Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Nothing Stops a Bullet Like a Job

Great story in the Christian Science Monitor on a gang-prevention program in Los Angeles called Homeboy Industries and run by a priest who gets it better than endless conferences and workshops by crim just professionals [sic] ever will.

To Father Boyle, the idea was that controlling gangs needed to be about much more than police enforcement. Gangs are not a crime issue, Boyle says, but rather a social problem – perhaps even a community health issue.

"Twenty years ago what we did for gangs was completely wrongheaded, and sure-footed in its wrongheadedness … everyone wanted to give a blank check to law enforcement to ask them to solve the problem," says Boyle. He points to a recent Los Angeles City Council study that found that in the past three decades the city has spent $50 billion to deal with the gang problem and now has six times as many gang members.

Hoping to change the enforcement-only model, Boyle has held to his maxim that "nothing stops a bullet like a job." Begun as a community program based out of a small parish for eight local gangs, Homeboy has expanded to include more than 600 gangs across Los Angeles County.
All the while, Boyle's organization has focused on encouraging young people to turn their lives around, by giving them education, financial responsibility, and a sense of self-worth.

"The truth is that it's never been a crime issue … [with] just law enforcement behind the wheel. Now we have all these other stakeholders: clergy, teachers, parents, social workers, mental-health professionals; that's healthy."

At the christening of the new facility last week, which includes legal services and mental-health counseling, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa noted the organization's role in providing a fresh start, saying "these kids are getting a second chance at opportunity to develop a skill and alternative to life of crime and gangs."

Boyle and his former "gangbangers" like to tweak that comment: Homeboy Industries often gives many their first chance, they say.

"I was sick and tired of going back and forth to jail and wanted to make it in the world in the right way for the first time," says Dennis Payne. Five months ago he was making $500 to $600 a day selling drugs near the Nickerson Gardens housing project, "not including what I paid for my own drugs and clothes and car," he says. Now he makes less than $8 an hour as a clerical assistant to Homeboys' chief financial officer, but says he has a better self-image.

"I promised my mother I would do right and came in here, and Father Boyle hired me on the spot," Mr. Payne says.

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