Becoming Ms. Burton

From Prison to Recovery to Leading the Fight for Incarcerated Women

One woman’s remarkable odyssey from tragedy to prison to recovery—and recognition as a leading figure in the national justice reform movement

“Susan’s life story is one our nation desperately needs to hear and understand. This is a story about personal transformation and collective power. It is about one woman’s journey to freedom, but it will help free us all.” —Michelle Alexander, author of The New Jim Crow

Susan Burton’s world changed in an instant when her five-year-old son was killed by a van driving down their street. Consumed by grief and without access to professional help, Susan self-medicated, becoming addicted first to cocaine, then crack. As a resident of South Los Angeles, a black community under siege in the War on Drugs, it was but a matter of time before Susan was arrested. She cycled in and out of prison for over 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. Her organization, A New Way of Life, 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. Becoming 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.

Praise

“Susan’s life story is one our nation desperately needs to hear and understand. This is a story about personal transformation and collective power. It is about one woman’s journey to freedom, but it will help free us all.”
—Michelle Alexander, author of The New Jim Crow
“For almost two decades Susan Burton has been a trailblazing advocate for ending mass incarceration, especially as it relates to poor women of color. Becoming Ms. Burton details her remarkable personal transformation as well as the larger structural changes this country must make in order to achieve racial and economic justice. It is essential reading for anyone who cares about these issues.”
—Daryl V. Atkinson, civil and human rights advocate, lawyer, and member of the Leadership Council of the Formerly Incarcerated Convicted People and Families Movement
“Susan Burton’s life and work are a testament to the power of second chances and the impact one person can have on the lives of others. Her book is a stirring and moving tour-de-force—a beautiful inspiration for all of us to continue to fight for justice.”
—John Legend, actor, singer, and songwriter
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
“Susan Burton is an angel among us. Her journey is a story of courage, compassion, and conviction. At turns harrowing and inspiring, Becoming Ms. Burton provides a valuable new perspective on the consequences of mass incarceration.”
—Howard Schultz, executive chairman, Starbucks Coffee Company
“Susan Burton is someone who inspires while she educates. Her powerful and compelling memoir is an unforgettable journey and also an extraordinary light for all who are looking for answers on how we must recover, restore, and redeem those who have been incarcerated. This is a must-read.”
—Bryan Stevenson, executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative and author of Just Mercy