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Becoming Ms. Burton: From Prison to Recovery to Leading the Fight for Incarcerated Women

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One woman’s remarkable odyssey from tragedy to prison to recovery—and recognition as a leading figure in the national justice reform movement Susan Burton’s world changed in an instant when her five-year-old son was killed by a van on their street in South Los Angeles. Consumed by grief and without access to professional help, Susan self-medicated, becoming addicted first t One woman’s remarkable odyssey from tragedy to prison to recovery—and recognition as a leading figure in the national justice reform movement Susan Burton’s world changed in an instant when her five-year-old son was killed by a van on their street in South Los Angeles. Consumed by grief and without access to professional help, Susan self-medicated, becoming addicted first to cocaine, then crack. As a resident of South L.A., an impoverished black community under siege by the War on Drugs, it was but a matter of time before Susan was arrested. She cycled in and out of prison for fifteen years; never was she offered therapy or treatment for addiction. On her own, she eventually found a private drug rehabilitation facility. Once clean, Susan dedicated her life to supporting women facing similar struggles. She began by greeting women as they took their first steps of freedom, welcoming them into her home, providing a space of safety and community. Her organization, A New Way of Life, now operates five safe homes in Los Angeles that supply a lifeline to hundreds of formerly incarcerated women and their children—setting them on the track to education and employment rather than returns to prison. Susan is now nationally known as an advocate for restoring basic civil and human rights to those who have served time. Ms. Burton not only humanizes the deleterious impact of mass incarceration, it also points the way to the kind of structural and policy changes that will offer formerly incarcerated people the possibility of a life of meaning and dignity.


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One woman’s remarkable odyssey from tragedy to prison to recovery—and recognition as a leading figure in the national justice reform movement Susan Burton’s world changed in an instant when her five-year-old son was killed by a van on their street in South Los Angeles. Consumed by grief and without access to professional help, Susan self-medicated, becoming addicted first t One woman’s remarkable odyssey from tragedy to prison to recovery—and recognition as a leading figure in the national justice reform movement Susan Burton’s world changed in an instant when her five-year-old son was killed by a van on their street in South Los Angeles. Consumed by grief and without access to professional help, Susan self-medicated, becoming addicted first to cocaine, then crack. As a resident of South L.A., an impoverished black community under siege by the War on Drugs, it was but a matter of time before Susan was arrested. She cycled in and out of prison for fifteen years; never was she offered therapy or treatment for addiction. On her own, she eventually found a private drug rehabilitation facility. Once clean, Susan dedicated her life to supporting women facing similar struggles. She began by greeting women as they took their first steps of freedom, welcoming them into her home, providing a space of safety and community. Her organization, A New Way of Life, now operates five safe homes in Los Angeles that supply a lifeline to hundreds of formerly incarcerated women and their children—setting them on the track to education and employment rather than returns to prison. Susan is now nationally known as an advocate for restoring basic civil and human rights to those who have served time. Ms. Burton not only humanizes the deleterious impact of mass incarceration, it also points the way to the kind of structural and policy changes that will offer formerly incarcerated people the possibility of a life of meaning and dignity.

30 review for Becoming Ms. Burton: From Prison to Recovery to Leading the Fight for Incarcerated Women

  1. 5 out of 5

    Lindsey

    A profoundly moving and personal story that was so captivating and vivid I finished it in one sitting and when I did, I looked up and I was startled I wasn't in South LA in the 70s and 80s. A must-read for everyone, but especially for those of us that came of age in California and will relate to this narrative on one level or another. A profoundly moving and personal story that was so captivating and vivid I finished it in one sitting and when I did, I looked up and I was startled I wasn't in South LA in the 70s and 80s. A must-read for everyone, but especially for those of us that came of age in California and will relate to this narrative on one level or another.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Jean

    This is the story of Burton’s life. The co-author is journalist and writer Cari Lynn. The first part of the book is about Burton’s early years in which she suffered from emotional neglect and sexual abuse. After Burton’s five-year-old son was killed by an automobile, she became a drug addict. This began years of being in and out of prison. The second half of the book reveals her path to recovery. She formed a nonprofit organization entitled “A New Way of Life Reentry Project”. This organization h This is the story of Burton’s life. The co-author is journalist and writer Cari Lynn. The first part of the book is about Burton’s early years in which she suffered from emotional neglect and sexual abuse. After Burton’s five-year-old son was killed by an automobile, she became a drug addict. This began years of being in and out of prison. The second half of the book reveals her path to recovery. She formed a nonprofit organization entitled “A New Way of Life Reentry Project”. This organization helps other women stay out of prison and re-enter society. Burton has won many awards for her work and the Los Angeles Times named her one of the Nation’s New Civil Rights Leaders. She advocated for a more humane justice system guided by compassion and dignity. The book is well written and easy to read. Along with her life story, Burton also examines a number of issues in a broader context such as: How the lack of employment and housing opportunities increase the odds of a person returning to prison. She writes about ways to change these societal issues. Burton also provides statistics to reveal a fuller perspective of the problems of the prison system. Ms. Burton’s book not only inspires but educates. I read this as an audiobook downloaded from Audible. The book is ten and a half hours long. Janina Edwards does a good job narrating the book. Edwards is a voice over artist and audiobook narrator.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Jackie

    I can't say enough about this book. Well written personal account of Susan Burton, a woman who had been incarcerated several times and now leads social justice fights on many fronts. The engaging narrative goes beyond telling Susan's story but describes how the forces in our society, her own actions, and luck played a role in her situation. In my mind, I kept comparing this to the excellent book Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson but found this even easier to read as it covered just as important, dif I can't say enough about this book. Well written personal account of Susan Burton, a woman who had been incarcerated several times and now leads social justice fights on many fronts. The engaging narrative goes beyond telling Susan's story but describes how the forces in our society, her own actions, and luck played a role in her situation. In my mind, I kept comparing this to the excellent book Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson but found this even easier to read as it covered just as important, difficult issues. Please read.

  4. 4 out of 5

    dianne

    A temporally relevant read, as this is a very intimate look at how “the system” really is set up for the failure of African Americans. If you’re white, you go to detox, if you’re black you’re a felon and you’ve forever lost 45,ooo rights and privileges. Among the collateral consequences you’ll face on release are the loss of freedom to live with your family, or regain custody of your children, help with housing (no section 8, or even visiting public housing) or help with food (food stamps, for i A temporally relevant read, as this is a very intimate look at how “the system” really is set up for the failure of African Americans. If you’re white, you go to detox, if you’re black you’re a felon and you’ve forever lost 45,ooo rights and privileges. Among the collateral consequences you’ll face on release are the loss of freedom to live with your family, or regain custody of your children, help with housing (no section 8, or even visiting public housing) or help with food (food stamps, for instance). No one will hire you once you’ve checked that little box that says you’ve been (in the past) convicted of a felony, and even if, by some miracle, you get yourself educated - most licenses are blocked - from cosmetology to law - to ex-felons. Perhaps, as you have, after all, paid your debt to society, you feel you’d like to change this system. Sorry, in many states you are forbidden from voting, sometimes forever. No possible job, food, housing, family support, and 44,996 other impediments - seems as though one would have to work in the underground economy, right? Or die? Doesn’t it seem that the Powers That Be want the highest possible recidivism rate? Why could that be? Private prisons, discontinued by Obama, restarted by Trump - hmmmm. The prison guards union is the #one biggest funder of political campaigns in California? Oh, i see. Prisoners can be forced to work for pennies an hour? Reminiscent of slavery, don't you think? Kind of ironic? Susan Burton’s family of origin wanted what most of ours did - a chance to work, live in peace, grow up. But redlining in LA kept housing limited (blacks were ‘allowed’ in 5% of the residential areas), and when the economy dipped Blacks were the first to be fired, as her father was. Enter poverty, hunger, anger….alcohol. Eventually the family is fragmented and things worsen. Susan is abused as a young child by the boyfriend of an aunt, then by a white man her mother is working for, and eventually becomes pregnant from a gang rape on Christmas eve as a young teenager, leaving her with a young child she is totally unequipped to handle, who is raised primarily by grandma. Sue goes on to survive decades of crack and alcohol abuse, being sold for sex, suffering the loss of her 5 year old boy after a hit & run by a cop - the grief driving her deeper into crack - going in and out of prison, repeatedly disappointing and shaming her own daughter - living what seems to be an endless, empty cycle. Despite describing a childhood and adult life devoid of support, protection, honest affection, or options, she completely blames herself for her failures. Eventually she learns (from a white cell mate) about the Civil Addicts Program - which is much kinder than the criminal program although not particularly therapeutic. Step forward half step back she lands in a mostly white (Santa Monica) live in program and actually gets clean. Enter Ms. Burton (her new, respectable, incarnation)- who with the knowledge she has of the inside is a powerful force for change. Since 80% of women on release are unable to afford housing, Susan cobbles together enough to get a house. A place where women can have a home, support each other, stay clean. Most public housing is automatically denied these women. No other country deprives people of the right to housing because of their criminal histories. So this is a big step, but just a beginning. “Naively, I had thought that if i could provide shelter and a nurturing environment, everything else would fall into place. But many days it felt like A New Way of Life was base camp at Mt. Everest.” The book goes on to detail the amazing, astounding, almost unbelievable change she has accomplished since then - her organization has expanded to include political action, legal aid, and many homes. Michele Alexander (The New Jim Crow) likens her to Harriet Tubman. Each chapter begins with a mortifying statistic. Here are a couple: 75% of crack users are white or Hispanic, but 85% of people in Federal prison for crack are black. The average time served by African Americans for nonviolent drug offences is the same as the time whites serve for violent offenses. >70% of americans in prison can’t read above a fourth grade level. When inmates are provided literacy help, recidivism drops from 70% to 16%. (why on earth don't we fix that????) Over 90% of women in prison were sexually abused as children 90% of the time a woman who kills a man has been severely abused by victim (This IMHO self-defending woman) on average gets 15 years if she kills a man. If a man kills a woman, he gets an average of 2 to 6 years. (i guess that murdered woman was only 2/15 the value of a murdered man) Overall, this is an important contribution to the conversation the USA needs to have about race, over-incarceration, inequity of opportunity, and treatment of those with criminal records. And, Susan Burton absolutely rocks. She remains optimistic, repeatedly making something out of nothing.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Krystina

    This book was a great read. I found out about it through a NYTimes article that talked about her phenomenal work (link below). There were times I wanted to cry because it seemed like no matter how hard she tried to do better, she encountered a road block. I'm so glad Ms. Burton was able to start over and provide a second chance for those who are often left to fend for themselves. As I was reading this book, it reminded of a similar book entitled A Piece of Cake by Cupcake Brown. https://www.nyti This book was a great read. I found out about it through a NYTimes article that talked about her phenomenal work (link below). There were times I wanted to cry because it seemed like no matter how hard she tried to do better, she encountered a road block. I'm so glad Ms. Burton was able to start over and provide a second chance for those who are often left to fend for themselves. As I was reading this book, it reminded of a similar book entitled A Piece of Cake by Cupcake Brown. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/05/04/op...

  6. 4 out of 5

    Anita

    Such a gripping narrative and so well written, I couldn't put it down! A remarkable story of a woman overcoming so many obstacles to finally achieve success and then go on to help others as only someone who has been there can do. A MUST READ for anyone who cares about promoting social justice, giving second chances and learning the story behind a trailblazing woman! Such a gripping narrative and so well written, I couldn't put it down! A remarkable story of a woman overcoming so many obstacles to finally achieve success and then go on to help others as only someone who has been there can do. A MUST READ for anyone who cares about promoting social justice, giving second chances and learning the story behind a trailblazing woman!

  7. 5 out of 5

    Amanda

    4.5 stars. What an amazing, powerful story. I have read several books lately about the systemic problems of the poor, particularly for people of color, and this was the most hopeful. Our national preoccupation with punishment for desperate people who pose little risk to society is both damaging and unnecessarily expensive, as Burton documents with both data and anecdotes. Highly recommended The only thing this was missing was a way for me to take action. I’m all fired up on behalf of incarcerated 4.5 stars. What an amazing, powerful story. I have read several books lately about the systemic problems of the poor, particularly for people of color, and this was the most hopeful. Our national preoccupation with punishment for desperate people who pose little risk to society is both damaging and unnecessarily expensive, as Burton documents with both data and anecdotes. Highly recommended The only thing this was missing was a way for me to take action. I’m all fired up on behalf of incarcerated women - who do I write? Where do I call? Where does my donation go? Legal issues are always changing and vary state by state but some resources would be appreciated.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Emma Heinonen

    This is a very important read! It’s a very personal look at the flaws in our criminal justice system and how they create a cycle of recidivism. We have a system that locks people up and does nothing to help them lead productive lives after they get out. Our prison system disproportionately affects people of color and has created more problems than it has solved. The first half of the book is about the author’s experience in and out of the prison system and the second half is about her efforts to This is a very important read! It’s a very personal look at the flaws in our criminal justice system and how they create a cycle of recidivism. We have a system that locks people up and does nothing to help them lead productive lives after they get out. Our prison system disproportionately affects people of color and has created more problems than it has solved. The first half of the book is about the author’s experience in and out of the prison system and the second half is about her efforts to advocate for previously incarcerated people. I first heard about this book when the author was interviewed on Armchair Expert with Dax Shepard, highly recommend listening to that and reading this book!!

  9. 4 out of 5

    Jill

    Very vivid and moving book about author's life and amazing work she has done. Really recommend this one. Very vivid and moving book about author's life and amazing work she has done. Really recommend this one.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Catherine Read

    This book is extraordinary - as is the woman who wrote it. One of the great strengths of the book is how it weaves staggering facts and statistics about mass incarceration into Susan Burton's deeply personal story. Each chapter begins with facts about different aspects of our criminal justice system, and the sprawling prison-industrial-complex, that are impacting generations of American families. Sixty-five million Americans with a criminal record face a total of 45,000 collateral consequences t This book is extraordinary - as is the woman who wrote it. One of the great strengths of the book is how it weaves staggering facts and statistics about mass incarceration into Susan Burton's deeply personal story. Each chapter begins with facts about different aspects of our criminal justice system, and the sprawling prison-industrial-complex, that are impacting generations of American families. Sixty-five million Americans with a criminal record face a total of 45,000 collateral consequences that restrict everything from employment, professional licensing, child custody rights, housing, student aid, voting and even the ability to visit an incarcerated loved one. Many of these restrictions are permanent, forever preventing those who've already served their time from reaching their potential in the workforce, as parents, and as productive citizens. "The result is that these collateral consequences become a life sentence harsher than whatever sentence a court actually imposed upon conviction." American Bar Association president William C. Hubbard While factual information like that sets up the framework for each chapter of this book, it is Susan's narrative that breathes life into what this means for the people who are caught up in this revolving door of poverty, trauma and incarceration. Knowing that 90% of incarcerated women have suffered some form of sexual abuse or physical violence isn't the same as hearing what that means when it is described from the point of view of a 3 year old, a ten year and a 14 year old rape victim now a mother. This is how Susan Burton's life began. A teenage prostitute, she was befriended by a bail bondsman name George who would be with her for 30 years - encouraging her to be the person he knew she could be. He was there from the lowest points of her life - working the streets, drug addiction, losing her son to a police van hitting him in the streets, forgery and theft to feed her drug habit - to the point at which she decided to get sober, get clean and start over. When she was named a Top Ten CNN Hero in 2010, she called him out by name at the awards event. Susan's journey is remarkable for her ability to re-invent her life as an "ex-con" at the age of 46. It was a series of happenstance and circumstance that created opportunities for her to finally divert into a drug rehab program instead of back to prison. When she finally found the program CLARE in Santa Monica that got her into AA's 12 Step Program, she was on her way to a new life. There were many remarkable people that helped her along the journey to what would become "A New Way of Life," a re-entry program for formerly incarcerated women in the Watts area of Los Angeles. This part of the book resonates with me because of my work with a re-entry program for women here in Alexandria, Virginia, called Friends of Guest House. Susan forged ahead with her vision of providing other women the help they needed to start their lives over after stepping off the prison bus. She did it herself, and she was determined to do it for others. The impact of our broken criminal justice system on generations of families is a cycle that seems to have no end. The poverty, the trauma, the lack of educational and economic opportunities, is just compounded when millions of people are saddled with a lifetime of restrictions because of a criminal record. The impact on our country cannot be overstated - it's tearing at the fabric of our culture and our economy. Something must be done and it will only be done when more people are motivated by the injustice of our criminal justice system. I would highly recommend this book to every reader, and it would be a particularly excellent book club choice. These are issues more people need to be talking about. Individually, we can be the voice advocating for change, and together we can move the needle on taking back our country from a broken system of justice that feeds mass incarceration and dooms future generations.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Nina

    This was a very well written book by a woman who has proven herself to be quite remarkable. She acheived, against huge odds, her own redemption, and is working tirelessly for others. I admire how she did it largely outside the "system". However, being on the other side, looking and dealing with renters and in charge of hiring, I found myself bristling a bit at the complaints of discrimination and this decriminalization of crime. Many of these anti discrimination laws, though well intended, have This was a very well written book by a woman who has proven herself to be quite remarkable. She acheived, against huge odds, her own redemption, and is working tirelessly for others. I admire how she did it largely outside the "system". However, being on the other side, looking and dealing with renters and in charge of hiring, I found myself bristling a bit at the complaints of discrimination and this decriminalization of crime. Many of these anti discrimination laws, though well intended, have also produced a new set of victims. No doubt the system is not working and anyone who has remorse and has changed deserves a chance. No one wants to be forever branded by their worst moment. Sue Burton makes the case beautifully, however, for non government intervention, consisting of people who feel invested in their charge's outcome and care enough to be sure they succeed.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Deborah Cleaves

    What a life! What a woman! She had a voice and used it long before the #MeToo movement. Inspiring read. Highly recommend.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Eleonora

    I don't think I can put into words how powerful this memoir is. I deeply and highly recommend it to everyone, but especially to individuals who are wondering "How can I enact systemic change when I am but one person?" It's a story of love and pain, weakness and strength, freedom and cage, power and loss, and all of the messy life in between. I don't think I can put into words how powerful this memoir is. I deeply and highly recommend it to everyone, but especially to individuals who are wondering "How can I enact systemic change when I am but one person?" It's a story of love and pain, weakness and strength, freedom and cage, power and loss, and all of the messy life in between.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Sandra The Old Woman in a Van

    This is a memorable book. Ms. Burton is a woman we should all know about. Her story as a former incarcerated woman to re-entry advocate kept me emotionally hooked, sometimes crying, sometimes outraged, and always in shock that I still have more to learn about our criminal justice system. If you only read a few books each year I suggest you put this book on your to read list. It ranks up there with Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption. This is a memorable book. Ms. Burton is a woman we should all know about. Her story as a former incarcerated woman to re-entry advocate kept me emotionally hooked, sometimes crying, sometimes outraged, and always in shock that I still have more to learn about our criminal justice system. If you only read a few books each year I suggest you put this book on your to read list. It ranks up there with Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Valerie

    Reviewed for ALA's "Booklist Online" -- appears in the April 15, 2017 issue. If you have a subscription, you can read my review at BooklistOnline.com at: https://www.booklistonline.com/Becomi... Reviewed for ALA's "Booklist Online" -- appears in the April 15, 2017 issue. If you have a subscription, you can read my review at BooklistOnline.com at: https://www.booklistonline.com/Becomi...

  16. 4 out of 5

    Patty

    ”So I keep asking the questions. Why are black Americans incarcerated at nearly six times the rate of whites? Why are prison sentences for African-Americans disproportionately higher? Once released, why do people face a lifetime of discriminatory policies and practices that smother any chance of a better life?” Susan Burton is an amazing woman. She has won the CNN heroes award. Nicholas Kristof who writes for the New York Times, has called her a national treasure. (https://www.nytimes.com/2017/05 ”So I keep asking the questions. Why are black Americans incarcerated at nearly six times the rate of whites? Why are prison sentences for African-Americans disproportionately higher? Once released, why do people face a lifetime of discriminatory policies and practices that smother any chance of a better life?” Susan Burton is an amazing woman. She has won the CNN heroes award. Nicholas Kristof who writes for the New York Times, has called her a national treasure. (https://www.nytimes.com/2017/05/04/op...) I knew nothing about her until this book was brought to my attention. That is a shame. It is an even bigger shame that we need Burton to call our country to justice. Why are her questions still valid? Why don’t we see what the loss of these peoples’ talents do to impoverish our whole nation? I cannot recommend this memoir enough. Burton’s story and all the women she is helping need to be better known. Please consider reading this book – you will be upset by what needs to change, but also in awe of Burton’s work to make those changes.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Jenny

    It's one thing to read a moving story of personal redemption and quite another when you know the subject personally. The determination, commitment and brilliance that is Susan Burton came through in the pages of this book but truly knowing all she has been through broke my heart. Read this book knowing that none of it is embellished. Susan is a gift to this world and I am thankful that my path has crossed with hers. It's one thing to read a moving story of personal redemption and quite another when you know the subject personally. The determination, commitment and brilliance that is Susan Burton came through in the pages of this book but truly knowing all she has been through broke my heart. Read this book knowing that none of it is embellished. Susan is a gift to this world and I am thankful that my path has crossed with hers.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Jennifer

    I loved Kendi's compendium of racism in America and Coates' personal story, but situated somewhere right in the middle of them sits the outstanding Becoming Ms. Burton, this powerhouse autobiography that manages to embed one woman's incredible journey from near self-destruction to magnificent civic service within an astonishingly powerful evocation/indictment of the soul-sucking carceral, police, economic, and social systems currently plaguing whole communities. Offering a straightforward depict I loved Kendi's compendium of racism in America and Coates' personal story, but situated somewhere right in the middle of them sits the outstanding Becoming Ms. Burton, this powerhouse autobiography that manages to embed one woman's incredible journey from near self-destruction to magnificent civic service within an astonishingly powerful evocation/indictment of the soul-sucking carceral, police, economic, and social systems currently plaguing whole communities. Offering a straightforward depiction of her hellish early life, Burton embodies resilience and the ability to overcome. She demonstrates the significance and value of people and organizations that offer a hand up and out of the prison system and more, up and out of the generational reiteration of traps that were set for Black Americans back when they were enslaved and brutalized, out of that legacy of corporal punishment, the systematically reduced opportunities and near-guaranteed failure, and the deliberate dehumanization. Burton makes you seethe with fury at the system, and bureaucracy, and bureaucrats, and politicians - not to mention profiteers and opportunists - who don't blink at people suffering, don't use the rules at their disposal to help people who are in trouble, but instead treat them as burdens, as less-than, as worthless and useless and lost causes. In contrast, though, she describes not only her own organization's amazing evolution, but all of the people and organizations she began to encounter and work with, civil society focused on providing aid, a boost, an opportunity, the ladder up from hopelessness. Her descriptions of specific individuals and groups, specific laws and political decisions, make so clear how easy it is to construct systems that hurt and how much effort it takes - an effort that people make - not only to mitigate those systems' effects, but to improve the systems themselves. It's a deeply inspiring book, even if Burton and Lynn make it completely clear how much work has yet to be done, how many people need to be given the means to help themselves, how retributive and cruel so much policy and law is, how much racism infuses politics and their implementation. I whole-heartedly recommend this book to everyone. You will want to get out the vote, open your wallet, man the phones, change the world. And good. Also, as an aside, Burton's book reminded me of the specific power of autobiography. I read autobiographies ravenously as a child and then began to think of them, as I got older, as vanity projects. I'm sure many are. But this one reminds what a powerful vehicle an autobiography can be, using someone's own trajectory as the foundation for exploring some aspect or aspects of the conditions in which they live. This one is particularly well-organized, cleanly written, presenting the facts of Burton's life alongside contextualizing information in a way that tells two stories - individual and meta- with precision that creates an unavoidable visceral and cerebral response.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Allison

    This is the autobiography of Susan Burton, an African-American, formerly incarcerated woman leading the fight against the rampant civil injustices present for women like her. This book opened my eyes to a world I know so little about -- for all of the buzz words in the news today about the "new Jim Crow" and "white privilege," my personal experience with those words has largely been limited to Facebook articles volleyed between people playing (what can seem like) games of "I'm more self-aware th This is the autobiography of Susan Burton, an African-American, formerly incarcerated woman leading the fight against the rampant civil injustices present for women like her. This book opened my eyes to a world I know so little about -- for all of the buzz words in the news today about the "new Jim Crow" and "white privilege," my personal experience with those words has largely been limited to Facebook articles volleyed between people playing (what can seem like) games of "I'm more self-aware than thou". Susan Burton's story is a refreshing and sobering breath of air. It's a story and a life, not a buzzword or a statistic (although it also has statistics, and they are no less sobering). It is the story of a women with the odds stacked against her, with a life story of abuse and rape and drugs and incarceration already written for her, whether she knew it or not. It's the story of her struggle to escape into a new life, but the laws and regulations and biases that kept her entangled. And most of all, the story of a woman who, once she escaped, started a movement to change these broken systems however she could. I cannot recommend this book highly enough, to everyone, on every side of the political spectrum. Let this story open your eyes to the lives behind the buzz words. And then maybe, if you feel so inclined, jump in and do something about it.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Leah Colby

    You don’t know what you don’t know and this book is a heartbreaking education of how terribly broken our criminal justice system is. It is devastating to read the statistics at the beginning of every chapter. It is devastating to hear a first hand account of someone whose story is like so many others that are caught up in a broken and lopsided system. It is devastating to know we spend $60K to hold someone in prison for one year when we could use that money for rehab or education. Think of the p You don’t know what you don’t know and this book is a heartbreaking education of how terribly broken our criminal justice system is. It is devastating to read the statistics at the beginning of every chapter. It is devastating to hear a first hand account of someone whose story is like so many others that are caught up in a broken and lopsided system. It is devastating to know we spend $60K to hold someone in prison for one year when we could use that money for rehab or education. Think of the productive people we would have. It is devastating to know that once they serve their time, they face insurmountable battles to secure the basics of a job, housing or food, let alone be reunited with their children...for committing a petty crime. One of my favorite paragraphs that we should all heed: “It can’t just be a handful of big mouths like myself; it has to be a community. The community is the ears, eyes, and mouths required to keep the system functioning for the good of the people. We all must speak up, we all must step up. I wanted to tell my story as a call for mobilization. Together, we can end discrimination. Together, we can push our government to remove barriers and open up doors for people who are qualified in the here and now. People who should not be held stagnant.” Amazing book Ms. Burton.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Debbie Sue

    This book broke my heart. Each of 39 chapters begins with a statistic so startling, it is almost impossible to immediately begin to read the chapter. This true story discusses the systems that prevent the homeless, mentally ill, victims of sexual and physical abuse, the majority women, from ever succeeding outside of jail, even if they clean up their lives, want to go back to school and want to get back into mainstream society. "The vicious cycle was heartbreaking, you couldn't keep your children This book broke my heart. Each of 39 chapters begins with a statistic so startling, it is almost impossible to immediately begin to read the chapter. This true story discusses the systems that prevent the homeless, mentally ill, victims of sexual and physical abuse, the majority women, from ever succeeding outside of jail, even if they clean up their lives, want to go back to school and want to get back into mainstream society. "The vicious cycle was heartbreaking, you couldn't keep your children unless you demonstrated a safe place to live, but your criminal record banned you from subsidized housing and disqualified you from most private housing." REALLY? This is the best we can do? Anyone convicted of a crime can not get a license to cut hair. Practice law. Professional licenses. Student Aid. Voting rights. And, this is CALIFORNIA... so imagine what is happening in other states. "The truth was, your decisions hardly mattered if none of your options were any good to begin with." There are moments when in MY hopelessness and despair while reading this book, I wish we all had the humanitarian strength and perseverance of Susan Burton. A hard read but an eye opener. Food for some serious thought: The US – with 2.2 million people behind bars, imprisons more people that any other country in the world. Since 1980 – the rate of incarceration form women has risen more that 700 per cent. The majority of these are for non-violent offenses. In LA, from 1940-45, the white population rose less that 20%, the black nearly 110% - yet only 5% of the city’s residential areas allowed blacks. Unemployment rates for blacks in America are consistently twice as high as for whites. African Americans with a college education or beyond experience nearly the same rate of unemployment as whites with only a high school diploma. 42% of African American children under the age of 6 live in poverty. Over 60% of incarcerated women report having been sexually assault before the age of 18. HURT PEOPLE: 94% were victims of physical or sexual abuse More than 75% of incarcerated women had at least one child as a teenager. 2/3 of those working as prostitutes disclosed having been sexually abused as children – more than 90% never told anyone. 1% received counseling. Every year, 650,000 Americans are released from prison, a number larger that the population of Wyoming or Vermont. The majority of incarcerated women are mothers of underage children, 40% of them are the only parent in the household. 75% of crack cocaine users are white or Hispanic. But nearly 85% of people in federal prison for crack offenses are black. The average time served by African Americans for nonviolent drug offenses is virtually the same as the time whites serve for violent offenses. 15% of those serving time for a drug related offenses are given access to drug treatment program with a trained professional. TWO SYSTEMS: Black women are more than twice as likely to be incarcerated for drug offenses as white women. Being abused or neglected as a child increases the likelihood of arrest as a juvenile by nearly 60%, and the likelihood of adult violent crime by about 30%. In large urban areas such as LA and SF, up to ½ of those on parole are homeless. At least 95% of state prisoners will be released back to their communities at some point. 65 million Americans with criminal records face a total of 45,000 collateral consequences that restrict everything from employment, professional licensing, child custody rights, housing, student aid, voting and even the ability to visit an incarcerated loved one. Many of these restrictions are permanent, forever preventing those who’ve already served their time from reaching their potential in the workforce, as parents and as productive citizens. The results are that these collateral consequences become a life sentence harsher that whatever sentence a court can actually impose upon conviction. Over 70% of Americans in prison cannot read above a 4th grade level. When inmates are provided literacy help, the rate of recidivism drops to 16% chance of returning to prison – as opposed to 70% for those who receive no help reading. People and their families are more likely to live in poverty and e hungry if they have been incarcerated. 3% of federal spending goes towards nutrition programs. SNAP provides $29.25 per week. 10 Million children have had a parent in prison. Among developed Western democracies, the US stands out for its extremely limited assistance to the poor. Women commit far fewer murders that men, but receive far longer sentences. A woman who kills a male partner receives on average, a 15-year sentence, while a man who kills a female partner typically receives 2-6 years. Women give significantly more to charity that their male peers – around twice as much – even though women generally earn 80 cents for every dollar men earn. 90% of women imprisoned for that person had abused killing someone close to them. Nearly 80% of formerly incarcerated women are unable to afford housing after release. Most public housing authorities automatically deny eligibility to anyone with a criminal record. No other country deprives people the right to housing because of their criminal histories. Unarmed blacks are killed by the police at 5x the rate of unarmed whites. At least one in 3 blacks killed by police were identified as unarmed. In 2015, police killed 102 unarmed black people, nearly two each week. Of these cases, only 10 resulted in police being charged, and only 2 cases saw convictions of the officers involved. One officer received a 4-year prison sentence. The other officer was sentences to jail for one year though he was allowed to serve his time exclusively on weekends.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Kendal

    AMAZING. I cannot say enough good things about this book. It provided an intimate, personal look at Americas, frankly, broken penal system. At times uncomfortable to read, this book highlights the glaring inconsistencies, badly structured and dangerously mismanaged business (yes, business) of incarceration from someone who has lived it. Form a victim to a voice and, more importantly, force of change, Ms. Burton inspires us all to examine the unseen structures in our society and give voice to thos AMAZING. I cannot say enough good things about this book. It provided an intimate, personal look at Americas, frankly, broken penal system. At times uncomfortable to read, this book highlights the glaring inconsistencies, badly structured and dangerously mismanaged business (yes, business) of incarceration from someone who has lived it. Form a victim to a voice and, more importantly, force of change, Ms. Burton inspires us all to examine the unseen structures in our society and give voice to those who suffer within it. Despite all cultural and societal obstacles due to her race, economic status and geographic location, Susan is living proof that we can still make change happen when we're not afraid to ask why and why not. READ READ READ

  23. 4 out of 5

    Yasmin R.

    Ms. Susan Burton takes readers into her personal life with accounts regarding her upbringing and her time in prison. I highly recommend this novel to anyone looking to take a call of action in regards to high amount of incarcerated individuals in the United States. I will be reading more novels that were recommended by Ms. Susan. Thank you for sharing not only your traumas and failures, but your successes as well in such a vulnerable manner.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Mickey

    Excellent book. Everyone who wants or needs to know about the struggles faced by so many of our fellow citizens should read this book. Very enlightening. Very troubling.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Rosenita Delva

    Her story and her voice deserves to be heard! A beautifully written book.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Porscha

    My wife bought me this book for my birthday. This woman is an inspiration. The writing is so well executed. I felt like I was taken on a redemptive journey, which is exactly what I needed last week.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Lauren

    Susan Burton is a force of nature and our country is better off for her energy and fighting spirit.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Emily

    Amazing woman doing amazing things for other women. Impressive and overwhelming to me.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Marilyn K. Simon

    This is a must read! I agree with Ms. Morris: “Becoming Ms. Burton eloquently shows why the voices of formerly incarcerated women must be at the center of efforts to reconstruct the criminal legal system. Too often this nation criminalizes the trauma of black women; Susan Burton exposes this terrible truth by sharing her astounding story of redemption. This is critical reading for champions of justice everywhere.” —Monique W. Morris, author of Pushout I am a proud graduate of Walden University, wh This is a must read! I agree with Ms. Morris: “Becoming Ms. Burton eloquently shows why the voices of formerly incarcerated women must be at the center of efforts to reconstruct the criminal legal system. Too often this nation criminalizes the trauma of black women; Susan Burton exposes this terrible truth by sharing her astounding story of redemption. This is critical reading for champions of justice everywhere.” —Monique W. Morris, author of Pushout I am a proud graduate of Walden University, which is an institute of positive Social change. I hope that Ms. Burton will be a key note speaker at our university. Ms. Burton eloquently highlights the inequities in our 'justice' system and what we ALL need to do to level ALL the playing fields. I have worked with at-risk HS kids and no the potential that these young adults have when given a true chance at success!

  30. 5 out of 5

    Vishnu

    Wow. One of the best and most inspiring books I have ever read. I'm not sure what more to say about it. Ms. Burton's story is real, and it is thoughtfully and unflinchingly presented. Perhaps what was most surprising about this book (and maybe it should not have been) is that it read as if it had been written by a professional, which is at least partly due to the work of Cari Lynn. As such, the book flows beautifully from chapter to chapter and, as much as I was worried about the possibility, ne Wow. One of the best and most inspiring books I have ever read. I'm not sure what more to say about it. Ms. Burton's story is real, and it is thoughtfully and unflinchingly presented. Perhaps what was most surprising about this book (and maybe it should not have been) is that it read as if it had been written by a professional, which is at least partly due to the work of Cari Lynn. As such, the book flows beautifully from chapter to chapter and, as much as I was worried about the possibility, never lags or misses a beat. A must read!

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