I met Susan Burton in 2010, but I had learned her name years before. I was doing research about the challenges of re-entry for people incarcerated due to our nation's cruel and biased drug war. At the time, I was in the process of writing The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness - a book that aimed to expose the ways the War on Drugs had not only decimated impoverished communities of color but had also helped to birth a new system of racial and social control eerily reminiscent of an era we supposedly left behind.
A mutual friend introduced via email and Susan invited me to come to Los Angeles and visit the nonprofit organization she founded, A New Way of Life.
Upon my arrival, Susan gave me a tour of the safe homes for formerly incarcerated women that operate as part of The New Way of Life.
I don't think I understood the full extent the trauma experienced by people who churn through America's prisons until I began taking time to listen to their stories. Research suggests that people rarely change their minds or form a new worldview based on facts or data alone; it is through stories (and the value systems embedded within them) that we come to reinterpret the world and develop empathy and compassion for others. Susan Burton's life story - filled with trauma, struggle, and true heroism - is precisely the kind of story that has the potential to change the way we view the world. It is impossible to read her story and not feel challenged to reconsider our basic assumptions about our criminal injustice system, as well as the conscious and unconscious beliefs we hold about the living, breathing human beings we, as a nation, have condemned and discarded.
To read more about Susan Burton's book, please click HERE.