After 20 years in and out of prison, a guard told her she’d be back. She proved him wrong.

When her 5-year-old son was killed, Susan Burton lost her way.

He was playing outside and ran into the street, where a car hit him. In the blink of an eye, Susan's life as she knew it was over.

She unraveled, and his death led her down a dark spiral. Susan turned to drugs and alcohol to medicate her grief, which resulted in a number of arrests. The life she’d envisioned and worked toward had ended abruptly, and she began a cycle of being in and out of prison over 20 years.


Watch Susan's story:

A New Way of Life gives formerly incarcerated women the support they need to change their lives for the better. A Starbucks original series.

Posted by Upworthy on Tuesday, September 13, 2016

When Susan was released from prison for the last time, the guard said, "You’ll be back. We’ll have a bed waiting for you."

Susan vowed that wouldn't be the case. But she knew firsthand how hard it can be to reenter society after incarceration.

The reality is that the prison system in America is deeply flawed. The majority of prisoners who leave jail wind up behind bars again within a few years after their release. According to a 2014 report by the U.S. Department of Justice, "67.8% of the the 404,638 state prisoners released in 2005 in 30 states were arrested within 3 years of release, and 76.6% were arrested within 5 years of release." Things in 2016 aren’t much different.

All images via Starbucks, used with permission.

It took years, but with the help of her community, Susan was finally able to break her cycle.

Susan had tried repeatedly to get back on track, but because of her record, she couldn’t find a job or treatment programs for her addictions. When she finally found support within her community, Susan became sober, found a steady job, and, most importantly, began to heal.

She wasn’t content just to keep herself out of jail; she wanted to help others, too. "I knew hundreds of women that just needed a few months of support to just be able to stand on their feet and not return to prison," she said.

Susan worked hard, saved her money, and purchased a house. She then turned her new house into a reentry home.

What started as an individual effort quickly grew. A New Way of Life Reentry Project was born.

Today, she’s helped over 1,000 women to get a new lease on life.

Because no matter how they wound up in prison, so many of their stories are the same. These are women who grew up with big dreams like so many of us do but who wandered down the wrong path and couldn’t find their way back around.

A New Way of Life offers them a supportive community where they can face their biggest fears associated with reentry and tackle the systemic barriers that stand in their way. Because it isn’t easy to get a job when you’ve been incarcerated. And it’s not easy to qualify for student loans to return to school. Finding a permanent home is another huge hurdle, and there are so many more. The best way for these women to face those challenges without feeling hopeless and overwhelmed is together.

A New Way of Life is tackling America’s incarceration crisis head-on, and the work it's doing is undeniable.

Last year, the project had a recidivism rate of 13%. Compared to the national average, that’s a huge success rate and a strong indication that what they're doing is working.

Susan said, "It’s a vicious cycle to return to the environment that led to your incarceration, and it happens over and over again. That is the cycle that I’m trying to break. That is the cycle that we must break."

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