Blog – A New Way of Life Reentry Project Mon, 15 Oct 2018 21:54:36 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Finding Hope in Earth and Sun Tue, 09 Oct 2018 21:59:01 +0000 Finding Hope in Earth and Sun

On Sequarier McCoy’s vision board, where she pins her dreams as well as visual depictions of who she is and wants to become, there’s a picture of open hands holding soil.

“That goes back to my ancestry,” Sequarier explains proudly. Her great-great-great grandmother was an immigrant who saved up enough money to run away from discrimination she and her mixed-race children faced in Europe and buy some land in Oklahoma. The land is still in the family to this day.  Sequarier’s great-great grandmother picked cotton on that land, and so did her great-grandmother. Her grandmother moved west to California and bought some land of her own, where she raised fruit but also cotton, of course, which Sequarier helped her grandfather pick when she was a child.

“I am a nurturer,” Sequarier says. “I like to cultivate and bring things to life.”

It’s hardly surprising, then, that Sequarier’s connection to the land led to her work harvesting the sun. She recently completed a four-month solar installation internship with GRID Alternatives, a non-profit that provides both solar power and solar jobs to low-income communities.

The road to her work in solar energy wasn’t linear, though, even in spite of her strong sense of self. A difficult childhood, domestic violence and drugs led to several stops in prison along the way.


Sequarier was raised by a mother who was a devout Jehovah’s Witness and a father who struggled with alcoholism. This juxtaposition often produced mixed messages, and Sequarier learned that everything was okay as long as the family wasn’t behind on its bills. Talking about emotions or things that happened at home was frowned upon. She stuffed her feelings down deep inside and started drinking as a teenager to numb her pain. Drinking progressed to marijuana, which then led to ecstasy, codeine syrup and cocaine. But it wasn’t until she tried meth that she became addicted. From there, her life spiraled, leading to several short stints in prison. She spent a year at a mother-infant program trying to get sober. “I was trying to pull myself together so bad,” Sequarier says. “I had a little will-power but not enough.”

Watching her father struggle with alcohol and eventually gain his sobriety and change his lifestyle —including not talking to certain people or going to certain places and regularly attending AA meetings — gave Sequarier a model for how to get clean. She had the tools for sobriety at her disposal, but she didn’t yet know how to use them. Two weeks after leaving rehabilitation, she was back behind bars: she caught an 11-year arson sentence in 2008, of which she served nine years.

During the first two years of her sentence, Sequarier was depressed, and the anti-depressants she was given made her feel like a zombie. Finally, having had enough, she told the mental health specialist at the prison that she wanted to go off the medication. Life began to turn around. She began to lose weight she’d gained from the medicine. She asked for a transfer from Central California Women’s Facility (CCWF) to California Institution for Women (CIW), which has more green space. She was reminded of her connection to nature.

As she tells it, “I started being stimulated by the trees and flowers and the environment. And I decided I wanted more for my life.”

Sequarier started taking classes through Chaffey College. She joined Toastmasters and a host of other clubs at the prison. “Things kept getting better and better.”

What happened next turned out to be a blessing in disguise: Sequarier failed her algebra class. As she tried to determine what to do next, she spotted a sign advertising yearlong training and a guaranteed job as a drug and alcohol counselor. The job paid $0.90 an hour, a fortune in prison wage terms.

The entire prison buzzed with excitement about the job — until the women found out that the training would take place at Valley State Prison, a now-defunct facility with a terrible reputation as a violent lockdown facility. If Sequarier got into the counseling program, she would have to spend a year there.

Interest in the program dwindled, but Sequarier was determined. Out of five applicants, she was the only woman from CIW to make it through. “I wanted to do it for me,” she says. “I thought, ‘I can better myself, and I can help somebody else. I can have a career in this after prison.’”

Despite some second thoughts, she transferred to VSP. The only passenger on the four-and-a-half-hour bus ride, she was given the nickname “Lone Ranger.”

At VSP, Sequarier joined a substance abuse program — “We actually had to be in SAP ourselves; you had to be a student in order to teach. I had to learn about myself in order to help others,” she says — and she learned about concepts like group dynamics, body language and personal development. The program was tough, with a strict code of conduct. Only two-thirds of participants made it through the year, but Sequarier prevailed. “I was reborn,” she says.

Sequarier returned to CIW after the year was up and worked as a counselor until she was released in the fall of 2017 and came to A New Way of Life Re-Entry Project. This spring, she was first introduced to GRID Alternatives. GRID installed solar panels on the roof of one of ANWOL’s homes and allowed any interested residents to help out on the job. Sequarier quickly offered to get involved.

“It felt good being able to help A New Way of Life, since they help me,” Sequarier says. “I felt accepted: the people of GRID Alternatives opened their arms to me in full camaraderie. There’s no judgment; they don’t care that I’ve been to prison. The ANWOL installation was all women, and it was very positive, lots of girl power. I wanted to have more of those kinds of interactions.”

So following the build, she began a four-month paid internship to learn to become a solar panel installer.

“I’m having a ball up there,” she says. “I enjoy that I’m the only woman on the roof. I love it. I’ve been told, ‘You kick butt, McCoy.’”

Since her internship ended, Sequarier is looking for employment, with guidance from A New Way of Life’s employment and social enterprise associate, and is leaving her options open. She wants to learn about the potential that lies within solar thermal energy (solar power that can heat and cool houses), and she’s thinking of taking solar classes to broaden her knowledge. However, she still strongly connects with her work in substance abuse counseling/mentoring.

Sequarier has also turned advocate for other incarcerated and formerly incarcerated people, working in and alongside members of her community to effect change.  She is fully engrossed in Women Organizing for Justice and Opportunity, a leadership development training program run by A New Way of Life, and she is a member of All of Us or None, a community-based organization that brings together formerly incarcerated people to bring about change in the community.

“My Achilles’ heel has been limiting myself and foreseeing my own future. I’m not going to do that anymore,” she says. “I’m hoping that life will lead me somewhere better than I’ve been before.”

It’s clear that, with the determination passed down to her by her foremothers, Sequarier will go far, whatever she chooses to do.





Part 2: Susan Burton’s Prison Book Tour: Wrightsville-Hawkins Men’s Unit, Arkansas Mon, 23 Jul 2018 21:50:09 +0000 Part 2: Susan Burton’s Prison Book Tour: Wrightsville-Hawkins Men’s Unit, Arkansas

While I was in Arkansas I visited the men’s side of the Wrightsville-Hawkins Unit, where they also have a Think Legacy program. My experience there was profound in ways that I had never imagined.

In my book, “Becoming Ms. Burton,” I wrote about being raped at the age of 14 on my way home from a Christmas party with a friend. I didn’t tell a soul until my English teacher noticed a change in my physical appearance and asked if I might be pregnant. I was now forced to come clean to my mother about what had happened to me, but to her, the circumstances of my pregnancy didn’t matter, and she sent me away for the last half of my pregnancy to a facility for pregnant, unwed teenagers.

I don’t remember the trial for the boys who raped me; I just remember being given a lot of directions on where to go, where to sit, and what to say. After the trial I was returned to the facility where I was being housed and awaited the birth of my child. I felt hurt, rejected and profoundly alone.

I have only visited two men’s prisons on my book tour so far, and the way my story has resonated with many of the men I’ve met has surprised me. But one of the men at Wrightsville blew me away. During my discussion, this man stood up and said that after reading my book he felt like he needed to apologize to me for the rape I experienced many years ago. He told me that 23 years ago, he raped a woman and had been in prison for it ever since.

I was deeply moved. No one had ever apologized for what happened to me. I felt like some type of amends were coming to me through this stranger I’d never met. It was courageous of him to stand up and be vulnerable in front of 40 other men. To me, he demonstrated that he has taken responsibility for what he did. I accepted his apology and told him that I was really sorry that he had to be in prison for 23 years. It does not take 23 years to correct your actions.

There was another man during my visit who was visibly filled with remorse and shared his story of watching his wife be kidnapped while he was doing drugs. He told me that he is still haunted by what he did and he’s trying to find a way to apologize to his wife.

The deep discussions that I had in Arkansas showed me what can happen when people in prison are given programs to help them work through their pain. The Think Legacy program is bringing men and women to a new level of heightened awareness and responsibility. The six month program focuses on employability, family reunification, cognitive behavior therapies, anger management, substance abuse, parenting, thinking errors, victim impact, budgeting, credit building and various other components.

Before I left, the Wrightsville Inmate Council presented me with a plaque that reads:

On behalf of the entire population, the Wrightsville Inmate Council would like to express our sincere appreciation for your service and dedication to cause of recovery and reentry. Your commitment to helping others has been essential in opening doors that otherwise would have remained closed to those seeking a second chance. Thank you and best wishes on all your future endeavors.

My trip to the three facilities in Arkansas felt a lot different than my trips to other prisons, and I left feeling more hopeful than I often do when I leave a prison. I’m not sure what the key ingredient is in Arkansas, but what they’re doing there is working.

Susan Burton’s Prison Book Tour: Swannanoa Correctional Center for Women, Black Mountain, NC Wed, 30 May 2018 22:22:59 +0000 Susan Burton’s Prison Book Tour: Swannanoa Correctional Center for Women, Black Mountain, NC

Earlier this month, I visited over 400 women at Swannanoa Correctional Center for Women in North Carolina.

Some of the women had already read my book. Several of them explained that they could have written the same book because they’d had nearly the same experiences prior to incarceration that I had had. Hearing this made me think about how women’s reactions to trauma and abuse are criminalized in this country. We punish women’s responses when we could really do something much different. Women who’ve been through trauma need a space to confront and heal from that trauma. Several of the women I spoke with were serving 90 days as a punishment for a drug relapse. Seeing these women made me think about how so many of us are punished for our mistakes rather than supported to work through them.

It was important for me to share my journey and to let each woman know that I believed in her. I also spoke with the prison staff and social workers about creating a strategy to support the women while they are there so that they won’t relapse and return.

The reality is that women need a safe place to return to in their communities once they’re released.  We spend so much money incarcerating women instead of helping them to make a positive transition back into the community.

The majority of the women said that after they’ve been released in the past, they return to their communities and engage in the same types of behavior that landed them there. They asked if I could build a program like A New Way of Life in Ashville, North Carolina. I let them know that I hope to replicate my program across the country.

I let the women know that I support them and that I am visiting them because I believe that their lives are valuable, and that they can have a life after incarceration. It will be a struggle and a fight to get that life, but it is possible.

So many women who cycle through incarceration need to know that there is hope after incarceration. I’m really grateful that I’ve been able to visit incarcerated women across the country. Their words let me know how important the work of A New Way of Life is and how crucial it is to replicate ANWOL to help women transition back into their respective communities.

‘This is what public safety looks like’: Survivors Speak 2018 Wed, 02 May 2018 19:54:28 +0000 ‘This is what public safety looks like’: Survivors Speak 2018

Survivors Speak California is an annual convention where hundreds of crime survivors from across California gather at the State Capitol in Sacramento to raise their voices about their trauma and find healing by taking action. They are joined by dozens of crime survivors from 10 different states who plan to take their learnings from Survivors Speak California to their respective communities.

A New Way of Life (ANWOL) residents and staff members and All of Us or None (AOUON) members have participated in this annual event since it began five years ago. This year’s trip was organized by Lisa James, AOUON community organizer, and included 12 participants.

“I didn’t know exactly what to expect because the last experience I had with a group of survivors was pretty intense, and it was more of the unhealthy, name-blaming, keep-people-locked-up kind of stuff,” Lisa said.

Survivors Speak created an environment that fostered healing, alongside workshops and learning opportunities.

“There was an agenda where people held themselves accountable for the traumas that they may have caused as well as looked at how they too were victims. Those that were also victims were in that space to say that they would rather see their offenders rehabilitated and healed,” Lisa explained.

The overall focus of Survivors Speak was on identifying opportunities for the participants to turn trauma into advocacy and collective healing. The Survivors Speak environment helped the group connect with their inner pain and coping mechanisms. There were workshops related to healing. But the women were also taught how to connect with their legislative leaders and advocate for themselves.

“It was all based on bringing people together and helping them understand how their voices could help in ways that would bring more services to those who have been victims and services to those who are incarcerated. This is what public safety looks like,” Lisa said.

In an effort to get the women of the ANWOL homes to engage with new housemates, Lisa paired each woman with a housemate she didn’t know that well. This worked out well and allowed the residents of ANWOL to connect with each other on new levels.

Each woman was free to choose which sessions she would attend and what other activities she would participate in. For some of the women, this was a transformative experience of freedom.

“When you transition from an environment where you’re caged up basically, when you’re limited to what you can do and how you can move and then being able to have an experience in a hotel like that, it takes away some of those limitations. I could see how they were just free to move and make decisions on their own. That liberty empowered them,” Lisa explained.

The women were no doubt impacted by the atmosphere, which allowed them to feel the safety to talk openly about their lives and stories in some of the workshops they participated in.

“It’s an eye opener for the women,” said Tiffany Johnson, ANWOL co-director. “It allows them to see that they don’t have to be victims to their trauma and that there are many people who embrace them and are there to support healing, not only of self but healing of communities and families.”

“I could hear them talking with each other about how they enjoyed being able to be in that space. You could tell that the event impacted them in positive ways, and watching them bond was amazing,” Lisa added.

One segment that stood out for a lot of the women was the speech given by Tarana Burke, founder of the #MeToo movement.

“She said that all she had been through in her life made her want to be embedded in this work because she had to make sense of it. Being a part of this work and a part of the #MeToo movement meant that she could now become an advocate and help young girls get through the trauma and sexual abuse they’ve gone through,” said Ingrid Archie, ANWOL civic engagement coordinator.

“It was kind of good to hear that because a lot of us get into this work because we’re survivors of something and we want it all to make sense.”

As reported in a Vera Institute of Justice 2016 study, “since 1970, the number of women in jail nationwide has increased 14-fold – from under 8,000 to nearly 11,000 – and now accounts for approximately half of all women behind bars in the United States.” These numbers do not include the number of women in prisons, which The Sentencing Project reported as increasing at a rate 50% higher than men since 1980.

The Vera Institute of Justice study also reported that incarcerated women are “disproportionately people of color, overwhelmingly poor and low income, survivors of violence and trauma, and have high rates of physical and mental illness and substance use.”

As more and more women are sent to prison and jail, it’s important to understand the impact abuse has had on their lives. Most incarcerated women have been victimized prior to their incarceration and have faced difficulties identifying and finding healthy avenues to heal from their traumatic experiences. For these women to see themselves as people who survived trauma, rather than former criminals, is a powerful step toward addressing the abuse-to-prison pipeline and changing the narrative surrounding incarcerated women.

Susan Burton’s Book Tour: Louisiana Correctional Institute for Women & Elayn Hunt Correctional Facility, Louisiana Tue, 24 Apr 2018 21:50:42 +0000 Susan Burton’s Book Tour: Louisiana Correctional Institute for Women & Elayn Hunt Correctional Facility, Louisiana

I recently visited two prisons in Louisiana, where I had an opportunity to shift the conversation around victimhood. At these prisons, Elayn Hunt Correctional Facility and the Louisiana Correctional Institute for Women, my presentation to the women was rolled into a National Crime Victims’ Rights Week event called “Expand the Circle, Reach All Victims.” I had mixed feelings about this event.

Before I went on stage, two victim advocates from the DA’s office gave a presentation encouraging more victims to come forward. It’s true that the voices of victims need to be heard. It’s important for them to get the help they need to move beyond their trauma. However, I questioned the motivation behind this call from the DA’s office for more victims to speak up. Louisiana has the highest incarceration rate in the world, and it has always been known for its harsh sentencing. (One of the women I met there has been in prison since 1988 and has received her divinity degree behind bars. How long does Louisiana think it takes to rehabilitate someone?) Because of its financial reliance on civil forfeiture and prison labor, Louisiana has an incentive to arrest and incarcerate people. Are they saying “bring more victims forward” when what they really mean is “prosecute more people”?

As I listened to the victim advocates and waited to give my own talk, I began to think about what I was going to tell the women incarcerated in that facility. I believe that we absolutely need to “expand the circle” of victims. But there is one group of victims that is rarely heard, and that’s incarcerated women. It’s been estimated that 80 to 90 percent of women behind bars have been physically or sexually abused during their lives.

When I took the stage to speak to the women, I asked, “What about us? What about those of us who’ve been in the ‘abuse to prison pipeline’?” I reminded the women that they are victims too. It’s important that they remember that. When I asked the women in these facilities to raise their hands if they’d ever suffered abuse, more than half of them did. Where was their help? When did anyone advocate on their behalf? The answer is that most of them never got anything. Instead, they were punished for their responses to coping with trauma. We’re all humans who make mistakes, but some of us can’t afford to make mistakes. I told the women that we have to be the ones to take care of ourselves.

After I finished my talk, I signed books for 45 minutes to make sure that every woman there got an autographed copy of “Becoming Ms. Burton.” The warden got a hold of my book right before I arrived; he told me it was so compelling that he stayed up and read half the book in the middle of the night. When I wrote “Becoming Ms. Burton,” I wrote it for people in prison. I never dreamed it would have the effect it’s been having on wardens, corrections officers, prosecutors and judges. It still amazes me how many people the book has touched.

I want to thank Norris Henderson and Dolfinette Martin of Voice of the Experienced (VOTE) for accompanying me into both facilities. VOTE is a great Louisiana organization run by formerly incarcerated people. I encourage you to learn more about the work they are doing to fight mass incarceration and restore the rights of the formerly incarcerated.

Susan Burton’s Book Tour: Albany County Correctional Facility, Albany, NY Fri, 20 Apr 2018 19:54:32 +0000 I recently returned from Albany where I visited with a group of 20 women who were in a drug rehab program at Albany County Correctional Facility, along with Paul Grondahl of New York State Writers Institute and Dr. Alice Green of the Center for Law and Justice in Albany. It was striking for me to see the women assemble in the room in their identical orange uniforms. To me, that showed what incarceration can do: it takes away a person’s individuality and identity, stripping them of the very things that make them who they are.

Since it was a smaller group than I usually meet with on my tour, this visit was more intimate. We sat in a circle and I asked each woman to introduce herself and to share one of her goals. Many of the women talked about wanting to rebuild their relationships with their children. Others talked about wanting to become beauticians or pursue other careers.

Paul Grondahl (director of New York Writers Institute), Susan Burton and Dr. Alice Green (executive director of the Center for Law and Justice)

There was one woman there who was a little over 50 years old. I could tell that she had been through a lot and that she had a wall around her, so I spent some time chipping away at that wall. I told her that I was 46 the last time I was released and I was almost 50 when I started A New Way of Life Re-Entry Project. Just because she’s middle aged, her life is not over yet. It’s never too late to change your life.

When I asked the women how many of them had been incarcerated here before, every single hand went up. I wish I could say that this surprised me, but it didn’t. Recovering from addiction is an issue for so many people who cycle through incarceration. Far too often, people fail during recovery because they go back into the same old environment where there is not a lot of support for them.

A woman opened up to me about a recovery home she went to that was filled with drugs. While she was there, she had access to any drug she wanted and she just didn’t have the ability to fight her urges in the center of this drug den that was supposed to be a rehabilitation facility. I think there’s a certain level of commitment that any provider must have to keeping drugs out, and some facilities simply lack that commitment.

The women and I had a good conversation for about an hour about my book and the need for them to get reentry support. Every time I walk away from one of these facilities, I have the same feeling: that these women need to be welcomed into a home that’s drug and alcohol free and into a safe space where they will not only be allowed to heal but also be treated with dignity.  There isn’t a city or town in this country that doesn’t need a model like A New Way of Life Re-Entry Project. While I want to do everything for everybody, I know that in order to be effective, I have to focus on what is manageable. Later this year, I will be starting a new project to help others replicate what we do at ANWOL. More details on this will be coming soon.

Susan Burton’s Book Tour: Juvenile Temporary Detention Center, Chicago Mon, 09 Apr 2018 20:42:20 +0000  

Susan Burton’s Book Tour: Juvenile Temporary Detention Center, Chicago

This blog posting is part of an ongoing series following our founder Susan Burton as she tours prisons, jails and re-entry programs across America with her book, “Becoming Ms. Burton.” 

I recently returned from Chicago where I visited with the boys of the Juvenile Temporary Detention Center. I was joined by Paul Pearson, a law student and regular volunteer at the facility, and Bella BAHHS, a Chicago native. As I made my way through the facility during those two days, visiting with the various pods, I noticed that it was overpopulated with young Black males. I learned that 93 percent of the boys there were African American, even though Black people make up only 32 percent of the population of Chicago.

One pod that caught my attention housed four young men who were labeled as unmanageable by the staff. These boys ranged in age from 15-17. As I spoke with them, I was struck by the intelligence of the young men. They were all exceptionally bright. They told me that they had come from environments that offered them no hope whatsoever and that the things they did to try to make their lives better had landed them in jail.

I understood that hopelessness. As I cycled in and out of prison for nearly two decades, I was not once offered help, or treatment for my addiction. It was only after many years and many trips to prison that I decided enough was enough and found a private drug rehabilitation facility that allowed me to finally come back into society.

I only expected to visit with the boys for one day, but someone told me about the “Adopt a Pod” program. I arranged to come back the next day to share a meal with the four young men in the pod. They just about jumped out of their seats when I told them I would bring back ribs, chicken, and fries with “mild sauce” (a Chicago condiment).

During our meal, Paul, Bella and I assured the boys that the circumstances they were born into weren’t their fault, but they have to learn how to navigate them so they don’t end up in places like this. I let each boy know that I saw him as capable of having a great future. I could see that they were genuinely seeking guidance, which is something that they had never been given.

Our society is so quick to throw people away after they make a mistake. If only we realized the power of making someone feel like they’re cared about and important. At one point, one of the boys told us, “You make me feel human.” How heartbreaking that he hadn’t felt that way before.

I let the young men know that I was going to do what I could to stay in touch with them and offer support while they are in the detention center and after they are released. I left my business cards with the young men and asked them to keep in touch with me. I wanted to be able to provide them some type of ongoing encouragement and real resources.

Bella was as affected as I was by the experience of meeting these young men. She plans to start volunteering at the center to help the young men learn to express themselves through spoken word. I think it will be powerful for them to have a release for what they’re thinking and feeling.

I met the instructor of the barber school at the facility, Bobby Mattison, who also wants to provide resources for the boys when they are released. Standing Tall Against Recidivism (STAR) Barber College not only gives the young men their barber license, but also skills to help them become productive members of their communities.

The instructor would like to create a barbershop in the community that could be a safe landing spot for the young men after they serve their time. He shared with me that he hopes Common, a hip-hop artist who’s from Chicago, would visit the center and help them open a barbershop in the community. So Common, I am calling on you to come rescue these young men!

Before I left, one of the guards told me that our visit has been helpful for the boys as well as the guards. I am grateful that my book is resonating with people across age, gender, class and racial lines. The message is universal, and the people are getting it!


Susan Burton’s Book Tour: Denver County Jail Mon, 19 Mar 2018 19:20:39 +0000 Susan Burton’s Book Tour: Denver County Jail

This blog posting is part of an ongoing series following our founder Susan Burton as she tours prisons, jails and re-entry programs across America with her book, “Becoming Ms. Burton.” 

I spent my weekend visiting with over 200 women at Denver County Jail. The experience there was very moving like it has been at all of the facilities I’ve visited.  The women were divided into eight pods that house 15 to 40 women each. I spent about 40 minutes in each pod, talking with and listening to the women and answering their questions. Some of the women had read Becoming Ms. Burton; some had not. They spoke about how they wanted to change their lives but did not have access to resources upon leaving jail.

I know firsthand the challenges women face after leaving prison and attempting to reintegrate into society. Over 80 percent of incarcerated women have experienced abuse prior to incarceration, and finding a way to heal from that and address it is challenging. And upon their release, women deal with both their original trauma and the traumatic effects of their incarceration.

I told the women that re-entry is not easy, but I know through the many ups and downs of my life that it can be done. They have to be willing to go after re-entry like many of them once went after drugs. They must stay the course and be willing to fight for their life. I have made it my mission to fight for my life and their lives too in hopes that they will be motivated to keep going. Some of the women told me that seeing me on the other side let them know that they can do it too.

I was joined at Denver Country Jail by Antoinette Gifford, a law professor, and Judge Fay, who some of the women recognized as the judge who sentenced them. Judge Fay asked the women if they had gotten assistance from the court, to which they replied, “We didn’t get any help; we were sent to prison.” The judge was moved by this comment, along with the story that one young lady shared about her journey through the foster care system before eventually becoming homeless. Since reading my book, Judge Fay said, she has actually changed the way she sentences those who enter her court room.

In Denver, I also attended a law conference where a district attorney asked me if she made my book available to her staff, would I come speak to them. I said, “Yes, if the prosecutors will go with me into the jail to talk to women.” Through interactions like these, I am seeing how Becoming Ms. Burton not only impacts the lives of those currently incarcerated but it’s also changing the hearts and minds of people who work in the criminal justice system!


Susan Burton’s Book Tour: Women’s Community Correctional Center, Kailua, Hawaii Tue, 13 Mar 2018 23:52:29 +0000 Susan Burton’s Book Tour: Women’s Community Correctional Center, Kailua, Hawaii

This blog posting is part of an ongoing series following our founder Susan Burton as she tours prisons, jails and re-entry programs across America with her book, “Becoming Ms. Burton.” 

Last week I had the honor of visiting Hawaii and meeting with all five justices of the Hawaii Supreme Court to discuss ways to reduce recidivism through programs like ANWOL. It was a robust conversation that I believe will lead to further dialogue about how to positively impact the lives of incarcerated people in Hawaii.

Susan Burton is on a cross-country book tour, taking “Becoming Ms. Burton” into jails and prisons nationwide.

I went to Women’s Correctional Center (WCC) near Honolulu and was lucky enough to be there during “Prison Women Speak,” an annual program where the women showcase their talents. I was moved by their poetry recitations, dance numbers, skits and of songs of the movement. The resilience of the women was so pronounced, and I understood it.

The talent that exists in prisons across our country is striking. We spend millions of dollars to incarcerate these women, and following their release they have nothing, and all of the talent and all of the time they spent working on themselves is lost. It’s a waste – both for these women and for society.

While at WCC I also participated in the graduation of women involved in the Restorative Justice program. The 20-week program provides the women with tools for healing and reconciliation, which they in turn have taken into the general population in order to resolve conflicts and promote restorative justice among their peers. Empowering women to begin their own healing processes and use their experiences to help one another is a big step toward change in that population. The women were visibly moved by their experience in the class. One of the women present, who has cycled in and out of prison, expressed that this course was the first program that she’d ever participated in. She was really grateful for the opportunity and learned so much in her 20 week sessions.

Even though I’ve done my own time in prison, whenever I’m able to go back into a facility, I am grateful. I consider myself fortunate to share with these women in their moment of accomplishment. To people on the outside, graduating from a restorative program or standing up and reading a poem in front of people may not seem like much. But for incarcerated women, these achievements are everything. They are steps toward healing and regaining hope. I was so happy to be there to share the moment with them.


Susan Burton’s Book Tour: Taconic Correctional Facility, New York Thu, 08 Feb 2018 19:20:38 +0000 Susan Burton’s Book Tour: Taconic Correctional Facility, New York

Susan Burton is touring prisons, jails and re-entry programs across America with her book, “Becoming Ms. Burton.” She will be posting her story on Facebook and at and  after each visit. Here is her first dispatch.  

Susan Burton, founder of A New Way of Life Re-Entry Project, has embarked on a cross country tour to promote special edition of “Becoming Ms. Burton”

“I just returned to Los Angeles after my first round of prison visits. This week I had the honor of visiting Taconic Correctional Facility in Bedford Hills, New York, and Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn. Entering a prison always causes a lot of feelings in me, but I left New York excited about the tour and hopeful about the impact that the book will have on people behind bars.

“I was joined in Taconic Correctional Facility by Cheryl Wilkins, who was once incarcerated herself but now works for the Center for Justice at Columbia University to facilitate classes inside the prison.

“I expected to only speak with the women in the university class, but the warden opened the discussion to the general population and around 65 women were present for my discussion, in addition to staff and volunteers.

“At first, I discussed my life and other issues that impact women, such as the criminalization of abuse. I read them the prologue of my book. And I told them the stories of other women I know who’ve been in their position: Ingrid Archie, whose life changed in a single day with the determination to piece her life back together, and Topeka Sam, a formerly incarcerated woman who started Hope House NYC, a re-entry housing program similar to A New Way of Life.

“But then something extraordinary happened. Cheryl and I sensed a feeling of safety and trust in the room. We started talking about some very difficult topics, including abuse the women had experienced and whether the women had been to jail previously — and the women just opened up.  It was an incredibly powerful moment.

“Tears fell as the women reflected on their past and imagined how their lives could be after serving their sentences. We wanted these women to know that the landscape around women and incarceration is shifting and there are many opportunities for them to begin to dream again and find meaning in their lives. I believe that every incarcerated woman has the power within her to fight for her dreams.

“As I left Taconic, the superintendent of Taconic told me, ‘You changed the narrative for these women today.’

“For me, there’s no place I would have rather been than right there with those women.  Hope, although a small word has a big impact, and watching these women begin to hope again inspires me to keep jumping on planes and flying all over this country and taking this message to as many women as I can.”