They say Americans like rooting for the underdog. We also love a good comeback story.
Ms. Burton is a nationally renown expert on re-entry from incarceration. That is, people who want to re-establish themselves into our community and get on with life after paying their dues to society. If only they were given a fair chance.
In Long Beach, the Greater Los Angeles area, California and most of the nation our jails are full. No country on the planet incarcerates more people.
Issues involving incarceration pepper news reports often, and usually with local impacts. The state kicking non-violent offenders to county jails means facilities nearer to home get full faster, resulting in earlier release for more prisoners.
It can mean the too-early release of prisoners who might just need more time to reform. Aside from jail crowding matters, consider the overall financial impact. The more prisoners we house, the more it costs. Taxes and fees get raised for everyone; funding and building more correctional facilities is an ongoing problem.
Then there’s the human cost. The hope for the whole system of incarceration is for prisoners to learn a lesson, hopefully pledge to not make the same poor choices in the future, and maybe even improve as a person overall.
A major problem is the amount government spends to house convicted criminals far, far exceeds what is dedicated to helping prevent them from returning to jail. While government officials acknowledge recidivism is a problem, they dedicate little energy or resources to address it.
The government hardly helps transition human beings from formerly troubled persons into individuals who just might prove to be good people who can make communities better. Imagine that.
Susan Burton did.
Offering Hope: Helping Women Transition
Today Ms. Burton is a celebrated author, re-entry activist and founder and executive for a nonprofit organization that has helped thousands of women transition from incarceration into productive members of society.
The Los Angeles-based nonprofit, A New Way of Life Reentry Project provides housing, case management, no-cost legal services, advocacy and leadership development for women rebuilding their lives after prison. Her memoir, “Becoming Ms. Burton: From Prison to Recovery to Leading the Fight for Incarcerated Women.”
The book made Burton the winner of the Outstanding Literary Work – Biography/Autobiography at the 49th annual NAACP Image Awards. It’s one of many significant national honors bestowed upon Burton for her work, including a CNN Heroes Award in 2010.
In September 2019, Burton was presented an honorary doctorate from California State University, Northridge, for her remarkable and tireless efforts for people she has yet to meet. An excellent summary of her life and achievements is available via CSUN.
As CSUN advertisements for the event stated, “Released from prison with only $200 and a one-way ticket to Skid Row, Susan Burton decided she was never going back.”
Read this CSUN news release for details, but in summary, Ms. Burton served six prison sentences before getting a helping hand that ultimately resulted in the formation of her nonprofit organization and significant strides toward helping women break the cycle of incarceration.
She suffered many significant, traumatic experiences along the way; over many years, leading up to what could have been the most challenging experience of all. That is, being completely ignored after enduring punishments for her crimes. Basically, tossed onto the streets among us and left to fend for herself. Like so many others.
Join Us and Learn More about Re-Entry and Hope
Enter Susan Burton and A New Way of Life. Come join us Feb. 8 and learn about re-entry, why it’s a vital issue in our community, and maybe what you can do to help.
COA Valentine’s Tea Speaker Series 1 to 3:30 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 8 Grace 1st Presbyterian Church 3955 N. Studebaker Road (at Los Coyotes Diagonal) Long Beach, Calif.
Buy tickets now!