How Baked Goods and a Second Chance Are Changing the Lives of Thousands in Downtown Los Angeles
Written By: Taylor Gorski
Photographed By: Matt Misisco gang rehabilitation program
The largest gang intervention, rehab and re-entry program in the world, Homeboy Industries is a place for hope. Each year, Homeboy Industries welcomes 9,000 people to transform their lives. Offering a variety of social enterprises, programs and services, men and women are given the opportunity to change their lives—a second chance.
The mission at Homeboy Industries, housed in a building situated on N Alameda and Bruno in Downtown Los Angeles, is “to provide hope, training and support to formerly gang-involved and previously incarcerated men and women, allowing them to redirect their lives and become contributing members of our community.” Started by Father Gregory Boyle in 1988, the nonprofit organization has expanded and grown over the years. “We started with a school, then we added a jobs program, then we added little businesses––I guess you would say. And then the bakery was the first social enterprise. Then, tattoo removal,” Father Greg accounts. “We added all of those aspects, but the main thing is that it’s about a community of tenderness.”
The doors are open for all at Homeboy Industries, and nobody is forced to be there. It’s a decision an individual must make for themself. “It won’t work otherwise,” explains Father Greg, “So, having said that, people relapse all of the time. People start to look at their trauma, and then they end up getting high or something—they color outside the lines or they return to the gang life. But they receive a dose of what this life is. In the old days, we used to say, ‘Well, maybe they’ll come back.’ Nobody says that anymore; we all say, ‘They’ll be back.’ Because they always come back—absolute and total guarantee. In fact, everyone that runs this place are people who came back. Once you have a taste of this, it’s compelling.”
Two-thirds of the senior staff at Homeboy Industries are graduates of the 18-month re-entry program, which is offered to over 400 women and men every year. The employee count stands at 176, and there are 125 professional volunteers.
The dedication, understanding and support from Father Greg and those who are involved in and a part of Homeboy Industries is riveting and inspiring. He believes that gang violence is a community health issue. Systematic decisions are made without understanding the reason for the problem. “The outsider view drives the inside of our policy and the inside of how we see things. That’s part of the issue; we make these decisions from the outside looking in. ‘Why would a kid join a gang?’ ‘Oh, I know, he thinks gang life is exciting.’ Well no, absolutely no. And yet that’s the outsider view trying to rationally come to some conclusion. That’s the kind of thing that drives how we respond in terms of policy and such, which is a problem. You want people to have more reverence for how complex their lives are, and then have more humility as they come here and listen,” explains Father Greg.
Father Greg sits in his office, located at the forefront of Homeboy Industries, where he can look out and see all who is there. It’s an office completely covered in photos––with the Pope, with Barack Obama, with lives that he’s transformed and lives that have transformed him (and a sign that reads, “Chillin with my homies”)—and an office where he speaks with these people about their lives and future. Individuals are cooking meals next door in the kitchen at Homegirl Cafe, serving tables, cleaning the building, working at the shop selling Homeboy merch, giving tours and sitting in the main room waiting to speak with Father Greg. gang rehabilitation program
“You don’t go to the margins to make a difference; you go to the margins so that guy will make you different. You don’t go there to reach them; you go there to be reached,” says Father Greg. “And by allowing yourself to be reached and allowing yourself to receive who he is, then everybody sort of inhabits their mutual dignity, and that’s the dynamic. So that’s what you hope for.”
130 W Bruno St
Los Angeles, CA 90012
323.526.1254 gang rehabilitation program
Taylor is a graduate from the University of Southern California with a degree in journalism. She is our Los Angeles and Orange County editor. You can find her dining at a new restaurant, in the ocean or planning her next adventure. Say hello!