year she fled from an explosion at a Manhattan townhouse where the organization had been crafting bombs allegedly intended for the Fort Dix army base in New Jersey, and later went into hiding, giving birth to their son, Chesa, in 1980.  

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In October of the following year, Kathy Boudin, Gilbert and other members of the organization worked in conjunction with the Revolutionary Armed Task Force and the Black Liberation Army to partake in a robbery of $1.6 million in a Brink’s armored car at the Nanuet Mall in New York. A Brink’s guard was killed by one of their accomplices in the holdup, and two New York police officers were killed by the group during a shootout in the escape. Kathy Boudin and Gilbert were charged and convicted of felony murder because they were involved as the unarmed driver and passenger of the getaway vehicle — Boudin herself also served as a decoy.  

Weather Underground members Bill Ayers and his wife, Bernardine Dohrn took Chesa Boudin into their care when he was 14 months old. Kathy Boudin pleaded guilty in 1984 and entered Bedford Hills Correctional Facility in exchange for her release on parole in 2003, while Gilbert took the case to trial and was eventually sentenced to 75 years to life in prison. He received a grant of clemency from Governor Andrew Cuomo on Aug. 23, 2021 before he was granted parole and then released on Nov. 4, 2021, reuniting with his wife.


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During her incarceration, Kathy Boudin published articles in the Harvard Educational Review, among other publications, taught literacy classes and pushed to bring college courses back to Bedford Hills after Pell Grants had been terminated. She obtained her master’s degree in adult education and literacy at Norwich College, becoming the first woman to do so while in a New York state prison, the statement from the district attorney’s office said.

Kathy Boudin advocated for her fellow inmates and fought for the reunification of imprisoned women and their children. She also co-authored “The Foster Care Handbook for Incarcerated Parents” and wrote and published poetry, going on to win an International PEN Prize.

She felt “remorse for her role in the deadly robbery, and [had] serious questions about the role of violence in political movements and the consequences of her political choices,” a statement from the district attorney’s office said, adding that she had regular visits with her son for 22 years.

In this Feb. 10, 2002 photo, Chesa Boudin and his mother Kathy Boudin are seen in the maximum security prison where she was serving her sentence for the killing of a Brinks guard and two police officers during a robbery by the radical group, the Weather Underground. Kathy Boudin died Sunday at the age of 78. 

In this Feb. 10, 2002 photo, Chesa Boudin and his mother Kathy Boudin are seen in the maximum security prison where she was serving her sentence for the killing of a Brinks guard and two police officers during a robbery by the radical group, the Weather Underground. Kathy Boudin died Sunday at the age of 78. 

Ralf-Finn Hestoft/Corbis via Getty Images

After her release, she worked for the St. Luke’s Hospital HIV/AIDS Center and continued to support former inmates, helping to prepare them as they transitioned to life on the outside, according to the New York Times. She earned a doctorate from Columbia University Teachers College in 2007 and went on to co-found the Center for Justice at Columbia, focusing on the causes and consequences of mass incarceration.


“Kathy’s legacy, mission and lifetime commitment to advancing social justice, supporting disadvantaged communities and reforming the criminal legal system will never be forgotten, especially by those whose lives she touched,” Jarrell E. Daniels, a staff member at Columbia’s Center for Justice and a formerly incarcerated person, said in a statement. “For so many of us, Kathy was a legend that defied odds and broke through the boundaries. She will never be forgotten.”

Kathy Boudin is survived by her brother Michael Boudin, her life partner Gilbert and their son Chesa Boudin, as well as her daughter-in-law Valerie Block, the district attorney’s office said. 

San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin, his mother Kathy Boudin, and his father David Gilbert after his release from prison in 2021. 

San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin, his mother Kathy Boudin, and his father David Gilbert after his release from prison in 2021. 

Courtesy of the Office of San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin

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