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By Lucette Moramarco
Associate Editor 

Author explains the world of gang members

 

Last updated 6/8/2018 at 7:30pm

Lucette Moramarco photos

A Jesuit brother who became a priest, Father Gregory Boyle tells what he has learned from the homies he has helped through Homeboy Industries.

Sponsored by Friends of Fallbrook Library, the highlight of every Community Read event is the speech given by the guest of honor, the author of the featured book. While this year's book, "Barking to the Choir", was not the first non-fiction book to be chosen, its subject was a definite departure from past choices (not to mention that the author is a Catholic priest).

The world Father Gregory Boyle lives in and tells about in his books and speeches is much different from the life most Fallbrook area residents have led. That did not stop 200 people from coming to Fallbrook Library to hear him speak.

The May 26 event started with a social time for guests including light bites and desserts from Caterer's Kitchen and wine served out on the library's Reading Patio. Boyle signed copies of his books which were also available for purchase for those who didn't already have copies to bring with them.

A Los Angeles native, Boyle was ordained a priest in 1984. After a year in Bolivia, he was assigned to the poorest parish in LA, the Dolores Mission Church. This area also had the highest number of gangs (eight) in the world.

In his talk, Boyle recounted his experiences with young gang members expelled from their schools with no place to go as well as older gang members with limited prospects for employment. He said he "recognized a need for positive opportunities for gang members" who were stuck in a vicious cycle of gang activity and jail time.

With the goal of creating those opportunities, he and the parish started Jobs for a Future in 1988. After the Los Angeles riots in 1992, film producer Ray Stark offered to help the cause by funding Boyle's next project. So he started a business in an abandoned bakery, calling it Homeboy Bakery and giving gang members the training to run it.

The bakery's success led to the creation of Homeboy Industries, the world's largest gang intervention rehab center in the world, in 2001. Seventeen years later, Boyle said, the critical services offered there train and employ 15,000 men and women every year. It offers education, work development, treatment for substance addiction, tattoo removal, case management, legal help and mental health services.

Besides making and selling bakery products, his homies run an online store, Homegirl Buffet and Homegirl Catering, a diner at City Hall and one at Terminal 4 in LAX. They also sell their products (tortilla chips, guacamole and salsa) at farmers markets, run a silkscreen and embroidery business and Homeboy Electronics Recycling.

Boyle told lots of stories, both humorous and inspiring, about individual homies, how and why they became gang members – lives scarred by physical, mental and emotional abuse, and abandonment. He explained, "No kid is seeking something; they are fleeing. Gangs are places people go, the despondent kid, the traumatized kid, the mentally ill kid. Misery loves company."

Despite his own bout with leukemia, Boyle said he could not have survived one day of the childhoods his homies have lived through.

After FOFL president Tom Mintun told him he is on his way to sainthood, Boyle told him to "lower your expectations". Boyle then told a story about a homie who had met a nun while in prison and learned about sainthood. The homie said, "G, if I was Pope, I would canonize you straight away, with the biggest cannon I could find!"

Boyle is asked to give talks frequently and all over the country so many people have heard his stories more than once, especially if they have read "Barking to the Choir" and his first book, "Tattoos on the Heart". While he repeats many of those stories, he told one that was almost new.

Carrie Jeney, left, has her copy of "Barking to the Choir" signed by author Gregory Boyle at Fallbrook Library.

His 92-year-old mother died three months ago. While she was in the hospital, two or three of her eight children were usually in her room; occasionally she would open her eyes and focus on one of them, saying "you're here!" Boyle said, "God's single agenda item is to look at us with delight – 'you're here!'"

He then told the story of Gary, a 30-year-old married man, a meth addict, who has spent half his life in prison. His parents were drug addicts so he and his twin brother were sent to live with their grandmother, "the meanest person I've ever met," Gary told him. She would duct tape their mouths telling them, "I can't stand the sound of your voices." He has three daughters now and said "That's why I never shush them; I love the sound of their voices."

Boyle said, "A measure of our compassion is not in service but in our acceptance of our own wounds, so we do not despise the wounded. A healed homie will not go back to prison. If we go to the margins, we all find rescue." He concluded with, "Go to the margins, not to make a difference, but so they can make you different."

 

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