by Natasha Ashenhurst
Ginny Burton’s life is a testament to the power of perseverance and the potential for redemption, even in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds. Growing up in a household where both of her parents were addicted to drugs, Burton’s own drug use began with marijuana and eventually led to heroin and crack cocaine. She and her mother would use drugs together, leading to a cycle of addiction and criminal behavior that saw Burton convicted of 17 felonies, including identity theft, assault, and armed robbery.
After serving three separate terms in prison, Burton finally found the motivation to turn her life around. In 2016, she went back to school at the University of Washington and was awarded a highly competitive $30,000 graduate school scholarship as a 2020 Truman Scholar and Martin Honor Scholar, ultimately earning a total of $74,000 in scholarships. At the age of 48, she graduated with a degree and a newfound determination to make a difference in the world.
Burton now advocates for “incarceration with intention,” which seeks to provide incarcerated individuals with the resources they need to turn their lives around and reintegrate into society. She believes that such a program would not only benefit those who are incarcerated but would also create a safety net for the broader community.
“I estimate that close to 90% of people who commit crimes are in active addiction,” Burton says. “These underlying causes would be addressed very intentionally during incarceration so that we’re making sure that we’re attacking the problems when we have people separated from the destructive path.”
Burton’s own life experience with addiction, criminal justice, and homelessness, combined with her education, has given her a unique perspective and credibility in areas that most policymakers lack. She is committed to changing policies in the prison system and in homeless systems, and to putting her lived experience to use in creating more effective, empowering solutions for those who are suffering as a result of current policies.
“After serving people in re-entry and social service settings for a decade, I realized that they needed more help than I could provide. Many continued down destructive paths because they lacked the resources to find a way out,” Burton says.
Determined to empower individuals to create their own solutions, Burton created O-UT, Overhaul-Unrelenting Transfiguration, a 10-module program that helps individuals identify challenges, leverage assets, and create comprehensive plans to transform their circumstances.
O-UT is facilitated by professionals with lived experience and models skills for overcoming personal challenges. With support from the community, O-UT aims to become a community-based program with an inpatient treatment facility addressing addiction, incarceration, homelessness, and other underlying causes. Although not a non-profit, Burton says O-UT is the missing link in changing lives and achieving outcomes such as reduced recidivism, reunited families, service engagement, abstinence from drugs and alcohol, living-wage employment, stable housing, and community involvement.
Ginny Burton’s story is a reminder that, even in the darkest moments, there is always hope for a better future. Her resilience and determination serve as an inspiration to all of us to keep pushing forward, even in the face of overwhelming adversity.
Burton will be the keynote speaker at the Thurston County Chamber’s Annual Meeting on May 17, 2023, at the Olympia Hotel at Capitol Lake. Visit thurstonchamber.com for tickets. To learn more about O-UT, visit www.vginnyburton.com.
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