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After Susan Burton’s 5-year-old son was accidentally hit and killed by a car, she numbed herself with drugs and alcohol. Over the next 20 years, she floated through the criminal-justice system, finding herself in and out of jail and without work or housing when she was free. Finally, in 1997, she gained permanent freedom and sobriety, but she chose not to let the lessons of those years fade into the past. Mobilized by her hardships, Susan began meeting women as they stepped off the prison bus. She brought them into her home and worked with them to rebuild their lives. Confronting the institutional barriers that denied employment, housing, and public assistance to formerly incarcerated women, Susan created a grassroots organization to halt these discriminatory practices. For her courage and efforts to break the cycle of incarceration, CNN named her one of its Top Ten Heroes of 2010.
Today, her organization, A New Way of Life Reentry Project (ANWOL), helps rehabilitate formerly incarcerated women through a multidimensional network of housing and support. Women self-identify goals that will help them reintegrate into the community and work to achieve them with help from support staff. They live in safe residential environments while performing chores, attending school and recovery meetings, and searching for employment. ANWOL also advocates for the legal and civil rights of all formerly incarcerated people and trains women how to represent themselves and other formerly incarcerated women through the Women Organizing for Justice leadership project.
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