Angela walked off the Greyhound bus in downtown Los Angeles near skid row with a paper sack of belongings and $200 minus her bus fare that got her there from prison. She was dusty and scared, with nowhere to go and no hope of changing the circumstances that put her in prison in the first place. Everyone she passed on the street knew she had just gotten out of prison, and she tried to avoid their eyes because she knew there were any number of drug dealers and sex traffickers among them ready to relieve her of her $200 in exchange for some kind of coping mechanism or security. Angela was about to become another statistic — another of the majority who come out of the criminal system only to be ushered back in in less than a year.
Except there was one thing that made this time different for Angela. In her purse, she had a letter from Susan Burton of A New Way of Life Reentry Project with a number to call when she arrived. So she called and Susan answered the phone.
“You said to call you when I got off the bus,” Angela said, doubting that anything would really come out of this phone call. “So here I am.”
“Good,” said Susan. “Where are you now?” Angela told her. “I’ll be there in fifteen minutes.” Angela’s life was about to change forever.
The fact that Angela had a number to call when she got off the bus was due to the fact that for six times Susan Burton had gotten off that same bus without anyone to call, and six times she cycled right back into prison, until the last time, when she ran into someone who changed everything. Someone met Susan’s bus too — an advocate — and suddenly she had what she never had before — a safe place to stay, treatment for her drug addiction, counseling for the abuse she had received as a child and the grief from the loss of her five-year-old son, killed by a car on her street that had driven her to medicate herself with alcohol and drugs, a peer group to help her stay sober, an advocate in the community to vouch for her character in spite of her criminal record in order to get a job and get her feet on the ground. She got all that and her life took a dramatic turn.
Like so many women who are incarcerated from poor urban African American neighborhoods, Susan never needed to go to prison; she needed the right kind of help. And with the right kind of help, she literally turned her life around. In one year at her first job, she managed to save $12,000, enough to put down on a run down, repossessed bungalow in a notoriously rough neighborhood in the Watts district of south Los Angeles that no one — even the bank — wanted. Immediately she set to work preparing it for her many yet-to-be-invited guests. It wasn’t long before Susan was meeting the prison bus herself and bringing home the friends she had made while she was incarcerated. Slowly she began to amass the resources for them that had turned her own life around.
Susan has now become an advocate for over 1,200 women that her organization, A New Way of Life, has helped to transition to literally, a new way of life. And their record of those who ended up back in prison? (I had to look this up twice to make sure it was right) — four percent. Proof that most of these women don’t need prison. They need an advocate.
1 John 2:1 says that if we sin, Jesus Christ is our advocate with the Father. He has done what we could not do for ourselves. Besides Jesus, who has been your advocate? Who has opened doors for you, you couldn’t open? And to whom have you been an advocate? Or, better yet, to whom can you be an advocate now?
Don’t miss our live interview with Susan Burton tomorrow night on BlogTalkRadio!