What’s the secret to stemming gang violence in Los Angeles? Get kids off the street and put them to work—but only if they want to. That’s been the mission of Father Greg Boyle, the executive director of Homeboy Industries, a nonprofit that claims to be “the largest gang-intervention program in the country.” Boyle’s organization has several businesses that offer job placement and other services (counseling, tattoo removal, etc.) to former gang members, all with the hopes of building community by having “enemies working together, earning a living.” Jen Kim interviewed Boyle for Psychology Today. Here are some excerpts:
How have you changed the community?
Gang related homicides in L.A. have been cut in half, and then cut again since 1992. Without a doubt Homeboy has been a part of that equation. We stand for an idea: What if we were to invest in people rather than just keep trying to incarcerate our way out of this problem? The first 10 years it was hard because the demonization of gang members was pretty full. But in the last 10 years, people are starting to get it—that this is in fact smart on crime. It’s not enough to just yell at people and say “no” to gangs. You have to offer an exit ramp off this crazy freeway.
Is it hard to convert gang members?
Out program is only for those who want it. We don’t go to them. We don’t recruit. So once they come in here, they have to fully cooperate in their own recovery.
Do any homeboys dislike Homeboy Industries?
Ninety-five percent of all gang members want what these folks have, which is a life. It’s like drug rehab. If you’re still using, you don’t begrudge somebody who’s in recovery. You may say, I’m not ready for that, but you don’t hate on them.
Source: Psychology Today (article not available online)