A letter from Sunny

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“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. Click here to get in touch with me for 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 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.

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.

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.

We have seen survivors of the most horrific violence for the first time feel heard and validated, to learn to give themselves voice, to walk tall and receive the services and support that needed and deserved

First off, instead of mandating all people to jail, we can mandate 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 promising and evaluated 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.

Every time that happens, for me, it’s like the Cubs have won the World Series. I’ve seen the unimaginable happen. Now what would happen if across the country, every jail and prison challenged and provide its inmates programs to teach how 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.”

* the Giants since have won 3 World Series, validating my belief that sometimes miracles do happen as long as we don’t give up

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— Sunny

 
 
Jean O’hara who’s daughter and grandson were murdered, speaking in RSVP Survivor Impact. Circa 1998.

Jean O’hara who’s daughter and grandson were murdered, speaking in RSVP Survivor Impact. Circa 1998.

Sunny as an law intern maximum security county jail. Circa 1981.

Sunny as an law intern maximum security county jail. Circa 1981.

Spanning 40 years believing in the triumph of the spirit and the service for all impacted by crime. Circa 2019.

Spanning 40 years believing in the triumph of the spirit and the service for all impacted by crime. Circa 2019.