Chesa Boudin’s parents were convicted to serve long prison sentences in New York State prisons after being charged for their involvement with a 1981 armored Brink’s truck robbery in Rockland County, where an encounter resulted in the death of two Nyack police officers and one security guard.
Growing up, Boudin was under the are of family friend Jeff Jones, who brought the young boy to prison to visit his father. Each time he faced his father, he experienced a combination of sadness, anger, and confusion over his powerlessness to influence the criminal justice system that tore his family apart.
The 40-year-old San Francisco District Attorney said, “I had a lot of emotional issues growing up because the nature of incarceration creates distance between family members.” Boudin previously worked as a public defender and champion of alternatives to incarceration.
Now, 73-year-old Jones is helping Boudin and several international religious leaders, including Martin Luther King Jr.’s daughter, to seek clemency from Governor Andrew Cuomo. The group is requesting that Cuomo grant mercy to Boudin’s father, David Gilbert, because of his age, which makes him more susceptible to the coronavirus.
The 76-year-old prisoner has been in prison for 39 long years and is in the middle of serving his 75-years-to-life sentence after being charged with felony murder and robbery. Gilbert is one of Shawangunk Correctional Facility’s oldest and longest-serving inmates among 38,000 others. Judges restricted the prisoner from parole until 2056, when he would be 112 years old.
Jones urged Cuomo to look at who Gilbert has become and how he showed significant improvement from his conviction due to rehabilitation and remorse. He said that keeping the convict in prison was wasting tax money after already serving nearly 40 years. Jones added that at his age, Gilbert was no longer a threat to anyone.
Gilbert and Jones were members of the Weather Underground, a leftist militant group that was created in 1969 in order to argue against the Vietnam War, support black liberation, and fight against American imperialism. However, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) classified them as a local terrorist group.
The members of the group included Jones’ wife, 74-year-old Eleanor Stein, and Boudin’s mother, 77-year-old Kathy Boudin, who was convicted on charges similar to her husband but was later released on parole in 2003. Boudin’s mother now works at the Columbia University School of Social Work as an adjunct professor and the co-founder of the Center for Justice in the region, the San Francisco Gate reported.
People who support Gilbert’s clemency said the state had recorded more than 3,400 coronavirus infections and 23 fatalities among inmates and prison staff. As of November 20, the Shawangunk Correctional Facility reported 101 positive cases out of its 353 tests and one fatality.
Boudin said his father’s age made him severely susceptible to the COVID-19 virus and his underlying health conditions only increased the risks. He said, “I’m worried my father could die of COVID-19 in prison. He has always expressed great remorse for the victims, and he has never tried to deny or minimize the role he played in a serious crime.” Boudin argued there was no significantly compelling reason to keep Gilbert locked up in jail.
In 2010, Jones and Stein requested then-Governor David Paterson to grant Gilbert clemency before he left his position. Since Cuomo’s term, however, he was able to reduce the number of inmates in the state by more than 30% and ordered the closure of 15 prisons.
State prisoners have submitted more than 6,500 applications for reduced sentences to Cuomo since 2016. In the last nine years, the governor has granted clemency to 104 individuals and caused Stein to say, “I would urge Governor Cuomo to listen to a son’s emotional appeal and grant clemency to David Gilbert.”