I’m committed to sharing my experiences and knowledge with the world, and a firm believer that true accountability can lead to genuine change. If you want to learn more about what I’ve learned and put into practice, I’m happy to participate. Please contact me to get in touch about speaking engagements. The more people who understand the reality of our criminal justice system, the more I’m confident we can repair its gaping flaws.
I was raised on the South Side of Chicago and by rights should have been a White Sox fan, but my heart has always been with the underdogs, and so it was the Cubs for me. Later, when I moved to San Francisco, I gave myself with equal passion to the Giants, who have validated my devotion by failing to win the big one, year after year. I’m like this in the rest of my life, too: I root for underdogs.
I work in the jails of San Francisco County, and my clients are thieves and wife beaters, gang-bangers and murderers—underdogs, every one of them. They have hurt their victims, their victims’ families as well as their own, and their communities. They are (and we are now) paying the price, abandoned to society’s scrap heap on a state budget wasted on failed prison systems, which is close to outspending our health and education budgets.
I strongly believe we have a golden opportunity to seize the moment and really get tough and effective on crime. First off, we can place the tens of thousands of people whose main crimes involve drug and alcohol abuse into residential treatment. It costs 50 cents on the dollar to successfully treat instead of incarcerate. For the more dangerous criminals, we must truly hold them accountable by mandating that they take part in proven programs like RSVP, the Resolve to Stop the Violence Program in San Francisco, which has facilitated an 80 percent drop in violent re-arrests. In RSVP, we educate prisoners about the roots of their violence so that they take responsibility for their actions, and then we give them tools to contribute to society.
Everyone has a stake in this: Republican or Democrat, big tent liberal or small government conservative. This isn’t a partisan issue; it is a human one. I know that we can actually use the prisons to make us safer and our communities better, and shrink the problem of ever expanding prison budgets at the same time. I know this because I’ve seen it happen. I’ve seen men who have committed horrible crimes defy all predictions, take responsibility for their lives and begin to make amends. Every time that happens, for me, it’s like the Cubs have won the World Series. I’ve seen the miracle happen. Now imagine if, across the country, every jail and prison challenged its inmates to stop their violence, to stop using drugs, to get a job, to become responsible citizens, to become—as one friend described it—“taxpayers instead of tax drainers.” If that happened, we wouldn’t just change the prisons and jails; we would remake the face of American society. That’s the dream I have. That’s what has sustained me in the monster factory, and it’s the way out of our current mess.— Sunny