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Dreams from the Monster Factory: A Tale of Prison, Redemption, and One Woman's Fight to Restore Justice to All Hardcover – January 6, 2009

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

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. (Jan.)
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"S unny 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

"Dreams from the Monster Factory is as gritty as the halls of the San Francisco jail in which it takes place. 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 of Prison Fellowship

" 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 and Peacebuilding, Eastern Mennonite University, and author of Changing Lenses

"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

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Scribner; 1 edition (January 6, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1416569812
  • ISBN-13: 978-1416569817
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.9 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (58 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #860,809 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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More About the Author

I was raised on the south side of Chicago and so should have been a White Sox fan, but my heart gravitated to the loveable losers of the north side, the Cubs. Later, when I moved to San Francisco, I gave myself with equal passion to the Giants. Like the Cubbies, they have failed to win the big one year after year and yet I stay devoted. I am like this in the rest of my life, too: I root for underdogs.

I have worked in the jails of San Francisco County for the last 29 years and have seen the underbelly of our society that includes thieves and wife beaters, drug dealers, gangbangers and murderers--underdogs, every one of them. They are a group of Americans, we've all recently learned, whose numbers have been growing by leaps and bounds.

But there is reason for hope and the evidence is in San Francisco, in the programs Sheriff Michael Hennessey and I have helped set up which invest in a prisoner's success rather than his or her failure. One program is called RSVP, or Resolve to Stop the Violence. I started it because so few prisons addressed why so many of the men had gone to prison in the first place--their violence. In RSVP, we educate prisoners about the roots of their violence, get them to take responsibility for their actions, and give them tools to change. Ben Matthews is but one example of our success. He was a meth addict and a skinhead who came into our jail wanting to start a race war. He left a counselor and leader of his peers who still wrestled with his demons, but has stayed out of jail, paid taxes, and helped other criminals to reform. Every extra dollar we've spent on programs has been paid back into government's coffers with seven dollars in savings from the crimes we've prevented.

Programs are just part of the solution. You also need people to implement them, people who see a benefit to prisoners who get out and don't come back. We've been blessed in San Francisco with men and women of good faith starting with our Sheriff, but you don't need to rely on this. The right incentives will do the trick. Rewarding institutions and individuals when they lower recidivism rates is one particularly revolutionary idea.

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 shrink the ever expanding and unsustainable prison budgets at the same time. I know it 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. When that happens, for me, it's like the Cubs have won the World Series, which every fan knows would be a miracle. Now imagine if across the country, every jail and prison challenged criminals 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 Schwartz is a nationally recognized expert in Criminal Justice reform and has worked in the field for 29 years.
Ms. Schwartz is the author of the best selling, Dreams From The Monster Factory, a personal memoir that includes the creation of RSVP a program that works with violent offenders and their victims.
Ms. Schwartz has been featured on Larry King Live, Oprah and was the recipient of the prestigious "Innovations in Government Award", sponsored by the Kennedy School of Government of Harvard University.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

27 of 27 people found the following review helpful By LawyerMom on February 14, 2009
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
To some degree like the author, I found myself in law school because I was fueled by passion about making a difference in the world. Rather than following my peers to their respective button-down law firms, I spent time working in the Brooklyn DA's office. There, I learned about the drag, the hustle, the administrative red-tape, the endlessness of the criminal justice system. You learn in law school that there are two main philosophies on why the penal system exists: the retributivist line (give 'em their just deserts) and the utilitarian line (the penal system is there to reform those who've wronged). I am a hardcore retributivist, a law-and-order type.

I was really expecting Sunny Schwartz's book to be about some hippie, do-good woman wallowing in the boo-hoo stories of prisoners and justifying why we taxpayers should do more to help them overcome the "injustices" of their lives. I was pleasantly surprised. Dreams from the Monster Factory forces those of us who are familiar with the penal system (and who've developed a thick skin to its shortcomings) to face the uncomfortable fact that our prisons are simply not working, but there actually exists real and tangible ways where we can fix them. I was especially taken with the way she herself shared in the average man's anger with these convicts; she shared disgust with the crimes they committed against their victims. But she channeled that disgust beyond retribution and revenge; she wanted to break the cycle.

The most compelling reasoning she shared felt like a light bulb going off in my head. We all want to punish these individuals. We want them to feel the pain that they've inflicted on others. Well, these prisoners do feel the punishments. Being in jail really does suck the life out of you.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Professor on December 28, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Dreams from the Monster Factory is a quintessential beacon for anyone seeking to produce a work of hope out of a world of disillusion. In this seminal text author Sunny Schwartz adeptly weaves anecdotes from her personal narrative with illuminating stories of her professional struggles.

Dreams from the Monster Factory thrusts the reader into the often enraging world of the criminal justice system. Rather than dismissing the incarcerated as sub-human reprobates or reducing her own story to one of falsely sequacious tropes, she commits herself to an honesty that is at times painful--but always rewarding--to read. Schwartz dismantles and subsequently reconfigures the hackneyed trope of restorative justice programs as soft on crime. Indeed, it is through her very reconfiguration of this binary that she manages to strike the delicate balance between a ruthless quest for justice and an overriding sense of optimism in humanity. Never falling prey to the traps of pedantry, Schwartz's great gift as a narrator is her ability to apply the same ruthless scrutiny to herself as to her often overwhelming surroundings. Through her steely nerves and professional perseverance, she defies naysayers and dastards to create RSVP, one of the most innovative and successful restorative justice programs in the world.

On the concluding page of her epilogue, Schwartz writes, "In my dreams, we remake the monster factories into engines of accountability rather than instruments of retribution and despair." In my own dreams, this infinitely inspirational text will appear on the syllabi of every undergraduate at universities around the country. At my own university, I foresee no small amount of feuding between myself and my colleagues over who can stake a claim to this extraordinary text. Perhaps someday Schwartz will develop an RSVP program for academia...
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By L.A.L. VINE VOICE on April 16, 2009
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Having been burned a few times in the past by lawyer-authors, I was a little hesitant to pick up this book. However, as a current law student, the concept intrigued me and I was willing to give it a try. I was not disappointed.

I think the first part of the book, the examination of Sunny's life, is an important set up. To understand her passion, one must understand her. In order to accomplish that, we need to know where she came from and what motivates her.

She presents a balanced account and is respectful of both sides of the issue. Her personal accounts and the statistics that back up what she has written. Like Sunny, I want to see criminals punished, but I do not want the punishment to make them worse; I would like it to help make them better.

From my early childhood, I knew that I wanted to be an attorney and in my early days as a law student, I decided I never wanted to work in criminal law. While I maintain that stance, I am glad to know that there are people out there like Sunny who have taken up this campaign and fight to make a difference. It would be nice if this were required reading in law school. While some of us might not want to practice criminal law, we need to appreciate what happens to prisoners and why we need even more respect for the lawyers that fight for their rights.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Alan Mills VINE VOICE on March 4, 2009
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Sunny Schwartz began as a crusading advocate for prisoners--viewing guards as the enemy, and prisoners as victims of abuse. She finished law school, and went into private practice. All the time wondering whether the system was really doing anyone any good. Criminals went in, were treated badly, got out, committed a new crime, and went back in--over, and over, and over.

Then the San Francisco Sheriff decided to try an experiment. He set up one unit of the jail with a new model. intense programming, built on mutual respect. Guards treating prisoners as humans, and insisting on the prisoners treating both the guards and each other in the same way. Sunny became director of programs in this unit--where she seems to have spent her entire adult life.

It works...sort of. The unit itself works well. There is significantly less violence--both physical and verbal--and even the guards generally agree it is a better place to work. There have been some documented success in reducing the recidivism rate, but many continue in the cycle. At least, the cycle involves less violence. The reincarcerations seem to be mainly drug offenses, rather than crimes of violence.

If only Sunny's programs could be coupled with the decriminalization of drug possession, coupled with free treatment for addicts, then we might see some real success.

One final note: those reviewers who say there is nothing unique or ground breaking about the programs Sunny describes must not have spent much time in prisons and jails. Virtually every one focuses on retribution--making life as unpleasant as possible for prisoners, with no time at all spent on ensuring that they are released with a mindset and skills which will keep them out. It is amazing to see a program which breaks from the mold.

Sunny has produced a book which not only describes this wonderful program in some detail, but which is highly readable. Highly recommended.
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