“A gritty, unflinching book.”
- The Nation
"I couldn't put this book down. This is to the world of prisons and rehabilitation what Dead Man Walking is to the death penalty. It's gritty and real, simple yet revolutionary, hopeful but realistic. It isn't all happy endings but there is vision combined with experience that suggests a way out of the morass our society is in. Dreams, yes, but not fantasies."
- Howard Zehr, Professor of Restorative Justice at the Center for Justice & Peacebuilding, Eastern Mennonite University and author of Changing Lenses
Powerful, captivating, and hopeful, Dreams from the Monster Factory goes beyond statistics and sensational portrayals of prison life and reveals the troubling realities of U.S. jails, and an astonishing alternative. Sunny Schwartz founded the Resolve to Stop the Violence Project (RSVP), a restorative justice program based in a San Francisco jail that has cut recidivism for violent rearrests by up to 80 percent. Schwartz makes no excuses for the rapists, gangbangers and murderers she works with, nor will she excuse a prison system that churns out criminals who are more dangerous when they leave prison than when they arrived. Instead, she’s created a correctional program that is designed to empower victims and require offenders to take true responsibility for their actions and eliminate their violent behavior.
“Her decision to tell her own life story…exemplifies her understanding that it is through sharing our own stories and analyzing them that all of us broken people can be bound back together. I am in awe of Sunny Schwartz. This woman is more real, has more heart, is more of a creative fighter, and loves the unlovable more than almost anyone I have ever met.”
The thorny topic of rehabilitating offenders in the American penal system remains front and center in this book by Schwartz, an expert in criminal justice reform in the San Francisco area, with an able assist from TV writer and producer Boodell. Schwartz asks a central question:
"What do we do with the people who get out of jail and come back to communities?"
Using real stories of former convicts and their victims, Schwartz concludes that the horrible conditions in prisons, the “monster factories” of the title, create people incapable of empathy or compassion who return to society and commit more crimes. A series of family concerns thrust Schwartz into helping spearhead the Resolve to Stop the Violence Project (RSVP) in San Francisco to create a prison that doesn't reinforce violence and that joins offenders and victims in a union of empowerment and accountability. Lucid, gritty and penetrating, this book is perhaps one of the most effective testaments available in the campaign to rehabilitate those we lock up and sometimes abandon."
- Publisher's Weekly Review
“Intimate memoir and impassioned call to arms for prison reform from a respected criminal-justice advocate. As a rebellious kid growing up in a Jewish family on Chicago’s South Side, Schwartz was toughened by her older brothers’ roughhousing, her father’s temper and her mother’s lack of control. Barely graduating from high school and avoiding arrest, she had already made it further than many of her friends. She followed her brother to Tucson, where he spiraled into depressive schizophrenia that eventually led to his suicide. Aided by co-author Boodell, Schwartz recounts these painful personal events carefully and honestly, underlining their relevance to her work with emotionally battered –and battering-criminals.
She came into her own out West, where she dated women, took drama classes and in San Francisco applied to a law school that did not require a college degree. When her professor repeatedly berated a student in the front row for no good reason, Schwartz yelled out, “What the fuck is going on up there, man?” Her classmates were horrified, but the professor congratulated her she was the first student ever to challenge his demonstration of “the power of authority, and people’s willingness to suffer injustice in silence.”
Schwartz displayed the same fearless concern as a lawyer defending criminals’ right to counsel and as a program administrator at County Jail 7 in San Francisco. She and her colleagues built a jail culture based on restorative justice, which challenged inmates to take responsibility for their acts and recognized victims’ and communities’ stakes in that process. Their Resolve to Stop the Violence (RSVP) program reduced violent recidivism by 80 percent and won an Innovations in Government Award. Schwartz admits that some criminals cannot be helped, but asserts that jail time spent learning remorse makes the world safer than years of incarceration passed by stewing in anger. Inspiring idealism refreshingly free of jargon or fluff.”
- Kirkus Reviews
"A powerfully honest and revealing glimpse into a little known world. Ms. Schwartz captivates the reader with her clear-eyed belief that even violent offenders can change. Her work shows that violent behavior is a choice and our communities can be stronger if each of us - victims, offenders, citizens --better understands why we act the way we do. As a survivor of violent crime, I respect Ms. Schwartz's insistence that the penal system is not working. I admire her willingness to follow her heart toward a vision that will make a difference."
- Trisha Meili, author of I Am the Central Park Jogger: A Story of Hope and Possibility
"Dreams from the Monster Factory is as gritty as the halls of the San Francisco Jail that it takes place in. But rather than being filled with despair and violence, Sunny Schwartz's story is marked by hope and respect. It is truly breathtaking to read about the transformation of the jails that Sunny has led. Putting the principles of restorative justice to work at ground zero of the crime culture, Sunny and her team have created a space where hardened criminals can realize their better selves and begin giving back to the community that they have heretofore only taken from."
- Pat Nolan, Vice President, Prison Fellowship
"Sunny Schwartz understands accountability, kindness, and forgiveness. In her brave and empowering book about people's ability to change, she tells the story of her life and her work with people who are often detested, feared or forgotten and explains how restorative justice can transform these criminals, their victims, and our communities."
- Sister Helen Prejean, author of Dead Man Walking
"Personal and provocative, Sunny Schwartz's book demanded my wide-eyed attention. Schwartz confronts our skepticism of the prison system and its ability to prevent violence with gripping and authentic stories from her life and her work on a visionary program in the San Francisco jails that has actually reduced recidivism rates for violent crimes. Dreams From the Monster Factory is an inspiring story about justice and forgiveness."
- Terrie M. Williams, author Black Pain: It Just Looks Like We're Not Hurting