“Nothing stops a bullet like a job.”
That’s what Father Greg Boyle, founder of Homeboy Industries, has been saying about his rehabilitative work with gang members for the past 24 years. In the last few decades, the United States has seen a significant rise in gang activity which has led to overcrowded prisons and heightened penalties for gang members. However, people like Father Boyle are giving these men and women a second chance by helping them assimilate back into everyday society.
Large cities such as Los Angeles, the gang capital of America, have become breeding grounds for gang violence. It’s not uncommon to hear gunshots fired throughout the neighborhoods, even near the considerably safe areas of schools and churches. Drive-by shootings, the act of shooting a gun from a car at a bystander on the street, are some of the most barbaric acts of gangs, harming gang members and innocent citizens alike. A study done on gang-related drive-by shootings in 1991 showed of the 1,500 incidents seen in the city of Los Angeles, one-third of the victims were not gang members. Even more harrowing is that half of the victims were found to be children.
In reaction to these heinous crimes, the U.S. government has simply responded by sending perpetrators to jail on short prison sentences from which they’re soon to be released and will continue the ongoing cycle. Imprisonment is not the solution to the problem of gang violence; it simply puts off the issue until a later date. Instead, rehabilitative services are needed to help change the attitudes and behaviors of these gang members by placing them back into society where they can make contributions to the communities they once harmed.
A large part of this gang violence usually stems from rivalries between two opposing gangs. This violence is the result of tension that has built up over the years. In fact, issues like these are exactly what Homeboy Industries focuses on. Since before its start, Boyle wanted to create a place that would help gang members learn job skills while developing relationships with their coworkers — other ex-gang members.
Homeboy Industries has transformed the lives of thousands of men and women since it opened its doors. One man, Gabriel Hinojos, is living proof of just how significant this change can be. At the age of 24, Gabriel, or Spider, as his gang members called him, decided to visit Homeboy Industries after being involved in a gang since the young age of 12. There, he had his gang sign tattoos removed and took special classes that taught him important job skills he had never learned. Now, Hinojos is looking forward to a brighter future with his girlfriend and new son, Gregory, whom he named after Boyle. In fact, Hinojos, who now goes by his birth name Gabriel, was even personally invited to a White House social in the early 2000s by Laura Bush to exemplify the great work Homeboy Industries has done.
Gang rehabilitation is an option more people need to be aware of — it is a way for us to bring peace back to our communities. Boyle once said, “In a city where often men and women plan their funerals and not their futures, for hope is a foreign thing ... we will, in fact, stand up to the demonized, so that the demonizing will stop.”
This is exactly what Homeboy Industries is all about — giving hope and placing faith in men and women who have never known compassion. Maybe nothing does really stop a bullet like a job — after all, it did for Spider. From a menacing gang member with a gun to a productive, employed citizen, removal from the gang lifestyle through rehabilitative services has saved him from becoming yet another casualty of gang violence. The U.S. government can arrest as many gang members and heighten gang activity penalties as much as they want, but unless they personally accept this call to action, the fighting will never cease.
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