Homeboy Industries is a non-profit institution founded by Jesuit Priest Gregory Boyle. For over a decade Homeboy has been carrying out a program to support at-risk youth and gang members. Those individuals looking for a change of life find in Homeboy a model for social reintegration. Homeboy has become a rehabilitation centre for former gang members who are willing to carry out this difficult change. As Father Boyle states, “Homeboy Industries is not for those who need help, but only for those who want it.”
Fabian Debora is a renowned artist whose paintings are exhibited in various art galleries nationally. He currently serves as a therapist at Homeboy Industries. He describes, “At Homeboy, we have created a place where people can dream again; a place where they can reach those goals, which were truncated in some moments of their lives because of the social problems that affect our communities – drugs, violence and gangs. Then, once they enter our program, they start a new path to a destination free of negative influences from their past experience. They again begin to believe in themselves; to imagine that there is a better world and the most valuable of all is when they realise there is a better world. Their personal relationships begin to improve, becoming positive examples, especially for children. That is how we break the cycle and achieve changes within our communities.”
￼Fabián grew up in East LA, one of the oldest and poorest suburbs in the city, considered to be the most dangerous and extremely violent gang area in LA. From the time he was very young he was a dreamer, full of endless fantasies, with a strong sense that things could be accomplished. Slowly, his dreams began to dissipate. Domestic violence, drugs, poverty and the pressure of joining gangs affected his confidence and self-esteem. Everything began to transform gradually, causing conflicts, mistrust and resentment, subconsciously overtaking his emotions and behaviours. All of those experiences undoubtedly determined the way he felt; apprehension, dislikes, feelings of worthlessness, violence, and the impossibility of accomplishing a positive life.
“I was raised in East LA, in one of Los Angeles oldest and poorest neighbourhoods. There are lots of good things about my neighbourhood: great food, big families, and significant religious influence. But East LA is also home to a many of LA’s most violent street gangs. My parents came to America from Mexico with high hopes for a better life. The only place where they could afford to live was Aliso Village, a public housing project with LA’s highest gang-related murder rate. My dad started working in construction. Soon he was tempted to make more money selling drugs. He became a dealer, then an addict. He took out his anger on my mom, my siblings, and me. Our house became a place of fear.”
Living with fear, abandonment, humiliation, rejection, injustice and violence are hard experiences the vast majority of young people who join gangs have in common. With the passing of the years, they sink into a state of marginalisation and social exclusion; their social, emotional, and intellectual development is affected, creating very complex emotional wounds that, if not treated in time, shape their lives negatively and fill them with defeats and failures.
Many young people find shelter, identity, protection and easy money (through robberies, distribution and sale of drugs) when they join gangs. The violence and the criminal acts are essential parts of their daily life. Trade and use of drugs, theft of cars, burglaries, arm robberies, and other breaches of the law are part of the daily activities of all gang members.
Making the deliberate choice to leave the gang life is not an easy task. However, there are a large number of young people who decide to stay away from gang culture and choose to be rehabilitated. The creation and implementation of preventive programs that respond coherently to the needs of the population at risk, is of high priority to the community. One of the programs of inclusion that has had a great impact on society is Homeboy Industries; focused on community psychology, particularly channelled to the psycho-social aspect of the social group in question offers help and guidance, to achieve self-control and change behavioural patterns. Homeboy Industries has made a great impact in Los Angeles offering a clear and solid alternative life for those who want to leave gangs.
Fabián explains, “I changed my way of living. It was not easy, despite the violence of the gangs. For many young people it is like a family, especially for those who have no choice. For the vast majority of us for whom the father figure is absent. Many fathers leave their homes because they were sentenced to prison or because they were murdered, others simply leave their wives and children. All this pushes us to seek another type of family and that’s what the gangs offer us. They make us feel that we are part of something of a family. After a while you realize that it is the same, that there is nothing different from the reality in which you grew up – violence and even death.”
“When I left the gang, I felt alone, [an] orphan. Homeboy Industries replaces that need, making us feel that all of us are important people, who are part of a whole, that welcomes us and needs us, providing us with peace, acceptance [and] listening to you without judging. You have a place where to turn when you face problems. Homeboy Industries is a family, a community that accepts you, as you are where you can be yourself, without judging your past and mistakes; you are loved until you learn to love yourself. You slowly see the metamorphosis, which is amazing to observe. Many of us are not accustomed to be given chances. Here, we believe in a second chance, a third or fourth chance.”
“It must be understood that this metamorphosis does not occur from one day to the other and can take three years or five but, the important thing is when they enter Homeboy they discover that there is a different world, they learn to be projected into the future, leaving behind that [sic] traumatic past. Having left the gang meant a radical change in my life. The possibilities that my children succeed in life are greater, why? I am offering them a positive sense of life, without drugs, without violence. There is no gang culture in my home. Now there is only hope, nurturing, and love. This way, I can offer my children, a healthier future full of great opportunities.”
Ricardo is a cinematographer, videographer, and photographer with over 30 years experience; specialised in documentaries, films and commercials. Ricardo is the Editor-in-Chief of FLINT Media Americas.