HOMEBOY INDUSTRIES OFFERS HOPE TO REFORMED GANG MEMBERS
By Mike Cleland
“Nothing stops a bullet better than a job.” This is Homeboy Industries’ motto. Father Boyle founded “Jobs for a Future” in 1988, and with its increasing popularity over the years, (JFF) changed its name to Homeboy Industries in 2001, and is now the “largest gang intervention and re-entry program in the county, a national model.”
The lobby is filled with men, virtually all of them tattooed. They wear nametags that read “Employment Services” and wait to be drug tested. All of these men (and women) will get a job if they pass the screening and will be admitted into an 18-month program at Homeboy.
The facility has a clothing store which sells stylish clothes with the Homeboy logo. Homegirl Café located inside the facility is constantly busy and used for networking purposes, and there are a slew of programs offered: education, legal, and employment services, tattoo removal, and 12 step programs.
Neil, an ex-gang member and Homeboy advocate, shares his testimony to a group of people. He was incarcerated starting at 12 until 17, became a drug addict, and was in and out of homeless shelters and rehabs. He grew up with “five brothers with different mothers,” and what he considered his family—his gang—never once visited him in jail.
Father Boyle invited him to Homeboy in 1989, but his transformation was a long process. He got clean in his 20s and was making good money working construction. “I had it all: the truck, the big screen TV, the gadgets. But I was empty.”
Neil went through a lot of trial and error. He hurt his back so he had to cut his hours and started selling drugs again to pay bills. “There was always drugs in my pocket and a gun on my hip.” Eventually, he was kidnapped and left for dead in an apartment room and decided to change for good.
He began commuting four hours a day to Homeboy and soon received a check from Father Boyle for his volunteer work. “Now I come to class with an open mind and heart.” He is also removing his gang tattoos. “You think getting a tattoo is painful, removing it is 10 times worse. I’ve seen grown men cry or faint.”
His friend and fellow Homeboy member is one of the two death row inmates in Californian history to have been pardoned after being wrongly accused. Judges and DAs, “formerly the enemy,” have come up to him and said, “What you’re doing can change people’s lives.” His teenage daughter is slowly opening back up to him and is receiving counseling from Homeboy services.
His mission is to reach out to the Homeboy members who still gang bang. “Some guys just come here and cruise it. We lost eight people in the last two years to murder.”
“This is my purpose: talking to kids and sharing my story. Like, I’m nervous right now. I’m a shy person, but this is what Father Boyle wants me to do.”