A New Way of Life and the New Underground Railroad

After cycling in and out of the criminal justice system for nearly 15 years, Susan Burton gained freedom and sobriety and founded A New of Life Reentry Project in South Los Angeles. Ms. Burton opened her doors to other women returning home from prisons and jails, offering shelter, safety, leadership, and support to those seeking to rebuild their lives. Her story of perseverance in overcoming overwhelming odds and her dedication to the service of others is an inspiration to women across the United States, particularly formerly incarcerated women and those recovering from drug and alcohol addiction.

Susan Burton and A New Way of Life have caught the attention of Michelle Alexander, acclaimed author The New Jim Crow, the best-selling study of the U.S. system of mass incarceration. Alexander points to Susan Burton’s reentry program as a model for the kind of bold initiative needed to build what she calls a “new underground railroad” — a network of families, faith communities, and organizations dedicated to providing desperately needed support and love to people at risk of incarceration, families with loved ones behind bars, and people returning home from prison.

This radio documentary weaves together the voices of Susan Burton, Michelle Alexander, and five residents of A New Way of Life, seamlessly incorporating plaintive music and insightful narration. The story shows the human face of those our society stigmatizes as “criminals,” “felons,” and “offenders,” and sheds light on the tremendous hurdles they face upon release from prison, including the most basic and fundamental tasks of securing housing, work, and sobriety. The show features interviews and ambient audio recorded on site at A New Way of Life Reentry Project, and ties the emergence of the “new underground railroad” to the overarching movement to end mass incarceration.

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