Dreams of Monster Factory

thought-provoking, assumption challenging and inspirational in the extreme.


What do you get when you put cops and convicted robbers in the same room? Former wife beaters and victims of domestic violence? Republicans and Democrats? Baptist ministers and atheists? Death penalty advocates and opponents?


The answer:

A genuine and unflinching attempt at change. Most people say they want a better and safer world, but the truth is that it takes much more than generalizations and blanket policies to make it happen. It takes people on all sides of the problem to face one another and communicate honestly about what works, what doesn’t work, and what they want for the future.

Dreams from the Monster Factory tells the extraordinary story of how Sunny Schwartz, a defiant woman from Chicago’s South Side without a college degree, pushed back against everyone’s expectations of her failure to drag herself through law school and eventually out to San Francisco to breathe new life into criminal justice reform.

Of course, this kind of thing doesn’t happen overnight, and Dreams from the Monster Factory starts this profoundly personal story at the beginning, painting an intimate portrait of Sunny’s struggles at home and at school. It follows her escape out west to Arizona and her enrollment at one of the few law schools in America that doesn’t require an undergraduate degree. Maybe it was fate that led someone like Sunny into the tangle of the American prison system—not as an inmate, but first as someone working within its channels, and then as a reformer doing everything she possibly could to fix a system she realized was all but broken.

The book 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.

In the book, Sunny gives a disheartening account of a self-defeating prison bureaucracy. She introduces us to inmates, recounts their profiles in practical detail, revealing much to be reviled, and walks us through her face-to-face experiences with  people whom society simply doesn’t know what to do with, and bluntly would rather forget about. The result, she explains, is a classic example of throwing our hard earned tax dollars at a problem without the courage and work to see that it goes towards fixing it. The reality is that nothing gets better, and in fact, it continues to get worse daily.

Dreams from the Monster Factory is a rich and detailed expression of this frustration and a realistic proposal to try something different. Sunny draws on her 30 years of experience in and around this convoluted political and legal culture, as well as her own personal struggles, to reframe the downward spiral in our criminal justice system as a golden opportunity to change our entire approach to, and current thinking about, crime and punishment—and ultimately, redemption—in this country. Written with both a memoirist’s candor and a journalistic attentiveness, this book’s revelations are as jarring as they are hopeful.

For years I was a skinhead, fought in gang wars,
and preyed upon Jews, blacks, gays and Mexicans. I heated myself, I hated the world. Today I have learned to be accountable, stop my violence and be a healthy member of my community.

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