Becoming Ms. Burton

From Prison to Recovery to Leading the Fight for Incarcerated Women

Winner of the prestigious NAACP Image Award, a uniquely American story of trauma, incarceration, and “the breathtaking resilience of the human spirit” (Michelle Alexander)

“Susan Burton is a national treasure . . . her life story is testimony to the human capacity for resilience and recovery . . . a stunning memoir [from] a modern-day Harriet Tubman.” —Nicholas Kristof in the New York Times

Widely hailed as a stunning memoir from someone more likely to be locked up or otherwise silenced, Becoming Ms. Burton is the “miraculously inspirational” (Vivian Nixon) life story of Susan Burton, whose organization A New Way of Life has transformed the lives of more than one thousand formerly incarcerated women in Los Angeles.

In this “stirring and moving tour-de-force” (John Legend), Susan takes us on her own journey through the criminal justice system—from growing up amid poverty and abuse in Los Angeles to becoming addicted to cocaine and crack after tragically losing her son, and from cycling in and out of prison for more than fifteen years to her transformation into a powerful advocate for “a more humane justice system guided by compassion and dignity” (Booklist, starred review).

Frequently compared to The New Jim Crow and Just Mercy, Becoming Ms. Burton is a beautifully written and unforgettable book that humanizes the devastating impact of mass incarceration and powerfully shows the structural and policy changes that can restore the lives of formerly incarcerated people. A reading group guide appears at the back of the book.


“Valuable . . . [like Michelle] Alexander’s The New Jim Crow, Nell Bernstein’s Burning Down the House, and Bryan Stevenson’s Just Mercy. But rarely has such a powerful, personal perspective been made available to us. . . . Our understanding of the criminal justice system is immeasurably strengthened by Susan Burton’s fierce, compassionate, and expressive voice.”
Los Angeles Review of Books
“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
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’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
“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

News and Reviews

With major philanthropic support, The New Press has undertaken a collaborative effort with the re-entry program created and run by Susan Burton to place over

Los Angeles Review of Books

“Valuable… [like Michelle] Alexander’s The New Jim Crow, Nell Bernstein’s Burning Down the House, and Bryan Stevenson’s Just Mercy.

Susan Burton, founder of A New Way of Life Re-Entry Project and author of the forthcoming book