By Gloria Zuurveen
LOS ANGELES—Nothing can stop this “warrior for justice” from fighting for formerly
incarcerated women, not even the COVID-19 Pandemic can stop the work of Dr. Susan Burton, founder of A New Way of Life Re-Entry Program, in the midst of a worldwide crisis of the Coronavirus can stop her from helping those who have been released from prison and have nowhere to turn. Dr. Burton, since 1998 has been a Harriet Tubman for so many on their pathway to freedom. Michelle Alexander, author of The New Jim Crow called ANWOL’s program a model for the kind of bold initiative needed in South Los Angeles to build a “new underground railroad” to set women free with a new way of life providing them with the necessary resources like shelter and safety from society’s stigmatization.
Dr. Burton’s work has proven to be fruitful, so much so, that ANWOL recently purchased their ninth home to serve women released from prison like the moment
when Eleanor and Donna walked out of the prison gates after more than three decades they served in prison. Dr. Burton said, “We’ve been so excited to welcome Crystal, Maria, Eleanor and Donna into the new home. Altogether, these four women served more than 100 years in prison; Donna and Eleanor alone served nearly three-quarters of that time. Whenever I meet lifers like Eleanor and Donna, the tragedy of so many lost years breaks my heart. But women are strong, and these four are quickly settling into a new normal, one that involves social distancing, face masks and lots of hand washing. For women who’ve just left prison, it’s often the little things that mean the most, and Donna and Eleanor are no exception. After more than three decades without access to most kinds of fresh fruit, their first taste of strawberries and pineapple was a heavenly experience.”
That heavenly experience is one Dr. Burton knows about because she too is a formerly incarcerated prisoner who from experience speaks to the heart of others with compassion and passion. That same passion was recognized by California State University , Northridge (CSUN) President Dianne F. Harrison and for her great works on May 20 last year, an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters was awarded to her in recognition of all she has done to transform the lives of incarcerated women and at-risk youth, and for her efforts to share what she has learned with the world, including CSUN students. She said “Susan Burton has overcome tremendous difficulties to achieve extraordinary accomplishments in the last two decades as a nationally renowned activist and community organizer.” “She has created housing for women and their children, lobbied to change public policies, written a book, and counseled formerly incarcerated women and at-risk youth, including our students here at CSUN.” Dr. Burton said, “To receive this degree is like a reparation of the educational opportunities I lost. For me, this is another victory in my healing process. Thank you, CSUN, for this incredible honor.”
In addition to her honorary Doctorate Degree, Dr. Burton has earned many accolades for her work, including being named a CNN Top Ten Hero in 2010 and receiving the prestigious Citizens Activist Award from the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. She is the recipient of the Encore Purpose Prize and the James Irvine Foundation Leadership Award. Her memoir, “Becoming Ms. Burton,” received a 2018 NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literary Work in the category of biography/autobiography, and the inaugural Goddard Riverside Stephan Russo Book Prize for Social Justice.
Dr. Burton’s works speaks for her but she speaks for ANWOL with passion when she talks about the help others contributes to the success of this premier re-entry program for women. She said, “After so many years away, it’s important for women like Crystal, Maria, Eleanor and Donna to come back to a house that feels like home: warm, inviting, safe, and comfortable. My friends, you have been instrumental in making sure our new house is all of those things. We are so grateful to everyone who has purchased towels, beds, mixing bowls, sheet sets, and silverware for us so that we can create this beautiful, welcoming space for women. We’ve been overwhelmed by your ongoing generosity, especially during such difficult times! Today, I am reaching out to ask your help in getting us over the finish line. We need to raise $4,500 to purchase the last few items that will make our home like all of our others: a shelter where women who have been so harmed can heal and realize the dreams they hold for themselves and our community.
If you are able, we would so appreciate your contribution, which you can make.” To contribute, please visit: https://connect.clickandpledge.com/w/Form/5bfec207-39ae-4ac6-a59d-79bafed05a8f
Also, in the alternative, if you want to directly purchase one of the critical items needed, you can do so here at our Target Wish List. https://www.target.com/gift-registry/giftgiver?registryId=d956fecaa6954d1b8841a3d0c3563d68&lnk=registry_custom_url
In closing, Dr. Burton said, “I want to thank you all from the bottom of my heart. And I want to thank the USC Post-Conviction Justice Project, the California Board of Prison Terms and Governor Gavin Newsom, whose diligence has helped to flatten the curve within the prison system. Please continue working to ensure that women like Crystal, Donna, Eleanor and Maria keep coming home. Their lives depend on it.”