New York State Writers Institute logo

NYWI HOME PAGE VISITING WRITERS & EVENTS INDEX  

 

Bookmark and Share

Susan Burton, author, activist and former inmate Friday, April 6

7 p.m. Friday, April 6, 2018 Page Hall, 135 Western Avenue, Downtown Campus

Albany, NY — Susan Burton, author, activist and former inmate will talk about her life and work as part of the keynote event at the UAlbany School of Criminal Justice’s symposium "Incarcerating Girls and Women: Past and Present" following a screening of the Moyers & Company program titled "Incarceration Nation" 7 p.m. Friday, April 6 at Page Hall, 135 Western Avenue, on the University at Albany downtown campus. Susan Burton

Free and open to the public, the event is cosponsored by the NYS Writers Institute and UAlbany’s School of Criminal Justice’s "Justice and Multiculturalism in the 21st Century" project.

In "Incarceration Nation," journalist Bill Moyers interviews civil rights lawyer and legal scholar Michelle Alexander about why we need to end our system of mass incarceration. The program also includes an excerpt from the film Susan by Tessa Blake and Emma Hewitt, which tells the story of Burton, who built an organization in Los Angeles devoted to helping formerly-incarcerated women rebuild their lives. praised by The New York Times as "the boss man on procedures,"

Burton's autobiography Becoming Ms. Burton: From Prison to Recovery to Leading the Fight for Incarcerated Women(2017) recounts her life-struggles after her five-year-old son was killed by a van driving down their street and, consumed by grief, she turned to drugs.

Becoming Ms BurtonAfter serving six prison terms in 17 years, Burton turned her life around and dedicated herself to helping other women overcome personal histories of incarceration, poverty, and addiction. Burton is the founder and executive director of A New Way of Life, a reentry project for former inmates.

Burton's advocacy for the restoration of basic civil and human rights to those who have served time has been recognized with AARP's prestigious Purpose Prize. She has been named a Starbucks "Upstander," a CNN Top 10 Hero, a Soros Justice Fellow, a Policy Fellow with the Women's Foundation of California, and a Violence Prevention Fellow with the California Wellness Foundation.

Michelle Alexander, who authored The New Jim Crow (2012) said "reading [Burton's] life story will change the way you view the world." Alexander went on to call Burton a "modern-day Harriet Tubman."

In a New York Times feature, Nicholas Kristof referred to Becoming Ms. Burton as "a testimony to the human capacity for resilience and recovery." Victoria Law of Truthout expressed admiration for Burton for surviving "a childhood filled with violence and abuse, battles with drug addiction and various stints behind bars." Law observed that Burton "was rebuilding her life when her five-year-old son K.K. was struck and killed by a police van. His death sent her spiraling back into a cycle of drugs and incarceration just as the war on drugs was gathering steam (and bodies). That 'war,' coupled with the lack of resources in her South Los Angeles neighborhood, pushed her through a revolving door of addiction, arrest, and imprisonment for the next 15 years."

According to Kristof, Burton's "cycles in prison ended only after she chanced into a drug treatment program in Santa Monica that mostly served a more affluent clientele. A 100-day stint there helped her turn her life around." Terry Gross of Fresh Air added that "after her sixth release....[Burton] began to rebuild her own life - then she turned her attention to others in Watts, the Los Angeles neighborhood she had grown up in."

The film screening and discussion is the keynote event of the UAlbany School of Criminal Justice's symposium, Incarcerating Girls and Women: Past and Present, which runs April 6-7. Activities will include panels, an Historian’s Roundtable, and an exhibit presented by the Prison Public Memory Project in Hudson. See the symposium agenda and the event flyer.

For more information about the symposium, contact the School of Criminal Justice at (518) 442-5210.