Book Review by a fellow RJ practitioner & blogger

Lorenn and I got introduced by a response she had to a post on teen courts.  We have been emailing about writing an article together, and I’ve really enjoyed networking.  The internet, social networks certainly give us great opportunities to share ideas.  I found her book review very helpful, so I asked about posting it here.  The  direct link to her (Lorenn Walkers) Blog Post titled Dreams from the Monster Factory by Sunny Schwartz.  From the blog:

A new book Dreams from the Monster Factory by lawyer Sunny Schwartz with David Boodell has just been published by Simon & Schuster, Inc.  It is a short memoir of Ms. Schwartz’ life and her experience working at the San Francisco jail.

Under the leadership of San Francisco sheriff Michael Hennessey, jail’s director Michael Marcum, Lieutenant Becky Benoit, and Ms. Schwartz, who is the jail’s program director, restorative justice becomes part of the rehabilitation program at the jail.  Resolve to Stop the Violence Project (RSVP) has been evaluated and shown to reduced recidivism significantly more than the alternative (which was basically watching TV all day).

Violence is learned, and the RSVP program gives incarcerated people tools for un-learning it.  It is a public  health approach to this serious problem.

Schwartz’ book provides a moving account of the insanity of our prison system that now imprisons one out of every 100 people in the U.S. and, which can predict with sad certainty that almost 80% of those incarcerated people will be back in prison eventually.  And they will have learned much worse “monster” behavior everytime they are imprisoned.  RSVP is working to stop this crazy cycle.

The stories Schwartz tells touched my heart and had me in tears many times.  Including the story of Ben, a formerly vicious skin head, who beat blacks and Jews.  He willingly accompanies Schwartz to the Temple Sinai in Berkeley, and tells the congregation about the horrible things he did.  As he goes on to share his remorse and his desire to make amends, the people meet him with open hearts instead of more hate and resentment.

Schwartz wisely observes that “stories [can] bind broken people together, and help stitch up their wounds.”   This is an important power of restorative justice.  It allows people a voice to tell their stories and in doing so to heal.  Not only do the people harmed by wrongdoing heal, but the people who committed the bad acts, and the rest of the community too heals.

Schwartz includes the story of how she is able to heal too.  We all need healing.  We all face disappointments and perhaps the biggest one is that as wonderful as life can be, it eventually ends.  All the people we love, and all of us are going to die someday.  We can all use healing on a daily basis.

Schwartz’ book is inspiring.  It is a call for all of us to stand up and take responsibility for stopping the current prison system that endangers all our lives. As restorative justice teaches taking responsibility is a good thing, for individuals and for the whole world…