Love 4 min read

The Give Back: Homeboy Industries

The road to redemption is paved with forgiveness and hope.

(Photo: Homeboy Industries)

Homeboy Industries in Los Angeles has been a beacon of light and hope for thousands of men and women who once led a life of crime, violence and self-hatred. Jesuit Priest Gregory Boyle founded the youth outreach in 1992 in the gang-torn neighborhood of Pico-Aliso just east of downtown LA. He realized that the cycle of inner city violence and poverty was tearing at the very fabric of life for many residents. He decided that it had to stop.

His solution was to offer redemption to wayward youth in the form of counseling, job training, tattoo removal and hope for the future. Now adults, many of these former gangbangers are giving back to the community, reaching out to their old homies, embracing at-risk youth in the neighborhoods they used to run in and teaching others not to give up. It's proof that a brighter future exists if you want it.

Take a look at this great short documentary highlighting the work that happens at Homeboy Industries.

Jose Lopez is one of those youth who got into trouble and found his way out. He works in the Homeboy Industries' Media Relations department. He's been on staff for three years now and says the road to redemption has been rocky and full of obstacles.

Q. Tell us about your past and what brought you to Homeboy Industries?

A. I started running with Varrio Willow Street in South Gate, California when I was about 14 years old. We did a lot of very dumb things: smoking weed in supermarket parking lots, getting into fights, harassing girls and breaking into cars. I got caught carjacking, which was the second time I was arrested. It was considered a felony. I did three years in Calipatria state prison. My probation officer told me that if I get one more strike, I'm out, meaning life in prison. Someone told me about Homeboy Industries, so I took the bus here one day and haven't left.

Q. What was the process like to leave the gang lifestyle?

A. Honestly, it wasn't easy. It still isn't easy. I can't go back to that crazy life, but it became a habit for many years. I knew what I was going to do every day. I had homies who had my back, we had jobs to do. In prison, we had protection. And once you're out, there's nothing. My family had mostly abandoned me, I didn't have education or skills to get a job. I was wandering. I was lost.

Q. And now you've found redemption in helping others who are in the same situation you once were. The lifestyle of a gangster is thrilling for youth, do you think you'll be able to offer a real option?

A. I think the individual has to see it first. I mean, they have to realize that there's no future in that life. It's either prison or death. And once they love themselves enough to conclude that they deserve better, then that's when the hope we offer them is almost impossible to reject.

Q. A lot has been said about Homeboy Industries and its amazing success where other gang alternative programs have fallen short. What's the secret to transforming troubled lives?

A. Love is the answer. I know it sounds cheesy but that's it. As Father Greg Boyle says: “Only healing can lead to the absence of crime. What heals? Gratitude and tenderness. Where does it happen? Right here at Homeboy.”


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