Once a gangster, always a gangster seems to apply to many young offenders: Two thirds of them will be rearrested – and up to a third reincarcerated shortly after release. But this is not a rule set in stone.

In 1988, Father Greg – then pastor at the Dolores Mission Church in Los Angeles – started the “Jobs for a Future” initiative that became Homeboy Industries in 2001.

Group shot, on the right Father Greg
Group shot, on the right Father Greg

Based in downtown LA, Homeboy Industries aims to make the city a better place. Here, where crime rates skyrocketed in previous years, Homeboy provides jobs and education to former prisoners as an alternative to gangs and senseless violence. Fast-forward a few years and the project has evolved into the country’s largest and most successful gang intervention, rehabilitation, and re-entry program.

Homegirl Garden

Homeboy helps high-risk former gang members to get back on track with anything from tattoo removal and resume writing or employment training to health care, therapy sessions, and legal services. It gives young men and women, born or drawn into the wrong environment, the chance for a fresh start. Here, they swap fights, guns, and crime for tasty pastry (Homeboy runs one of the city’s finest bakeries), cool style, and plenty of hope. And what might sound like a utopian pipedream has become reality for many homies.

To date, Homeboy Industries has helped more than 120,000 gang members to exit the vicious circle of violence, addiction, and incarceration. Their approach focuses on changing the way we deal with young offenders – from suppression to treatment and education. It does not make sense to fight violence with violence, kindling more aggression and hate, since many of the kids involved simply had no alternatives and already experienced more than their fair share of pain. Criminal behavior is often the result of trauma and can only be cured with meaningful occupation and insights that promote renewed confidence and a sense of self-worth.

Exterior of the Homeboy Industries Headquarters
Exterior of the Homeboy Industries Headquarters

With more and more initiatives focusing on introducing Homeboy to prisons, Father Greg views this as a future step in the right direction – and one that might even remove the need for detention centers in the future.

Today, the downtown area is once again safe to walk thanks to Homeboy. But if you think owning a loft here is the coolest thing ever, think again. There is nothing cooler than positive change – and that is what Homeboy is all about. So dig out those old shirts and be a proud Homeboy!

Robert and Father Greg
Robert and Father Greg

To find out more check out Homeboy Industries’ website, facebook page and twitter stream.

Text: Katharina Kowalewski
All the photos, incl. the header image: Homeboy Industries