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

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 movementSusan 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...

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Title:Becoming Ms. Burton: From Prison to Recovery to Leading the Fight for Incarcerated Women
Author:Susan Burton
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Edition Language:English

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

  • 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.

    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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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

    , 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.

    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 (

    ) likens her to Harriet Tubman.

    Each chapter begins with a mortifying statistic. Here are a couple:

    (why on earth don't we fix that????)

    (This IMHO self-defending

    (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.

  • 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.

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