Susan Burton is an amazing woman who proves that no matter what life throws your way, you can overcome it! She’s proof that it’s never too late to recreate yourself, improve your future, and create a life you’ll love living! Born and raised in the projects of East Los Angeles, her childhood was harrowing and full of challenges. She was further devastated in her young adulthood when her five-year-old son was accidentally struck and killed by a police car. Devastated by the loss of her son, Burton turned to drugs to alleviate her grief and was eventually arrested and convicted for her use of crack cocaine. She became addicted to crack cocaine while struggling through the grief process with no therapy in an underprivileged, disadvantaged community.
Burton went on to spend most of the 1980s and 90s in and out of jail. She was arrested and confined to jail or prison a total of six times. At the end of each sentence, Susan was released with no money or legal identification and remained on the same cycle of arrest and release. She was shocked and saddened on her last release to hear the prison guard say that he would see her again soon. This admonition struck a chord in Burton and served as a wakeup call. Steadfastly determined to prove him wrong, she looked for a drug treatment facility outside her neighborhood where temptation and old habits could threaten her successful recovery.
In 1997, Susan successfully recovered from her drug addiction. She did more than just recover. She Set out to help other women find safe places to recover as well. She found a way to help former felons successfully fight addiction and reenter society. Susan helps these ex-cons apply for and receive food stamps, affordable housing, counseling, addiction recovery, and needed support. Realizing that these were the help and benefits she was not entitled to because of her prison record, instead of feeling sorry for herself or leaving others to fend for themselves, she bought a house and used it to house female parolees. Burton found these women by going to bus stops and inviting them to stay in the safety and security of her home.
In 2000, due to grants and support from friends, the house she purchased officially became A New Way of Life, with ten women offenders in residence. She went on to become certified as a substance abuse dependency counselor. Today, she has five transitional living houses in the LA area. In addition, she runs a free legal clinic. Her houses have helped more than a thousand women and her clinic has provided legal support for more than two thousand. She is the recipient of many awards including:
- The CNN Hero Award (2010)
- The Citizen Activist Award (2010)
- The Purpose Prize (2012)
- The James Irvine Foundation Leadership Award (2015)
Susan Burton’s story is told in the book, Becoming Ms. Burton: From Prison to Recovery to Leading the Fight for Incarcerated Women. Of her start helping incarcerated women late in her life, she says, “It didn’t mean it was too late. It meant if it was going to happen, I had better get busy and make it happen.” She shows women everywhere that it is never too late to turn your life around and never too late to help others.