COMMENTARY: Homeboys Industries gives former gang members a second chance

December 13, 2018 /

Just at the age of six, a boy from Los Angeles was on a road to destruction — not necessarily by choice. His mother constantly asked him, “Why don’t you just kill yourself already? Why are you still here?” When the boy was nine years old, his mother took him to an orphanage, told the worker, “I found this little boy,” and left him there. The boy’s grandmother returned 30 days later to take him home, where his mother beat him bad. The boy wore three layers of shirts to school to cover his scars and to soak the blood from fresh wounds. No one in this boy’s life showed him love or affection. As a result, he found himself in a gang– a place where he felt wanted and included.

Gregory Boyle shared this story last month at Cal State Bakersfield as the guest speaker for the Kegley Institute of Ethics Fall Lecture. He was accompanied by former gang members, who also spoke at the event.

Boyle is the founder of Homeboys Industries. Founded in 1988, Homeboys Industries is a gang intervention, rehabilitation and re-entry program. Located in Los Angeles, the organization employs, trains and provides critical services to thousands of former gang members. Homeboys Industries, which was first established on a church property, provides job opportunities at its Homeboy Bakery and Homegirl Diner, both located at 130 W. Bruno St, Los Angeles.

Homeboys Industries saved the abused boy and got him out of the gang world.

When hearing this story, the room went quiet. I was in shock and felt so much empathy. That story made me realize not everyone involved in such environments choose to be there.

Men and women just want to be desired and accepted. Boyle helped me understand how people get sucked into the gang world.

Boyle said, “If we do not welcome our own wounds, we may be tempted to despise the wounded.”

The lecture was eye opening. Boyle talked about this illusion between “us” and “them.” There is no “us and them,” but rather just an “us,” Boyle said. Boyle hopes to bridge any distance between the two.

“One does not go to the margins to rescue anyone,” Boyle said. “We find rescuing for ourselves.”

When we search for actions to promote “goodness,” that act is no longer good because ultimately, we do it for our own good to make us feel good about ourselves, Boyle said.

However, when we stop this search and let rescue come to us, we are actually doing good within itself. Homeboys Industries illustrates the service between recipient and provider is mutual, Boyle said.

At the end of the discussion, Boyle asked the former gang members if there was anything that would have stopped them from joining a gang. One of the homies said if he knew he would lose his family, he wouldn’t have joined a gang. The homie said friends, money and girls were all just temporary, but his family is will always be there for him.

Jessica Manzo

Jessica Manzo

Jessica Manzo is a youth reporter for South Kern Sol and a student at Cal State Bakersfield.