The idyllic American dream, with its white picket fence and gorgeous home, for many Americans is far from a picturesque society. In fact, the United States has been leading the world in incarcerating its citizens – as the glamorous, sunny state of California can attest to- with its overcrowded prisons. The disheartening fact is that most of the prisoners that are set free have a high chance of returning behind bars. The quicksand pit that is the criminal system in the United States ends up completely engulfing those that have taken a misguided step, no matter the degree of the crime nor how hard the “criminal” tries to overcome it. While the help for the prisoners may not come from the state or federal systems, there are people out there that are willing to stand up for the rights of these abandoned citizens.
Susan Burton lived first hand the injustice but, after much struggle, she succeeded in resurfacing yet she did not turn a blind eye to her past, instead she decided to help others that, like her, were in need of mentorship and assistance. Susan understands the events that might lead some to spiral downwards. After the death of her 5-year-old son she took up drinking and substance abuse, a pattern that eventually led her to imprisonment. In the following years she would step in and out of the prisons. Each time she stepped out she tried to change but didn’t always succeed, until she did. She bought a house in South Los Angeles and invited recently released women to her house offering help with housing and support.
This was the origin of A New Way of Life Reentry Project. A sanctuary for recently released women who want to change their life. A New Way offers a clean, safe, and sober-living environment; it offers educational and skill-building opportunities to women who were formerly incarcerated; and it advocates for the rights of prisoners, former prisoners and their families. Susan’s impact has not gone unnoticed as she continues to fight for the right of women who have been incarcerated to redefine their life and not be another statistic for the state. She is giving a light to the individuals that society wants to keep in the dark.
I invite you all to watch this documentary and consider its importance in our current societies. After all, wasn’t the idea of reform behind the initial concept of the penitentiary?