Susan Burton is the founder and executive director of A New Way of Life, a nonprofit that provides sober housing and other support to formerly incarcerated women. Nationally known as an advocate for restoring basic civil and human rights to those who have served time, Susan was a winner of AARP’s prestigious Purpose Prize and has been a Starbucks “Upstander,” a CNN Top 10 Hero, and a Soros Justice Fellow. She is the author, with Cari Lynn, of Becoming Ms. Burton, From Prison to Recovery to Leading the Fight for Incarcerated Women (The New Press), a winner of an NAACP Image Award and named a “Best Book of 2017” by the Chicago Public Library. Her book, life, and nonprofit come out of her personal life story, which speaks to “the breathtaking resilience of the human spirit.”
After tragically losing her five-year-old son when a police cruiser struck and killed him, grief overtook her and she became drug-addicted and impoverished. She was incarcerated for crack cocaine and went in and out of jail six times over approximately a ten year period. Each time, she was released with limited money, no photo ID and no social security card. She finally found the CLARE Foundation in Santa Monica where she was treated for substance abuse and addiction, turned her life around, and founded New Way of Life where she has helped more than 3,000 formerly incarcerated women get a home and lead a healthy life.
Additional awards and accolades: 2007 appointment to Little Hoover Sentencing Reform Commission and the Gender Responsive Strategies Commission by former CA Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger; 2010 Citizen Activist Award from Harvard University Kennedy School of Government; 2011 CNN Hero for her extraordinary work and impact in Los Angeles; 2012 Purpose Prize Winner and Community Fellow for the California Wellness Foundation, Women’s Policy Institute Fellow through the Women’s Foundation of California and the Open Society Foundations; 2014 James Irvine Foundation Leadership Award; 2015 named one of United State’s 18 New Civil Rights Leaders by the Los Angeles Times; 2018 Honoree for Women’s History Month by the National Women’s History Project; 2019 bestowed honorary degree in Doctor of Humane Letters from California State University, Northridge.