After prison, women turn lives around with help from SoCal 'New Way of Life' program

The New Way of Life Reentry Project is a network of shelters and support programs to help formerly incarcerated women turn their lives around.
LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- Latanya Reed, a 36-year-old mother of three, finds cooking a labor of love and takes joy from feeding others.

It's a far cry from where she was just three months ago.

"I was released from jail. It was the start of the pandemic," she said. "And I was afraid because I had nowhere to go."

COVID-19 turned prisons and jails into virus hot zones.

Dozens of inmates died and infections were on the rise. The crisis prompted corrections officials to release thousands of detainees, leaving many like Reed with no place to go.

"Miss Susan opened her doors for me," says Reed.

Miss Susan is Susan Burton. She is a former inmate with a heartbreaking past.

"I lost a son in a tragic accident that involved an LAPD detective. After his loss, I couldn't handle the grief," Burton said. "I began to drink and my drinking lead to substance use and the substance use sent me to prison. And I was trapped in a revolving door for over 20 years.

"And then someone helped me. And I found that the help had changed the whole trajectory of my life, and I wanted to help other women like me," she said. "I worked it. I got a little house, and I began to go to the bus station where women were getting off the bus, and I'd invite them to the house. That was 1998."

Over 20 years later, Burton was able to turn her life around, creating the "New Way of Life Reentry Project," a network of shelters and support programs designed specifically to help formerly incarcerated women reintegrate into society.

Amid the coronavirus pandemic, Burton has opened up two new safe houses in Los Angeles.

The most recent was Villa La Tournelle. Housing 14 women, it's the 10th safe house she's opened.

She has helped more than 1,200 formerly incarcerated women since she first started.

Other states are taking note of Burton's success. Her "New Way of Life" model is now operating in 13 different states.

"It can be done. She's living proof. And I just know for myself, I can do it also," says Reed.
Copyright © 2020 KABC-TV. All Rights Reserved.