Susan Burton, the co-author of “Becoming Ms. Burton: From Prison to Recovery to Leading the Fight for Incarcerated Women,” says she never stood a chance in today’s America. After a childhood marked with abuse and racism, the loss of her 5-year-old son, inexplicably killed by a cop in South Los Angeles, drove her to alcoholism which ultimately led to her incarceration.
Her tragic story isn’t too different from that of other people from her background. As Truthdig Editor In Chief Robert Scheer recounts in a conversation about Burton’s book, which is based on her life story, “42 percent of African-American children under 6 live in poverty. Black women represent 40 percent of prostitutes, 55 percent of those arrested, 85 of those incarcercated.”
When the harsh realities of life after prison without any support became unbearably apparent, that’s when Burton says she was able to see a path forward for herself and incredibly, for others in her position.
“No one came to my aid,” Burton says in the latest installment of Scheer Intelligence. “And when you read the book, I reach a point where I realize every system had failed me, from the family system to the school system to the social service system network, to the judicial system. And I felt like I failed me, too.”
Burton decided to become that helping hand she so desperately needed for others. She started the organization A New Way of Life with which she established safe houses in California that help previously-incarcerated women start over. Now Burton has used used her experiences to develop a safe-house network training that she’s taking to Illinois and Virginia, and even abroad to Uganda.
“We have single-family homes, seven of them; five in Los Angeles, two in Long Beach,” explains Burton. “And women come there, they live there, they make it their home; it’s a real simple concept to me. We welcome them, we support them with transportation, clothing, food. They get employed, they go back to school, they pitch in, they make a home, they create a whole safety network within that home. I’m really grateful and thankful that I can do the work that I do, supporting women coming home, and holding up A New Way of Life as a model for this country.”
Listen to their full conversation about the inhumane conditions black women and other people of color face both inside and outside our broken penitentiary system.