Susan BurtonArmchair Expert with Dax Shepard
- 892 views
- 11 Sep 2020
BONUS EPISODE with Susan Burton, the founder and executive director of A New Way of Life, a non-profit that provides sober housing and other support to formerly incarcerated women. Susan chats with the Armchair Expert about her heartbreaking story – battling addiction, losing her son, and her time spent within the prison system. Dax and Susan discuss the control that prisons seek and how often prisoners are survivors of trauma. Susan talks about her road to recovery and how it introduced her to the concept of service. She discusses her journey to becoming a resource for women coming out of prison and all of the amazing work A New Way of Life is currently doing.
Welcome, welcome, welcome to armchair expert I'm Dan Shepherd, I'm am joined by Monica Monsoon. Hello.
We have a really special guest today, truly, truly, truly special, someone I think that everyone will be in awe of. Monica and I certainly were the amount of growth, this human being, it's unbelievable as accomplished. She is really an inspirational person.
Her name is Susan Burton and she is the founder and executive director of A New Way of Life, which is 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 prestigious Purpose Prize, a CNN top 10 Hero. She has a book entitled Becoming Miss Burton From Prison to Recovery to Leading the Fight for Incarcerated Women. Susan was incarcerated six times.
You know, she was taking the brunt of a very flawed system. And what she has done in the wake of that is just mind blowing.
Yeah, I've never met anyone like her. Yeah, me neither. So please, please enjoy Susan Burton. So on these bonus Fridays, we love to give shout outs to black owned businesses that we are fans of. So, Monica, who do you have today?
I am going to talk about Red Bay coffee. OK, today, Red Bay was founded about six years ago in Oakland. That's a neighboring city for us.
Yes, it's a Bay City. Yeah. So they took a little bit of a beating during covid. Oh, I imagine. Yeah. Yeah. So I really want to support them and put that out there that if you're interested in some delicious coffee, check out Red Bay Coffee. So the guy who founded this Kiba Contee, he's a visual artist and a former activist who organized protests in San Francisco following the 91 beating of Rodney King. And he says he's inspired by the Gandhi, quote, be the change you wish to see in the world.
So let's give Redway coffee a boost.
Yeah, have a nice hot cup of coffee. Before I tell you my company, I just want to first thank Oprah magazine, who put together a really compelling list of 25 black owned businesses that you could support right now. And because I'm in the mood for a glass of it, I want to talk about a jaunty house now calling all tea drinkers. This is from Oprah magazine. We guarantee a jaunty house will be your cup of well, you know, as a young girl, one of Latonia Kirklees fondest memories was sipping Sleepytime herbal tea with her mom.
So when she entered a business planning competition in high school, it was only natural that she created a proposal for a tea company. More than fifteen years later, Coakley is now the owner of a jaunty house and artisanal loose leaf tea company, offering hand blended beverages sustainably sourced from around the world in a jaunting hours. In case I'm muddling, the pronunciation is spelled a d j o u r n. So please check out a jaunty house.
He's not sure. Susan, if it's OK with you, I pulled a little clip from a documentary that was made about your work just to kind of set up how impactful it is. So if you'll indulge us, I'd love to play like just a minute long clip. OK, Robin.
Rob, take it away to the bus station and give you two hundred dollars, and they buy your ticket out of your money and put you on a bus and you're just headed to wherever. And so I arrive downtown L.A. and it was really scary, really scary.
And I looked like I came from prison, you know, dusty in jeans and a paper bag. Everybody knows that you're from prison. They know by the way you look and they know you get approached by everybody here. Are people asking you if you needed a ride, telling you that you look fine. Drug addicts, people living that life and you know, they are it's so easy to get lured, especially if you're scared and trying to be honest.
I was scared and I felt like I was just standing there, but I didn't have any place to go. I really didn't. And economist Burton and I told you, I said I received a letter from you and you said for me to call you and that you would pick me up and she says, Where are you? And I told her, she says, I'll be there in about 15 minutes. And she came and picked me up. So we're coming to a place to be able to drink out of a glass and plastic, sleep on a mattress and that middle and to have food have choices, just stuff people take for granted.
So she's a good lady. Picked me up.
Oh, man, what's it like to hear that? I mean, it's really, really sweet, kind of brought tears to my eyes because Angela emailed me last week and she wants to start a place in Texas. She's in Texas now. She's married, and she she wants to start a home for women down in Texas. Oh, she was here in February. And I told her, go get a non-profit status, set up your mission. Really think about what you want to do, get a name and all of that.
And she did it well. She says, I have my non-profit status, you know, so one of the things I've been doing is helping other people to replicate our model. Yeah, she knows firsthand what it's like. So if she wants to go pick up women from the bus station that again released from jail, let's get her ready to do that.
I guess when I heard that clip and I saw her talking in the sincerity in her eyes, as much as you can know it on an intellectual level, to hear how many people have zero options there alone on planet Earth. And it's scary. And for you to have written her a letter and for her to have just one number to call and further be brave enough and vulnerable enough to call. Yeah, it's just incredible and pretty and all of you.
So I think we're on the same road. I'm 16 years sober. You're sober. Yeah, yeah, yeah.
I'll be twenty three. Twenty three. Yeah. The fourth young and twenty three honey.
Yeah. Yeah. October next month.
Oh man. Are you from Southern California. Yes I am. I was born in Los Angeles County in East Los Angeles.
And so what was it like. What happened and what's it like now as we say?
Yeah, well, it was pretty hard and confusing. As a little girl, I should have been, you know, dressing up my dolls and playing. Instead, I was trying to figure out how to keep the dress on me.
Yeah, yeah. I just want to say I to share that I share some sexual trauma and it's pretty life altering. Yeah. I mean, when you learn the statistics that like eighty percent of us ended up Addicks, it seems pretty obvious that it's pretty destructive.
How old were you? I think I was around three or four and my mother would drive to a real estate hospital with my auntie to pick up my auntie's boyfriend. And I'd be in the backseat and I'd be terrified and I'd be you drive down along a long driveway and the driveway is lined with palm trees. And when I got to palm tree twenty two, I just knew he'd be walking down those steps and I was trying to fade away, never faded away.
But at about three or four he would come home from cameral every weekend and he would harm me. Yeah. Abuse you abuse me and my my wife has read your book. I haven't had time yet to do it, but now I'm very interested in you and I do intend to read your book is called Becoming Miss Burton. Yes. Becoming Miss Burton.
From prison to recovery to leading the fight for incarcerated women. It's unbelievable.
Monica and I were talking about it before we got here. And I said, you know, if you look at the gap between, say, who Brad Pitt started as and who he became, whatever amount of real estate that that took to go from that to that, that's a tenth of what we're talking about from you to have gone from six times incarcerated to now doing the work you're doing. It's one of the most staggering turnarounds of anyone we've interviewed.
As we talk about this. I just I had one thought that I'm curious about. Do you feel less vulnerable in writing than you do speaking about it, or do you have a similar level of comfort speaking about it as well as writing it?
So I think it's about even across the board, something happened for me when I got sober that I no longer felt vulnerable. I felt safe and for the first time in my life that I had ever felt safe. And with that feeling of safety and protection, I just carry on. I go forward and I bring as many forward with me that want to go.
Yeah, I probably feel a little bit more in control when you're sober and you're in charge of your own decisions or as you weren't for so long, I guess, you know, from a little child, I never felt in control and feeling out of control.
Perhaps the drugs and the alcohol, I guess calmed me down or masked the pain and the trauma of not being in control and being subject to so much violence, abuse, sexual abuse and trauma. But when I got sober, that whole surrendering thing, you know, I felt like I was in love and care and protection of a higher power.
How your story is I. I know it's so I know about that when you're a little girl and then you I have to imagine when the first time you used, was there a sense of like, oh, my God, I can cope. Like, for me, it was, oh, man, this is the feeling I was searching for. I had different techniques. You know, I think a lot of people in your situation or the one I was in, you develop like tics.
I had a lot of tics. You know, I had OCD stuff I did to kind of control what little sliver of my life I could. But when I when I drank alcohol, I was like, oh, here's optimism. I could only experience optimism through getting drunk. It was my first kind of feeling with it. And I wonder, I know you've had stages of your addiction, but it must have felt good right out of the gates when you tried that.
Yeah, I think that it was fun at first and it was relaxing and I could sort of escape and then, you know, it gets progressively worse. But I think that it was the escape that I was looking for from all I was feeling inside. Yeah.
And so one part I know is that on top of this childhood, you had everyone who's had a child's worst nightmare happen to you. Your five year old little boy was hit by a car. And I know that from what I've read about you, that that kind of escalated the addiction. But was it already present prior to that or did that?
Yeah, I had already experimented. I had, you know, played around with marijuana. I had had sniffed cocaine a couple of times. I had drank fine.
Kubasik So yeah, I had engaged before.
But when I lost my son, when he was killed, I just couldn't hold any more pain. Yeah. And I took a deep dive into a big bottle and I tried to drown all of the pain and the grief and the loss and the rage because it was a policeman who was driving the car that killed my son and it was the police department and nobody ever even acknowledged my son. I never remember anyone acknowledging. My daughter tells me at the funeral that the chief of police at the time, Daryl Gates, came up to me and said he was sorry, but I don't remember it.
Yeah. Yeah, I'm sure you're just in a coma. I don't know. I can only imagine. Yeah, just frozen with loss.
But I imagine you're caught in a loop where you're just like this can't be and I must be able to reverse time and fix this. Like just accepting that that's a reality is almost impossible.
I mean, there was anger that the policeman never, ever even got out of his car. Oh, it was the last that my son is gone. It was just a lot going on and I didn't know what to do with it. Every time a black man is killed today, the sadness of the loss for me wakes up. Yeah. And I can kind of feel the mom, what she feels as a result, whatever the incident is. But the loss is the loss.
And so I feel it every time, every time the policeman is not held accountable. Yeah, I feel it.
I would imagine it. Does it just feel like do you think we're all just disposable? Like you can just hit one of us and you don't need to get out of the car and you don't need to call and apologize. Like, I guess that would be the only thing I could interpret from that.
Well, you know, I had to do a lot of healing and forgiveness work for me. Yeah. On all of the incidents, all of the loss, all of the tragedy. And, you know, I tried to think about what could have happened in the instead of that policeman, how he's trained and what their protocol is. Wow. It doesn't make real sense to me that they operate like that. But that's the way they operate. That is the way they operate.
That is the culture. It's assist system. Police is the system. Exactly. So I had to do some deep work to get beyond that and I had to get beyond that to enable myself to do what I do today, to have empathy, to have compassion, to have smarts, to have heart, to have determination, to have commitment.
Well, I'm sure you've heard in our group that resentments are like drinking poison and hoping the enemy dies. That's exactly it ends up killing you. Right? Like the last laugh they get is that. Yeah, you let it burn you alive.
And then the other part is that I wanted to be sober and I wanted to be the best that I could be. Yeah. And until I could address that, until I could let it go to the best of my human ability, then I don't think I could have moved on. I couldn't. I've been who I am today, and I have to let a lot roll off of me. Yeah, and they're so tempting, man, I like I love holding resentments.
I like to have a little volt in my head where I keep track everyone's indiscretions so I can hold them accountable someday.
I had this little incident at home where I had a bunch of bedspreads and I was going to take over two of the houses and they were in my car and I left them in my car when I and someone broke my window and took them all out.
I didn't get mad. I didn't get angry. I just thought, why don't somebody give that person a job? So walking around at night doing windows. And at that moment, I said something has happened for me because I'm really supposed to be mad about my car window being broken.
I'm really supposed to have a I have a grievance there. Yeah, yeah, yeah.
There's objectively offensive for me. I guess a lot of it too is just muscle memory and it's practice. But the thing that I've come to really embrace is when someone does something to me. I got to say, one of my first thoughts now is not that I was wronged is gratitude that I don't have to live with the thing that they just did. Right.
Now, once your son was killed, you start entering the prison system, right. What was your first experience waking up in a jail or prison cell after my son died?
I would go to sleep longing for him and I would see him in my sleep. And I didn't want to go to sleep, so I would stay up until I was exhausted. And when the time I stayed up, the police woke me up as I pulled over in my car and took me to jail. And it was quite chilling, quite an experience. I'm thinking I'm going to jail and I'm thinking about the loss of my son as I'm going to jail with the people that kind of like, killed my son.
Yeah. And, you know, they put you in jail and it's so dehumanizing and so hard and. Yeah, yeah. You know, so inhumane. You lose just everything. I have to try to turn off. And I had learned to turn off as a little girl. Right. To disassociate and disassociate.
Just be walking around in my body, but not in my body, just connected to all the senses that say, you know, when they strip you out of your clothing and search your body, you have to be somewhere else because it's an act of violence. It's an act of abuse. It's an act that happened so many times before.
You've lost control of your body yet again. Yes. I just read this great book, I don't know if you've read it, called The Body Keeps Score.
Have you ever heard of that? But I've heard of that book, but I haven't read it.
Oh, man. I recommend it so much as someone who grew up with a lot of violence, a lot of trauma, learning how your body stores that and what it does to your brain and how rewires things.
And yes, there's a little bit of a chapter about the doctor and his road to studying this. And he had worked at the VA hospital for a long time. And he was saying that he started noticing at the VA hospital several times a day someone would completely lose their composure, you know, a patient they'd scream at a receptionist, they'd throw stuff, they'd thrash around. And what he started observing is that a lot of these people that have had really bad trauma for the rest of their life, every little thing feels life threatening.
You know that you're back in that situation where you were too little to defend yourself. And now this little thing, it feels to you like your life's on the line and you'll never let someone take advantage of you again and that your reactions are just so over the top, as is mine often were, I have to imagine, is jail and prison. There must be so many people in there that are also survivors of great trauma and their mechanism to control themselves must be greatly diminished.
Was there just tons of chaos and other people having a hard time?
I mean, you had these different personalities in the jail. You have the people who want to control the jail. You have the people that want to be in with the people that control the jail. And you have the people that just want to sort of be invisible within the jail. But, you know, there was not a lot of reactionary stuff in the jail, in the prison, because you'll be in control. Right? There's no way you can go with it except to the whole.
And nobody wants to go to jail within the jail, right? Nobody wants to go to solitary. Sometimes there's fights and breakouts and misunderstanding. But, you know, it's not like it's a rampant thing. Anyway, it wasn't like that while I was going to prison. Yeah, I haven't been in twenty four years now.
Yeah, that's a good stretch. Now, when you got out on your sixth time, you entered for the first time a recovery home, and that experience was completely mind blowing to you. Right. And it was the opposite of all your experiences in prison. And you use the word humane. It's like the first time you had been treated humanely. Yeah. And you must immediately recognize, like, oh, that jail isn't set up to rehabilitate anyone.
It's not set up to help anyone get some tools. It's probably just making everything worse, which would explain the really high recidivism. I can't say that word.
Recidivism, recidivism. That's a that's a hard one to track recidivism. You know, I think that helps explain that. But can you tell me what that was like to enter into a place where they were genuinely wanting to help you get the tools?
You know, that was the place where the safety centered on me and around me and I was able to ultimately pick up my bed. And while it was a place in Santa Monica, it was by the beach. It was a place that was well resourced. And the people were friendly, caring, compassionate, but stern. Right. Compassionate, but really clear and stern about what I needed to do if I wanted to recover. And it wasn't a command.
It was an opportunity. It wasn't I had to do. But do you want to do? And I say it was like a buffet of wellbeing. And whatever you wanted from the buffet, you could partake in it. You could get the baloney.
You could get the prime rib or maybe a little baloney on top of that primary.
But, you know, I mean, you know, wherever you are, there's people that are doing things and people that are not doing things. Of course, there's opportunity to do the things, good things. So so as a result, I was able to get weekly counseling for the first time in my life. I was introduced to the 12 steps. I found a sponsor out there. She's still my sponsor. I made friends. I went to art shows, people invited me places.
Nobody was inviting me any place. By the time I got there, nobody was inviting me but the present, they wanted me back with time I left. Prison guards said, burdened with keeping the bad for you. And I says, I'm going to get a job.
And he said, the only job you'll ever have is in prison. Oh, gosh.
So what I want to say is I'm going back. All right. I'm going in the morning. I'm going to pick up a woman and bring her to a new way of life. I'm going to take her to freedom.
So you leave this recovery house or maybe you haven't even left, but you're introduced, I would imagine, to the concept of service. Right? As part of our program, yes. We serve other alcoholics and we're there for people. And then I don't know about for you, but for me, I learned that while I'm helping someone else, it's hard to think about myself. And all my problems are really just thinking about myself and all my bullshit needs that aren't even needs.
The freedom I used to get from getting drunk exist within service because I am too busy focusing on the other person to obsess about myself. Now, was that your introduction to service was the 12 steps? I was that Clare? Yeah, I've been to a bunch of their fundraisers. Yeah, yeah, yeah.
I was at Clare and I saw people coming and selflessly giving of themselves on a regular committed basis and they were happy. Yeah. You know, they were doing it happily. Yeah.
And I never had saw a demonstration of the altruistic unselfish giving of oneself.
Yeah. To me that was even a red flag. Like if you come at me with a smile on my first thought is what are you after. I don't trust that.
Well I'm safe now and I'm learning about how people live in other places other than South L.A. And I see the genuineness. One thing that you develop when you have the type of life that I have is a sense of who people are, who's real and who's fake, who's real, who's Memorex, you know, so so I saw them as authentic and I wanted it, you know.
And so they say, if you want what we have, then do what we do.
Yeah, I love it. A program of attraction. Yeah.
So at what point, though, do you decide I'm going to actually turn that service to people that are getting out of prison, that are taking these bus rides that are getting dumped next to Skid Row and they got two hundred dollars of which they just blew some on the bus ticket. What clicked for you that you decided that was going to be your thing?
I went back to Santa Monica. I was the secretary of the meeting, the first meeting I ever stood up in and said, look what alcohol has done to me, shaking and trembling. And I went and I worked with this woman and she asked me to move in and. I say all of the money that I made working with her, and I mean, I say to the point, I spent ten dollars a week, will you somehow save twelve thousand dollars in the 90s, which is that's hard to do.
Man, I was yeah. Yeah.
I was trying to save money in the 90s in an easy well, you know, I was so disciplined and I didn't understand why I was being so disciplined about spending. But then the idea came when talking with my sister in law, another woman named Mitzi. And let's do something. I'm reflecting on what happens in Santa Monica. People don't go to prison for the things that we went for in South L.A. People are given help. There's resources. So I said we got to make a resource.
Oh, my God. I never dreamed I would be taken on so much. But it's all right.
And it isn't that crazy. It goes back to what we were talking about earlier, about the systemic nature of all this stuff, the idea that in South L.A., that concept doesn't even exist or at least was completely off your radar. And I'm sure most people's like that's so telling.
I mean, I asked the judge my third time going to prison. I told the judge what had happened. I asked for help, could there be any help for me? And he sent me to prison and to think that there could have been and there should have been something different. I mean, today what I went to prison for is a misdemeanor.
Well, also, you have a health issue, right? If I have a health issue is the last place I'm stopping. Yeah, the last place. Yeah. So you just start showing up at bus stops, right?
Well, first I get a little house. I take three of the twelve thousand days. You put three thousand down on the house and get it. So I take three thousand dollars and I think thirty four hundred and I put it down as a down payment on a little house and I call it a new way of life.
There was a little place in the big book where they talked about you will be having a new way of life and I had a new way of life and I wanted to spread it. I wanted to show other people how to have a new way of life. And I'd go down to the bus station where Angela talked about getting off the bus. And in those days I'd wait. Every day the bus comes in at a certain time, twice a day, and women from prison are walking off that bus.
And it's not like we were strangers. These are people I know. These were people just like me. I did time with them and I offered them to come to a new way of life.
And you just start letting people live in your house. And my first question is, was there any fear associated with that? Because, again, you know, I was a scumbag. I ran with other scumbags. I wasn't super excited to get back in the ring with them. I know the possibilities. So was there any fear for you to be inviting people into your home?
There was no fear. There was only hope, hope for something different. What I realized I could have and I should have had that opportunity that I got out in Santa Monica. So I brought that to South L.A. to support the kindness, the commitment, the consideration. I didn't have as many resources as they had in Santa Monica, but I had as much love as they had in Santa Monica.
Will you have more goodness in your pinky than I've gotten a six three body? So you go. Yeah, I know.
Yeah, you got an abundance of that now, but there's a lot to learn. There's the one thing is inviting people into the house and maybe giving them a warm meal, but then you just start adding layer after layer of services and help and you're so competent that you could have figured all this out.
I mean, let's just start with figuring out how to be an NGO, right. To be a nonprofit. How did you figure that out?
So I sat down and I Googled some stuff and I had a friend who helped to put it together. And then when I sent the paperwork off. So you sent it to the state first. That's before you can send it to the federal government and you get a state incorporation. And it's just the articles that you write down. And I did the best that I could putting those articles together. It was enough to get the muster and get that certificate from the state of California.
And then I put those articles with the articles of incorporation and I sent those to the federal government. And then I went back and forth and back and forth. If you call the people, they'll talk to you. They probably want to talk to somebody instead of just pushing paper all day. So I went back and forth with this guy and he eventually sent the nonprofit status. It arrived on Christmas Eve. Get out of here.
What? Yeah. What's that feeling like? That's a lifetime highlight. It was good.
But see, I got the nonprofit because this church told me I needed it if I wanted to get bus tokens. Oh, OK. I want a bus tokens to give to the women because I was running out of money to send them everywhere on the bus and I went to this church called Thane.
Amy, I heard about a bus program they had and I asked them for bus tokens and they said I had to be a five one, Wannsee three, and that's all I wanted was bus tokens. Oh, my. Have fun. Oh, yeah.
I can open have a can of worms. I mean another can of worms but they're not open up the surprise. Right. Yeah. Pandora's box. Pandora's box. So that five one the three states opened up so many other doors and all along the way when you talk about putting a layer on top of layer on top of layer, there's been the spark points to head in a direction that would allow me to do my higher powers will in my line.
Stay tuned for more armchair expert, if you dare.
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Now, does asking for help come easy to you? That's a real hard thing for me and clearly it sounds like from your story I can hear that you were vulnerable enough to ask people to help you.
I can't do it all. And it's not all my responsibility to do it all. You know, we have a shared responsibility around safety, around health, around creating opportunity and healing. It's not all my responsibility.
So I will ask for help. And, you know, I got tough skin. If you say no, it's OK.
Uh huh. But I hear they say don't say no to Miss Burton.
And she's going to keep calling. Yeah, I guess when I come, it's not unreasonable what I'm asking for.
Yeah. And how did the needs of the women leaving prison differ from the needs that men have are than unique hardships that women are facing generally when they get out.
So one of the things that we know is that when men go to prison, the women stay there. Any time you see a busy line at a men's prison, go to a women's prison, you don't see that type of line.
Oh, or the worst we are women are in bad abandon. When they go to prison, the children are removed and they are just about abandoned. The man usually goes on and gets another woman or what have you. Yeah. So so first of all, the woman is alone without any support. She's vulnerable just because she's a woman. You heard what Angela said. I felt buck naked, that I had nowhere to go and I had nobody but anybody was waiting and ready to pick me up.
And then usually we as women, I feel like I'm the grounder and I'm the healer and I'm the kind of caretaker of our community, of our health, of our well-being. And that's my responsibility. So I'm trying to get back in the role of my whole responsibility. But there's nothing to hold on to me. And then my children are gone and I have to earn my children back to the court system. And that's really, really difficult to do.
So, you know, we have a whole campaign that we've launched called Give Me My Baby Back.
Kristin, my wife was telling me one specific story from your book, Becoming Miss Burton, where a young woman had left her child in the car while she ran in to get, I don't know, diapers and stuff. Yeah. And got three years in prison for that. That's angered Archie.
Not some classes on parenting or not the help she needed.
I think she had postpartum depression during that time. And yeah, she got three years. She didn't get the help. Had she been in Santa Monica, has she been white?
Yeah, she probably got the help that she needed because I saw that happening when I was in Santa Monica.
I would also argue if she was a man, if she was a man and went into the store, there's this kind of misogynistic. Yes. Responsibility that, you know, they don't make us take on. They're like, oh, yeah, yeah. To run in and get some, you know, whatever the hell I had to get, you know, I never thought about that.
But you're right. Yeah. The bar is so low for us to confession's.
I want to tell you something. Ingrid came back to a new way of life. She is our civic engagement coordinator right now. Right now she's over with eight people that she is directing to do some proposition work. We were trying to get back to vote for people. She's gotten all her children back. And when she got back to the new way of life, her 14 year old had been passed around the group home and she and the fourteen year old was pregnant.
So she's a grandma now. So she had all this stuff.
Yeah. To take care of and overcome and to bring her family back together. But with support and her own determination, she was able to do it.
I think it's so important to hear your story because I think a lot of people feel wrongly so that the people don't want help, that people just want to be on their own path and that they would do those things anyway. Even if you offer them help and you are proving that that's not true, if you give someone a little support, they run with it. Yeah, and I think that's really powerful. Yeah.
You know, as someone who sponsored people, it's always so heartbreaking when you come to love them and you connect with them and then they go out. And I imagine in your case, it's just amplified by if they go out. It's also like Dillane, if they'll get their kids back, it might be back to prison. You must have had your heart broken a million times along the way, have you?
I've been disappointed, but I've learned that people are human and. We make mistakes and we have to see people through that, too, would none of us a perfect human being? Yeah. So a lot of times I see so many possibilities in people, but supporting them to see those possibilities is what we want to do. And they might not do it immediately. But that doesn't mean that we throw them away at that point. Yeah, we might back up a little bit and let them have the experience.
Yeah. But still they're praying and hoping and trying to be a positive force. You know, you can see an energy all around the world, so you send them some positive energy or what have you, but you leave room for humanness. Yeah.
Now, let's let's go through some of the just incredible results you've had. So California has the highest recidivism rate. Got it.
So in my eleven thousandth attempt at it, at sixty five percent of parolees will return to prison within three years or jail. And you're a new way of life.
Success rate is 78 percent.
Or it was when I at the time that I read that number. Yeah. That's that's so encouraging. Right. You would think with that kind of data that you could convince people this is the path.
You know, I think people are really looking at what we've done over the past, you know, three, four decades and that they are convinced that we could and should be doing something different, I guess, is shifting the machine to understand it's a new day so the machine doesn't get it as quickly as people do. But we're still working towards shifting that machine to just a little support. Yeah, can make a difference. The average cost to keep someone in prison in California is forty seven thousand dollars a year.
So you have an option to pay forty seven thousand dollars to keep someone in a cement box to make them probably worse, to ensure that the vast majority will return or the services you're providing cost a third of that. It's one third. And then the outcome is they're productive and they put money back into the system and they then help other people. And even if you've got no heart, you're the Grinch. Let's say you're the Grinch who stole Christmas fiscally.
This makes a lot of sense, doesn't it? That's a yes for me.
I was like, oh, I lost her. I disagreed. OK, so now this is from twenty fifteen. So I'm imagining it's even greater than this. But as of twenty fifteen you have helped eight hundred and fifty incarcerated women. You had returned one hundred and sixty children to their parents. What are the numbers now. Do you know them all at the top of your head.
I do so over twelve hundred women. Twelve hundred. Talk about like the one day at a time. Right. One day at a time you can add up to twenty three years. One person at a time. Twelve hundred. Isn't that mind blowing. Yeah.
And over three hundred children. Wow. I mean it's beautiful. Sometimes I walk into the house and the kids run over to me and grab me around the leg and then that someone can hardly say my name. And you can see in the eyes that they know that I'm the reason that they've got to come back with their mother and their mother is grateful. It's just beautiful.
And what started with your one house? How many houses now do you operate?
We have ten now. Ten. The St Vincent de Paul Society just gave us a convent. Oh, my goodness. Yeah, that's what I said to you.
They gave you a convent.
Where's that at in Montebello? We transform that into a reentry home. It just opened last week. Oh no. We handled it and painted it and made it real bright and cheery and. Oh, it's beautiful.
And how many people will that be able to house it? It has nine bedrooms and it has a place for four children, so nine women and four children. Each woman has her own bedroom there and a supervisor. She's got to come out and do a community garden because it sits on my acres and acres and acres of land.
Can I park an RV there, even park? Yes. It's got a huge parking lot.
Can you tell the story? When we talked the other day on our Zoom, you gave us an example of some of the day to day things like the woman who needed a cell phone. Yeah, I think it's important to hear the little steps it takes for people to get what they need. And when you told us that Chris and I were talking about it for a long time after. So can you share that story? Yeah, so it was a woman, Spanish speaking woman, she just knows a little English and she had dropped her cell phone in the toilet, as we all do.
She was scared. She had made a mistake. And she was about a week out of prison and a friend had brought the cell phone and she was scared to tell the friend that she had dropped the cell phone in the toilet because she thought she'd get punished and she was just really, really terrified. So I let her know that it's OK to make a mistake and that punishment was not going to happen to her. That punishment was a behind her.
What she had now was support. And I took her to the store and at the store, the guy says, well, the cheapest phone that we have is a hundred and eighty dollars. The phone that she dropped in the toilet was three hundred and twenty nine dollars. So she reaches into her purse and she pulls out the money and she's ready to pay for a cell phone. And I says, wait a minute, does that phone have a warranty?
And the phone had a warranty. The one she dropped, the one she dropped. So just those types of things happen all the time, all day long. People are overwhelmed just walking into a store.
Oh, drives me nuts. I get in these arguments with folks and it's like, well, why can't they do X, Y and Z? Why can't this person blink? And it's like, well, I'm going to guess that when your dad took you to the hardware store, you watched him interact with people and your siblings.
And if you don't, everything's new. Yeah, yeah.
Everything's new and different and really, really fast. So they have to learn the computer. They have to learn all of the gimmicks. You know, women say, oh, I just got a cruise. I'm fixing to go on a girls. Where are you able to go on a cruise ship and get your credit card information? You know, give it to them, you know what I mean?
Yeah. And then. Yeah, and then a language barrier. I mean, if you put me in Moscow and I got to buy a phone, I went to college. I don't think I can do it, you know. Yeah, that's incredible. So you get these these tiny little life skills, you got to help people and have the patience to walk them through it and hold their hand. And sometimes that's all someone needs.
We have to care enough about the well-being of our fellow man. And I mean, we could put in like that sort of patience, but we just have to care enough about one another.
Yeah. Now, your daughter was fifteen when your son died. And I imagine that that relationship was probably strained by everything that's happened. And how is that today?
It's good. Oh, man. Yeah, it's really, really good.
We're going up to Palm Springs for our birthday, September twenty fourth. So her birthday is the twenty sixth of September my is the twenty seventh and we're going up to Palm Springs for about a week and chill out hopefully Aspies open. Yeah, yeah, and then I have a granddaughter and all of us are going up together, and as she have any interest in being a part of your organization, a new way of life?
Well, when I first incorporated, she was a board member. Oh, OK. And she did that for a while, about seven years. She caters for us. She brings food to us. She likes to cook. So that's how she gets involved. She actually wants to be a part of the H.R. department. But, you know, sometimes you family and business and. Yeah, so I want to say being a good relationship with her. So, yeah.
You want to be a mom. I want to be mom. Yeah. I don't want to be boss. Yeah, yeah, yeah. That gets sticky. And I'm currently my daughter's teacher and that's not very well spent all day trying to get her to fill out three pieces of paper. It was. Yeah.
Really quick just to go over because I really, really want people to go to. It's a new way of life dog. Yeah. That's the website. Yes. And people can donate or get involved there. Yes.
A new way of life. Dog is our website. You can go there and see all the things that we're doing. One of the things I'm really excited about is building out this national network. What we've done at a new way of life is we have found a solution to reducing the recidivism and reuniting families and bringing folks back into the community in a way that keeps all of us better off. So I've developed the skill set and expertise and now I'm training people.
Yeah, 17 states, two countries. And we're helping people to model reentry in their respective communities.
We need these places all over the nation and some services that people might not even realize that people need help with. That you're providing is there's legal issues. Right. So trying to get people's records expunged, maybe so they have access to different jobs that free.
You do that for free.
We do that free will help you get a license if you're being barred from a license because of a criminal record. We have free legal services. We help with family reunification. We have attorney and three staff members and help you get your children back. And all of our services are free.
And you have a distribution center right where you've given out millions of dollars worth of household goods.
Yeah, not any more, but. Oh, you know. Yeah. About two years ago, years ago, we stopped the distribution center, but we used to have our own bed, bath and Beyond.
We we, we distribute it, oh, about three million dollars of products every year. It was bust.
You have programs to teach people. Community organizing. Yes.
Leadership development classes and then policy advocacy. What's that?
So like we're trying to now pass proposition seventeen. It was a policy. The legislature passed it to go on the ballot to restore the right for people to vote. So we want some policy around family reunification. Women go to prison and when they get home, they have no more parental rights. We want to stop the clock on child reunification timeline, what they call fast track adoption. We want to stop the clock on that. So that would be some policies that we would introduce.
But, you know, try to make a better world. There's some police accountability policies that are in the legislature now, some police training policies in the legislature, trying to do things the way we do it in America, do policy to get it done.
Now, I just want to end with this observation, which is you are capable of so much. It's really astounding. And I think many of us I suffer from this and it's shameful. I'm in a position where I could do probably a ton, and yet I feel overwhelmed at times by the different social problems we have, or I will feel like I don't have a big effect. And to see you build this thing from nothing, with everything against you, with a criminal record, with all these things, have you shocked yourself at what you're capable of?
Yeah, you know, sometimes I might be getting introduced and by the time the introductions over, I'm almost crying.
You know, just to hear what has happened and what people are saying. And it's just gratitude that swells up in me.
Yeah, well, that's the real self esteem, right? That's the real one. That's the real one. You know, for people who are listening, I just hope someone would think what you've accomplished and what deficit you are up against and just how much you've been able to do one step at a time, learning about something else, tackling that little by little. This thing grows into this amazing organization, I just hope everyone feels is inspired by it as I do, because it's truly, truly remarkable and I have a lot of gratitude that there's people like you and that they're not all like me.
I'm so grateful to you.
You're a good guy. You're a good guy. You know, sobriety transformed you.
Thank you, Susan. It's a real honor. I'm in awe of you. And I hope people go to a new way of life. Dog, we commit that. We would like to make some donations. So you should expect our support and put me in your Rolodex. I'll be one of those at your service. Yes. I'd love to be of service to you. Thank you. OK, thank you so much, Miss Burton. All right.
Thank you. Talk to you later. Well.