A New Way of Life http://www.anewwayoflife.org Reentry Project Tue, 24 Apr 2018 22:01:30 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.8.6 Susan Burton’s Book Tour: Louisiana Correctional Institute for Women & Elayn Hunt Correctional Facility, Louisiana http://www.anewwayoflife.org/susan-burtons-book-tour-louisiana-correctional-institute-for-women-elayn-hunt-correctional-facility-louisiana/ Tue, 24 Apr 2018 21:50:42 +0000 http://www.anewwayoflife.org/?p=3425 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. https://www.vote-nola.org/

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Susan Burton’s Book Tour: Albany County Correctional Facility, Albany, NY http://www.anewwayoflife.org/susan-burtons-book-tour-albany-county-correctional-facility-albany-ny/ Fri, 20 Apr 2018 19:54:32 +0000 http://www.anewwayoflife.org/?p=3420 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.

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Susan Burton’s Book Tour: Juvenile Temporary Detention Center, Chicago http://www.anewwayoflife.org/susan-burtons-book-tour-juvenile-temporary-detention-center-chicago/ Mon, 09 Apr 2018 20:42:20 +0000 http://www.anewwayoflife.org/?p=3408  

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!

 

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Susan Burton’s Book Tour: Denver County Jail http://www.anewwayoflife.org/susan-burtons-book-tour-denver-county-jail/ Mon, 19 Mar 2018 19:20:39 +0000 http://www.anewwayoflife.org/?p=3397 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!

 

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Susan Burton’s Book Tour: Women’s Community Correctional Center, Kailua, Hawaii http://www.anewwayoflife.org/book-tour-stop-womens-community-correctional-center-kailua-hawaii/ Tue, 13 Mar 2018 23:52:29 +0000 http://www.anewwayoflife.org/?p=3388 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.

 

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Susan Burton’s Book Tour: Taconic Correctional Facility, New York http://www.anewwayoflife.org/susan-burtons-book-tour-taconic-correctional-facility-new-york/ Thu, 08 Feb 2018 19:20:38 +0000 http://www.anewwayoflife.org/?p=3370 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 becomingmsburton.com and anewwayoflife.org  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.”

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LaTonya’s Story http://www.anewwayoflife.org/latonyas-story/ Sat, 09 Sep 2017 19:45:56 +0000 http://www.anewwayoflife.org/?p=3061

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LaTanya’s Story:
After I came to A New Way of Life, at first, the hardest thing was to get my ID. After being incarcerated for 28 years, there was no record of me. It took two months, but they were finally able to confirm my identity through my son’s death certificate.

The other hard thing was getting around. I had a young niece who I had never met face to face; she was born during my incarceration. She helped drive me places. I started to pay attention to street signs and bus numbers. Ms. Tiffany and Ms. Pamela gave me bus tokens and I found I could get around on my own. I recently started helping another woman learn how to get around.

A New Way of Life gave me housing; a roof over my head. Ms. Susan and Ms. Tiffany gave me resources; they showed me strength. I got a job walking in neighborhoods to encourage people to vote. It was exciting to work with Mr. Larry and Ms. Ingrid – I was learning to talk to people in general and to do something for myself.

Ms. Tiffany is such an inspiration to me! If I did something wrong, she would talk to me in private – not in front of other people. That was important, she really listened. She took me and the other women on so many outings; to Palm Springs and other community events. She taught me so much about living.

I’ve been out one year now. I applied for a transfer to live near my sister in Adelanto, near Victorville. Yesterday, I got a phone call from my agent. She said, “I have good news – you’re leaving. You’re going to be with your sister.” I was so excited! Ms. Tiffany was out of town, but I texted her right away.

My journey at A New Way of Life has been awesome. Thank you to Ms. Susan, Ms. Tiffany, Ms. Ingrid, Ms. Loretta, Ms. Iris, Ms. Pamela and Mr. Larry.

I’m ready to leave now.

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ANWOL Champion: Lily Gonzalez http://www.anewwayoflife.org/anwol-champion-lily-gonzalez/ Thu, 20 Jul 2017 04:57:28 +0000 http://www.anewwayoflife.org/?p=3033 A New Way of Life’s Community Organizer, Lily Gonzalez, is a grad student, mom, JustUS Voices storyteller and blogger for La Comadre. She began working at A New Way of Life in April of 2017 and was featured in a recent LA Times article about fair chances.

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Ban the Box: What You Need to Know http://www.anewwayoflife.org/ban-the-box-what-you-need-to-know/ Fri, 06 Jan 2017 21:57:33 +0000 http://www.anewwayoflife.org/?p=2774 amber-rose-and-crew

I sat down today with our Community Organizer, Amber Rose Howard, to talk about “Ban the Box,” officially known as the Fair Chance Hiring Ordinance. As its name suggests, the Fair Chance Hiring Ordinance is a policy that sets in place a procedure for employers to follow that would guarantee more fairness in the hiring process for people with conviction histories.

“The Box” refers to the question that is found on most job applications that inquires about conviction histories. Statistics have indicated that those who disclose conviction histories are 50% less likely to move forward for gainful employment.

“Those with conviction histories such as myself know that the application is going to be shoved to the bottom or thrown out because the past conviction is essentially an automatic disqualifier” says Amber Rose.

“Policy won’t change society. But policy forces a change in habit. A change in habit can influence attitude, and then we have an opportunity to change the hearts of people. I’m hoping that employers and people in general see that just because someone is formerly convicted does not mean that they are a bad person or that they are a risk. I hope that as society we start to welcome people with former convictions as normal human beings. We have a 60%+ recidivism rate in California, and it’s because people are not being welcomed back into the community. Not only are people being turned away from jobs, but there is a powerful stigma surrounding those with conviction histories.”

The Fair Chance Hiring Ordinance passed on November 30th, 2016. The City of Los Angeles enforces the most progressive form of the ordinance – it’s illegal to inquire about a person’s conviction unless it comes after a conditional offer of employment in Los Angeles. Statewide, it simply bans the question on an application but doesn’t prohibit any inquiries during the interview process.

“I hope there is a psycho-social benefit to the passing of the Fair Chance Hiring Ordinance in addition to there being a fiscal, economic plus,” says Amber Rose. “Everybody deserves the opportunity to reach their full potential.”

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Residents Presented with Gifts from Lincoln Memorial http://www.anewwayoflife.org/residents-presented-with-gifts-from-lincoln-memorial/ Mon, 19 Dec 2016 19:59:23 +0000 http://www.anewwayoflife.org/?p=2749 As the holidays approach, we’ve had the privilege of being honored so generously by a number of great organizations. Just yesterday, representatives from the Lincoln Memorial Congregational Church stopped by one of our homes on 91st street to present our residents with gifts.

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I spoke briefly with Jocelyn Williams, a member of the Church, and asked about their intentions, “Once a year we come out at Christmas time to give the women and anyone with children gifts. We just want to make sure that they have a good Christmas, always. Everyone deserves that.”

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The residents have more gifts to come, as Park Windsor Baptist Church will be coming with gifts of their own this Wednesday, December 21st – Just in time for the holidays.

 

 

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