From Addict to UW graduate, Ginny Burton is at the top and still climbing

SEATTLE — Ginny Burton was addicted to heroin and crack, and convicted of 17 felonies. She was homeless and lived on the streets of Seattle.

Now at 48 years old, she has overcome it all. She will graduate from the University of Washington on Saturday.

“It is possible, if I can do it anybody can,” said Ginny Burton.

Burton was arrested more than 20 times, desperate to feed her drug habit. She did it all from identity theft, to assault, to armed robbery, even stealing from drug dealers.

“Whatever I had to do, everyone was a victim and everyone was prey,” said Burton. “There were a number of times I just barely made it out.”

After serving time in every women’s prison in the state, in 2012 something changed.

“I was looking at my fourth prison sentence and I made a decision. The minute I got into the police car. That was it. I was done and I was super grateful I had been arrested because I knew it was going to give me an opportunity to change my life,” said Burton.

She served her time, got clean and got out with new dreams. In 2016, the mother of three went back to school. Now she will graduate from UW with a degree in Political Science. She starts graduate school at the Evans School of Public Policy and Governance in the fall.

“I plan to try to change policy, change policy in the prison system, change policy in our homeless systems and start to try to put some lived experience into the way things are being conducted,” said Burton.

Officer Craig Hanaumi at the Bellevue Police heard Ginny’s story.

“In our line of work we meet a lot of Ginnys, we meet a lot of people all different age ranges, the commonality is the addiction,” said Officer Hanaumi.

He invited her to visit the department earlier this year to inspire officers.

“It’s kind of therapeutic for us because we don’t get to see the good stuff. We meet people at their lowest point,” said Officer Hanaumi.

On Thursday, the unlikely new friends met back at the police department and tried some jiu-jitsu at the gym.

Burton is at the top and still climbing. Once afraid of heights, she took up mountain climbing four years ago. She’s already climbed Mount Rainier. This summer she and her mentor are leading a group up the mountain.

Burton knows she beat the odds and wants others to see it is possible. She says she saw a friend overcome addiction and it gave her strength.

“I had to believe I could do it too, and I think that’s what I am giving to the world,” she said.