Video: Voices from the Front Lines of the Drug War: Susan Burton

Washington, DC—(ENEWSPF)—June 22, 2015

By Melissa Franqui


Susan Burton is the founder and executive director of A New Way of Life, an organization that provides support and resources for women recently released from prison.

“So many people are missing from our communities because of the war on drugs,” she says. “So many mothers, so many fathers, so many sisters and so many brothers.”

Susan does not speak in hyperbole. The number of women in state and federal prisons grew by 900 percent between 1977 and 2013. Moreover, 2.7 million children are growing up in U.S. households in which one or more parents are incarcerated.

Draconian drug laws have produced starkly unequal outcomes for communities of color. According to the New York Times, there are currently 1.5 million Black men “missing” from everyday life, due in large part to incarceration and early death. One in nine Black children has an incarcerated parent.

Women, and particularly women of color, are disproportionately affected by drug law enforcement, by social stigma, by laws that punish those unable or unwilling to inform on others, by regulations that bar people with a drug conviction from obtaining public assistance, and by a drug treatment system designed for men.

After her son was killed by the LAPD, Susan medicated her grief with alcohol and drugs. Instead of receiving the support and services she needed, she cycled in an out of the criminal justice system for nearly fifteen years. In 1998, Susan gained her freedom and sobriety and founded A New Way of Life Reentry Project.

Named a CNN Hero in 2010, Susan’s organization provides support and resources for women recently released from prison.  A New Way of Life has served over 800 women and is a national leader in the struggle to break the cycle of addiction and incarceration.

The Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) works to end the drug war by supporting organizations like A New Way of Life. Susan’s video is the second installment of a new video series, Voices from the Front Lines of the Drug War, chronicling the people and organizations addressing the worst harms of the drug war and creating new policies based in science, compassion, health and human rights. The video series, produced in partnership with Luceo Images, profiles the stories and work of organizations that DPA funds through our Advocacy Grants Program, which advances drug policy reform at the local, state, and national levels.

Last week, we released the first video, a powerful and poignant portrait of Denise Cullen, founder and executive director of GRASP (Grief Recovery After a Substance Passing) and Broken No More. More stories will be posted throughout the month of June, and shared on DPA’s Facebook page. To join the movement to end mass incarceration, visit our website at

Melissa Franqui is the communications coordinator for the Drug Policy Alliance.