Susan Burton


Susan Burton

Adversity: Grief over loss of her son led to drug use, criminal activity

Advocacy: Started a nonprofit to provide housing and support services to recently incarcerated women

“What I’ve been through and what I do is a powerful tool to show people that things need to be changed…. I can’t take back my years of suffering, but I can end them for some other people.”

When Susan Burton’s five-year-old son was fatally struck by a car, she was overcome with grief and became addicted to drugs and alcohol to numb the pain. Her downward spiral led to two decades of cycling in and out of prison on drug possession charges. When a friend suggested she contact the nonprofit CLARE Foundation in Santa Monica, it provided the shelter and recovery services she desperately needed. “I think about all the years of incarceration — punishment for the addiction, punishment for the way I had dealt with that grief and pain and loss — and 100 days of services and resources turned it all around,” she says.

Susan eventually found work and she saved as much money as she could manage. Seeking to broaden her skill base, she applied to become a certified nursing assistant, but schools rejected her because of her criminal background. Determined not to give up, she took the lessons she learned and bought a house. In 1998, she opened A New Way of Life Reentry Project which provides housing and support services to recently incarcerated women in South Central Los Angeles. Her organization has hundreds of women and their children forge a new path after prison. It’s now a network of five houses with 13 full-time employees.

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Posted on

December 4, 2014