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Kathy Boudin, 1960s radical imprisoned for fatal robbery, dies at 78

<i>Handschuh/AP</i><br/>In this Nov. 21
In this Nov. 21

By Alisha Ebrahimji, CNN

Kathy Boudin, a 1960s radical who was a member of the militant leftist group Weather Underground and who was imprisoned for her involvement in a fatal robbery, has died at the age of 78, according to her son, Chesa Boudin, San Francisco’s District Attorney.

Boudin died on Sunday with Chesa and her life partner, David Gilbert, by her side, according to a statement from Columbia University’s Center for Justice, which she co-founded. She had been battling cancer for many years.

In 1981, Boudin and Gilbert participated in the robbery of an armored Brinks truck in Nyack, New York, because they were trying to raise money for Black revolutionary organizations, the statement said.

Boudin said she merely served as a decoy and never had a gun, pleaded guilty to a single felony charge and was sentenced to 20 years to life. She was released in 2003 after serving 22 years.

“My mom fought cancer for seven years in her unshakably optimistic and courageous way,” her son 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.”

A 1965 graduate of Bryn Mawr College, Boudin was radicalized by the growing anti-war and racial justice movements of the 1960s, the statement said, and began her lifelong work as an activist, organizer, teacher, and champion of social justice.

Boudin was the first woman to earn a master’s degree while incarcerated in a New York state prison, the Center for Justice said. Following her release, she earned a doctorate from Columbia University Teachers College in 2007 and taught at the Columbia School of Social Work.

“In prison, Kathy underwent a profound transformation, grappling with her crime and its consequences,” the statement said. “She became a leading advocate for women in prison, fighting for the reunification of imprisoned women and their children, bringing college courses back to Bedford Hills after the termination of Pell grants, and building a community response to the HIV/AIDS epidemic, saving countless lives.”

Boudin’s “outward-facing initiatives became a path to seeking restorative justice for many, and eventually led to parole and release from prison.”

Her release, however, was not without controversy. As CNN reported at the time, police groups protested her parole and attempted to block her release.

Her childhood was spent in New York’s Greenwich Village with her father, the renowned civil liberties lawyer Leonard Boudin; mother, poet Jean Boudin; and brother, Michael Boudin, who is a retired federal appellate judge, the statement said. The family home was a gathering spot for political activists, intellectuals, and artists.

An avid reader and lover of music, she was a beloved aunt and adopted grandmother for dozens of young people, the statement said.

She leaves behind her brother Michael; her partner, David, their son Chesa, daughter-in-law Valerie Block and grandson Aiden Block Boudin. She is also survived by Chesa’s two adoptive brothers, Zayd and Malik Dohrn. After her incarceration, her son, who was then 14 months old, was adopted by fellow activists Bernadine Dohrn and Bill Ayers. From prison, Boudin raised her son in partnership with Ayers and Dohrn.

“She was a model for other generations who were inspired by her thoughtful introspection, kindness, and fierce determination to make the world a better place,” the statement said.

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CNN’s Melissa Alonso and Michelle Watson contributed to this report.

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