Social justice advocate Susan Burton delivers a passionate speech on mass incarceration

woman wearing black and white sweater top gives a speech
Susan Burton, an activist and movement speaker, spoke in front of students in the Whitsett Room in Sierra Hall. Burton discussed how she was incarcerated and given a one-way ticket to Skid Row. Burton now dedicates herself to helping women of color who have experienced or are currently experiencing what Burton went through. Photo credit: Brandon Ilano

Students gathered inside Whitsett Room for almost two hours to listen to social justice activist Susan Burton’s speech on the injustice and struggles that formerly incarcerated women are facing every day.

Burton said there is a stigma surrounding formerly incarcerated people. “A lot of people just want to keep punishing people way beyond their sentence that’s the way our culture operates,” she said.

Susan Burton was formerly incarcerated for drug-related crimes, she gained freedom and sobriety in 1997. Since then, she became an advocate to end mass incarceration.

She is the founder of New Way of Life Re-Entry Project (ANWOL), a non-profit organization dedicated to helping women, families and communities to re-enter society with proper resources and opportunities to rebuild their lives.

“I provide housing for women who are coming back into the community to support them to become a strong and healthy fabric of the community and also we do post-conviction legal work with people,” Burton said.

Burton spoke about her journey from being a drug abuser to social activist and how the California Rehabilitation Center did not provide her with a good treatment while she was in prison. She mentioned that the lack of mental health resources is a big issue for women in prison.

Many students thought the event was helpful for them, including Deaf Studies Major, Chris Carlisle. “It was extremely helpful and we crossed paths in intersections in both of our lives,” said Carlisle. “As a black woman and both of us trying to achieve extraordinary goals with the expression that we face, I’m proud to be here and honored to be here in her presence.”

The ANOWL founder thanked the University for hosting. “People need to learn and understand how their passion skill and talent can be developed for the good,” she said. “I think every one of us is here to do good in our world and to help to support and inspire them to do that good.”

She encouraged students to do better and engage with their communities. “As a community, we have to be there for one another… be supportive and not judgmental, we have to be thoughtful and caring,” she said.

“She is a very interesting woman and she has really relevant things to say. I think this event engages our community and it helps us express ourselves and get new ideas as well,” said Psychology major Merlin Naranjo.

“I have personal goals and that is to touch and heal everywhere I can. Go build strength, knowledge, and communities that’s my goal, to spread love,” Burton said.