Friday, August 19, 2011

Homeboy Industries: "Jobs Not Jails" and Boundless Compassion ...

"But isn't the highest honing of compassion that which is hospitable to victim and victimizer both?" Gregory Boyle, TATTOOS ON THE HEART


"Tirate!" Our mother screamed as she fell to the floor in the hallway.

I watched as she went down. Bad as I wanted to sit up in bed, I resisted. The little voice that often whispered in my ear, said, "Don't get up."


Were those fireworks going off, or rocks bouncing off our home? Whatever they were, several hit the window above my head.

"Blanca!" My father called out to my mother from the living room.


I turned to check on my sisters. One was still in bed, white powder all over her dark hair. The other one, the little one hid under hers.

My thoughts can't catch up. ¿QuĆ© pasa? What's happening, here?

The kitten poster hung only minutes earlier by our father, while my sisters and I jumped on our beds, now, looked as though it had been punched through with a hammer.

Seems minutes. Maybe hours. The next thing I know, I'm peering out from under my bed at darkly-clad policemen cramped between our three single beds. The air fills with crackling radios that emit incoherent voices, as shiny black, leather shoes walk across the floor.

"The bullets went through the window, wall, the two garages, and into the neighbor's living room," one of the uniformed men, said.

"Another two went through the front of the house and ricocheted off this door-jamb." Another officer points to the door frame my mother had stood at when the first shots were fired.

My mind screams, "Where are my parents?"

I was in the 4th grade the night the two-bedroom, white stucco duplex we rented was sprayed with bullets. By the grace of God, my family, and those living in the two houses flanking ours, survived the drive-by that night. 

That's how I remember events unfolding that night.


A couple of months ago, a friend I'd reconnected with on Facebook messaged me and said she had a book and some magazines she wanted to send me.

Source: Homebody Industries
When I received her package containing TATOOS ON THE HEART by Gregory Boyle and several issues of THE SUN, a literary magazine, I had to take a "time-out."

The magazines I loved. But the book? Why would I want to read non-fiction about gang members' lives? I had ZERO sympathy for them, but she didn't know that.

Although I'd worked alongside her for several years in Costa Mesa, CA, I'd never discussed my childhood growing up in the neighboring town of Santa Ana. As soon as I crossed the city limits into the surrounding towns, I disassociated myself from all the "bad" stuff that had touched my life, there. 

So many negative things happened to us at the hands of gang members over the years that when I finally had the courage and opportunity to move away, I did, and never looked back. The jumpy little girl, hiding under her bed didn't exist anymore. I'd effectively buried the past.

That was fifteen years ago. I moved, married, worked for some great companies, started my own business, traveled, had a baby. I did all the things that normal people do. It wasn't until I began to write for "fun" in 2008 that everything I'd buried came to the surface.

Understandably I read TATTOOS ON THE HEART with one-foot-in and one-foot-out. Within pages it absorbed me with the stories of gang members Father Boyle met and tried to help through his non-profit organization Homeboy Industries.
Homeboy Industries assists at-risk and formerly gang-involved youth to become positive and contributing members of society through job placement, training and education.
My hardened heart softened, as I experienced life through the eyes of the young men and women who didn't get to pick their circumstances, either. Many didn't have parents and those who did were either abused or neglected. Nobody had told them that they had other options, that they could make better choices. Resiliency held no meaning. Enter the lure of gang-life. The few who found their way out on their own? How many? Who knows? (Recommended: I Choose by Jen Marshall Duncan at Empathea)

TATTOOS ON THE HEART is a compilation of parable-like stories that each ends with an affirmation. As I read about the dangerous situations Father Boyle put himself into, I came to understand what it means to have boundless compassion. In spite of the despicable nature of these youths' acts, the indiscriminate killings, irrational thought, Father Boyle did not condemn them. Rather he guided them with kind words, tough-love and patience. He pushes forward knowing he'll save some, but lose many.

In the end, I'm glad I read it, because it gave me a level of clarity that I didn't have before. My loathing of what had caused much of the pain in my childhood had turned to empathy.

Thank you Father Boyle for opening my heart and showing me another perspective. Also, a big hug of gratitude to my friend, Rita, who somehow recognized that I needed to read this book, that I've since forwarded on to a friend. : )


Homeboy Industries Soundtrack

"Close both eyes; see with the other one. Then, we are no longer saddled by the burden of our persistent judgments, our ceaseless withholding, our constant exclusion. Our sphere has widened, and we find ourselves, quite unexpectedly, in a new, expansive location, in a place of endless acceptance and infinite love."