Father Gregory Boyle

“Nothing stops a bullet like a job” – Father Greg Boyle


“God would seem to be too occupied in being unable to take Her eyes off of us to spend any time raising an eyebrow in disapproval.”
– Father Greg Boyle Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion

Gregory Boyle grew up in Los Angeles in a family of eight children and two hard working parents, who taught him the strength of a family bond, and provided him with the skills necessary to work with others in all settings. Upon graduation from high school in 1972, Greg Boyle entered the Society of Jesuits and in 1984 he was ordained a priest. His first job as a Jesuit priest began in 1986 when he was appointed as Pastor of Dolores Mission in the Boyle Heights (no relation) neighborhood of Los Angeles. While acting as the Pastor for the Dolores Mission, Father Greg Boyle created a program known as “Jobs for a Future” (JFF). This program was an effort to deal with the escalating problem of youth gang-involvement, and it provided alternative activities to keep kids off the streets including an elementary school, day care program, as well as assisting people with their job search. He served at Dolores Mission until 1992, and in 1993 he took a year off to serve as Chaplin of the Folsom Prison in California, a high security prison that is a home to numerous gang members from the local area. The direct involvement with incarcerated gang members combined with his return to Dolores Mission sparked Fr. Boyle to launch his first business, Homeboy Bakery. The goal of Homeboy Bakery is to create an environment for rival gang members to work together and separate themselves from their previous gang affiliation, while getting real work experience and training. The success of Homeboy Bakery caused Fr. Boyle to expand JFF to a much larger non-profit organization Homeboys Industries in 2001. Currently Homeboy Industries includes Homeboy Bakery, Homeboy Silkscreen, Homeboy Maintenance, Homeboy/Girl Merchandise, and Homegirl Café. Fr. Greg Boyle did not stop after creating a successful Homeboy Industries, he is an expert on gang intervention and he spreads his knowledge as a public speaker at universities, conferences for teachers, social and criminal justice workers, and he has even been a featured speaker at the 2005 White House Conference on Youth per request of Laura Bush. Fr. Greg is also a member of the National Youth Gang Center Advisory Board, the Notional Leadership Council of the Iris Alliance Fund, and he was previously a member of the State Commission on the Juvenile Justice, Crime, and Delinquency Prevention. When asked how long he will continue working to diminish gang involvement, Fr. Boyle responded: “I don’t expect to be doing this forever, but I love it and it gives me life.”

Challenge Discussion:

“Greg Boyle is doing what our $8 billion corrections system fails to do, which is rehabilitate people so they don’t go back to crimes.”
- Connie Rice, Civil Rights Attorney and gang prevention expert
For the first 21 years of operation, Homeboys Industries successfully employed ex gang members and offered them a new start to their lives. This involved providing them with work so they can earn an income for the first time in their lives as well as rehabilitating them so they know how to live a life outside of a gang. Father Boyle does not force people to join his program, he simply informs them of the option and waits until they areready to make the transformation on their own. This guarantees that everyone in the program is devoted to making a change. In 2010, Homeboy Industries suffered a financial crisis leaving them with a $5 million deficit. The Homeboys motto changed from “nothing stops a bullet like a job” to “nothing stops 300 jobs like a $5 million deficit” (Barco). Fr. Boyle regretfully had to tell the members working for Homeboy Industries that he had to lay them off because he simply could not afford
to pay their salaries. Fr. Boyle knows that the business strategy employed by Homeboy Industries is unique to Los Angeles California, and there are no other organizations like it around the country. His only hope is that onlookers move past the financial crisis and see the success of the industry as a gang rehabilitation clinic. When Fr. Boyle announced to his employees that he would have to lay them off, many of them stayed with the company as volunteers because they liked the structure and direction their lives were heading in and did not want to revert back to their old ways. This provided Fr. Boyle with motivation to look forward and keep the business alive by seeking donations and grants. He saw all his workers who had previously been members of violent gangs spending time in and out of prison transform to people willing to work for no pay because they know there is a chance of a better life at the end of the road, and for the first time in their lives they are proud of themselves:

“I couldn’t get from my car to here without people hugging me and saying we’re staying, we’re not going anywhere, you don’t
have to pay us. But they can’t do this forever… We’re probably in denial a little bit, but we’re hoping… the fat lady hasn’t sung
- Father Greg Boyle

Many people have criticized Homeboy Industries for helping out criminals, but law enforcers and city leaders have praised the industry as a successful rehabilitation program. A former member of the Crips gang said “the gift that Father G has given us is that he sees the best in all of us. He loves you. He tells you he loves you. He tells you he’s proud of you.” The reason Fr. Boyle is able to connect with gang members so easily is because he shows them what love is; for many gang members this emotion is foreign to them. This love and compassion is enough to keep Homeboy Industries afloat during a financial crisis, and it motivated Farther Boyle to look for new methods of gaining funding for his program. Some of these methods include guest speaking appearances, reaching out to people via social media, and publishing books depicting the efforts he has been to in order to reach his goal of providing a path for gang members to re enter society. Since 2010 Homeboy Industries is back on its feet and due to an increase in funding the program is stable and looking to increase in the future, providing a place for more workers while stealing members away from local gangs.

Virtue Discussion:

Loving Kindness: Fr. Boyle spends every day of his life dealing with people who have been brushed off by the rest of society because he knows if they come to him then they are ready for a transformation. He employs an open door policy because he believes that any person who makes the choice to walk into his office is seeking a better life and he wants to do all he can to provide it for them regardless of their past. Fr. Boyle is able to do this because be holds the belief that all people are inherently good, and should not be held back because of a choice they made as a child with their back against the wall.

Choice-Worthy Good:

“Opportunities for second chances are few for people like Lorenzo. Homeboy Industries is about the only game in town. Most employers aren’t willing to look beyond the dumbest or worst thing someone has done.”
- Father Greg Boyle Former Gang Members: A Life Sentence of Joblessness

Will, an employee of Homeboy Industries is one of the many examples of Father Boyle’s expression of a choice-worthy good. He was born into a dysfunctional family in Los Angeles and had joined a gang by the time he turned eleven. He did not even make it a full year in the gang before he was incarcerated and continued to go in and out of California juvenile and state prisons until the age of twenty-five. When Will went into prison for the last time he was leaving behind a wife and newborn child, he made the vow not to be like his father and to help raise his family. When Will was contemplating ideas of how to turn his life around, he kept coming back to one guy who had been with him throughout his time in lock up, Fr. Boyle. Fr. Boyle would lead mass at Camp Gonzales, a prison that held many gang members in the Los Angeles area. At the end of every mass Fr. Boyle would stand in the back of the room and pass out his business card to each person as they left the room saying to each one: “come see me when you’re ready.”

Will received his first card when he was twelve years old, and another one when he was twenty-one, and another at twenty-three and twenty-four. It was not until he turned twenty-five that he decided to turn his life around. Now Will can support his wife and child by working for Homeboy Industries, and even though he is still living paycheck to paycheck he has the pride of knowing he is working for that money and providing a better life for his family than his father provided him.

Will’s story is not much different from all of the other employees at Homeboy Industries, and if it were not for the perseverance of Fr. Boyle Will (and others) might not have decided to make the transformation. Fr. Boyle knows the reasons for youth gang involvement, and because of that he knows to wait until people are ready to seek him for help instead of forcing the change upon people.

Thanksgiving Day 2012 at Homeboy Industries.jpg

Cultural Ill:

“Homeboy Industries has chosen to stand with the "demonized" so that the demonizing will stop; it stands with the "disposable" so that the day will come when we stop throwing people away.”
– Father Greg Boyle

Greg Boyle was the Pastor for Dolores Mission, the poorest parish in the city of Los Angeles, located in the largest grouping of public housing to the West of the Mississippi. In 1988, this neighborhood had the highest concentration of gang activity in the United Sates. Fr. Boyle founded Homeboy Industries after he buried his first young person killed in his own streets as a result of gang violence, an identical twin named Raphael. At the funeral, Fr. Boyle watched as Roberto looked down into the coffin at his twin and saw his mirror image looking back upat him. This was Fr. Boyle’s introduction to the loss and grief that travel in the wake of gangs. He believes that “gangs are born of a lethal absence of hope and hope has an address: 130 W. Bruno St. in Los Angeles, CA. 90012.” That is the address of Fr. Boyle’s office, in which he employs an open door policy for anyone “who is ready”. The success of Homeboy Industries is a direct result of overcoming the cultural myth that the rehabilitation of gang members is a waste of time. Through his work, Fr. Boyle has discovered that most gang members are eager to leave their gangs, and they only joined them in the first place because they did not have any other options or knowledge of a better life.

Homeboy Industries offers free tattoo removal services, an alternative school for high school dropouts, counseling for; anger management, substance abuse, mental health, and domestic violence, classes to help with parenting and spiritual development, and legal services. Of these services, tattoo removal is the most successful. Homeboy Industries faced financial problems in 2010 and had to lay off close to 300 workers. At this time Father Boyle filed for unemployment, but he did not stop his dream of creating a successful rehabilitation industry. Currently Homeboys Industries employs around 250 high-risk individuals, but over ten thousand people use many of the free services offered by Homeboy Industries each year. Father Boyle actively works to put an end to the gang problem in Las Angeles, by providing people with a place to go when their backs are against the wall.


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