Becoming Ms. Burton
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Becoming Ms. Burton : From Prison to Recovery to Leading the Fight for Incarcerated Women

4.59 (717 ratings by Goodreads)
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Winner of the 2018 National Council on Crime & Delinquency's Media for a Just Society Awards Winner of the 49th NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literary Work (Biography/Autobiography) Winner of the 2017 Goddard Riverside Stephan Russo Book Prize for Social Justice "Valuable . . . [like Michelle] Alexander's The New Jim Crow."
--Los Angeles Review of Books "Susan Burton is a national treasure . . . her life story is testimony to the human capacity for resilience and recovery . . . [Becoming Ms. Burton is] a stunning memoir."
--Nicholas Kristof, in The New York Times One woman's remarkable odyssey from tragedy to prison to recovery--and recognition as a leading figure in the national justice reform movement


Susan Burton's world changed in an instant when her five-year-old son was killed by a van driving down their street. Consumed by grief and without access to professional help, Susan self-medicated, becoming addicted first to cocaine, then crack. As a resident of South Los Angeles, a black community under siege in the War on Drugs, it was but a matter of time before Susan was arrested. She cycled in and out of prison for over fifteen years; never was she offered therapy or treatment for addiction. On her own, she eventually found a private drug rehabilitation facility.



Once clean, Susan dedicated her life to supporting women facing similar struggles. Her organization, A New Way of Life, operates five safe homes in Los Angeles that supply a lifeline to hundreds of formerly incarcerated women and their children--setting them on the track to education and employment rather than returns to prison. Becoming Ms. Burton not only humanizes the deleterious impact of mass incarceration, it also points the way to the kind of structural and policy changes that will offer formerly incarcerated people the possibility of a life of meaning and dignity.
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Product details

  • Hardback | 228 pages
  • 146 x 218 x 30.48mm | 498.95g
  • New York, United States
  • English
  • 1620972123
  • 9781620972120
  • 2,325,061

Review quote

Praise for Becoming Ms. Burton
Winner of the 2018 National Council on Crime & Delinquency's Media for a Just Society Awards One of the Chicago Public Library's "Best of the Best Books of 2017" Winner of the 49th NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literary Work (Biography/Autobiography) Winner of the 2017 Goddard Riverside Stephan Russo Book Prize for Social Justice "Valuable . . . [like Michelle] Alexander's The New Jim Crow, Nell Bernstein's Burning Down the House, and Bryan Stevenson's Just Mercy. But rarely has such a powerful, personal perspective been made available to us. . . . Our understanding of the criminal justice system is immeasurably strengthened by Susan Burton's fierce, compassionate, and expressive voice."
--Los Angeles Review of Books "Susan Burton is a national treasure . . . her life story is testimony to the human capacity for resilience and recovery . . . [Becoming Ms. Burton is] a stunning memoir."
--Nicholas Kristof, in The New York Times "More than just a memoir, this account provides an intimate glimpse into the problems that plague the U.S. prison system."
--Library Journal "Burton has helped thousands of formerly incarcerated and homeless individuals, and now, by telling her story, she continues to advocate for a more humane justice system guided by compassion and dignity."
--Booklist (starred) "The book documents Burton's tireless efforts to effect change---first helping individual women, released from prison with few resources, to make a new start, and then snowballing advocacy efforts at the state and national level to reshape how the United States treats those with criminal records."
-- Publishers Weekly "A dramatic, honest, moving narrative of how hard life can get and how one can still overcome seemingly insurmountable adversity to do good in the world."
--Kirkus Reviews "Susan Burton's life and work are a testament to the power of second chances and the impact one person can have on the lives of others. Her book is a stirring and moving tour-de-force--a beautiful inspiration for all of us to continue to fight for justice."
--John Legend, actor, singer, and songwriter "Susan Burton is someone who inspires while she educates. Her powerful and compelling memoir is an unforgettable journey and also an extraordinary light for all who are looking for answers on how we must recover, restore, and redeem those who have been incarcerated. This is a must-read."
--Bryan Stevenson, executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative and author of Just Mercy "An amazing story."
--Trevor Noah on The Daily Show "Susan Burton is an angel among us. Her journey is a story of courage, compassion, and conviction. At turns harrowing and inspiring, Becoming Ms. Burton provides a valuable new perspective on the consequences of mass incarceration."
--Howard Schultz, executive chairman, Starbucks Coffee Company "Susan's life story is one our nation desperately needs to hear and understand. This is a story about personal transformation and collective power. It is about one woman's journey to freedom, and in the process helping to free us all."
--Michelle Alexander, author of The New Jim Crow "For almost two decades Susan Burton has been a trailblazing advocate for ending mass incarceration, especially as it relates to poor women of color. Becoming Ms. Burton details her remarkable personal transformation as well as the larger structural changes this country must make in order to achieve racial and economic justice. It is essential reading for anyone who cares about these issues."
--Daryl V. Atkinson, civil and human rights advocate, lawyer, and member of the Leadership Council of the Formerly Incarcerated Convicted People and Families Movement "Becoming Ms. Burton eloquently shows why the voices of formerly incarcerated women must be at the center of efforts to reconstruct the criminal legal system. Too often this nation criminalizes the trauma of black women; Susan Burton exposes this terrible truth by sharing her astounding story of redemption. This is critical reading for champions of justice everywhere."
--Monique W. Morris, author of Pushout
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About Susan Burton

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, Burton 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 lives in Los Angeles. Cari Lynn is a journalist and the author of five books of nonfiction, including Leg the Spread and The Whistleblower (with Kathryn Bolkovac). Lynn has written for O, The Oprah Magazine; Health; the Chicago Tribune; and Deadline Hollywood. She lives in Los Angeles. Michelle Alexander is the author of the bestselling The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness (The New Press). She lives in Ohio.
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Rating details

717 ratings
4.59 out of 5 stars
5 68% (490)
4 23% (168)
3 7% (53)
2 1% (5)
1 0% (1)
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