Homeboy Industry Lends a Helping Hand
The nonprofit organization, Homeboy Industries, aids the previously incarcerated as well as at-risk youth, and hosted a book signing at their Homegirl Cafe this last Saturday for "Jesus, the Risen Prisoner," by Jesuit priest Michael Kennedy. Kennedy read excerpts from his book, though actor Martin Sheen was scheduled to. Sheen called in sick. However, Kennedy was more focused on showing his book, a compilation of meditations and prayers, as a way to heal. "This book is like a tool, it is to be used," he emphasized. He also took time to celebrate the accomplishments of Homeboy Industries and the opportunities they have provided for those people most often overlooked, those affected by incarceration and gang violence.
Homeboy Industries, in existence since 1988, aids those affected by incarceration and gang life by providing jobs, free education (ranging from computer skills and job readiness to G.E.D. preparation and parenting), free consultation by an attorney, mental health counseling, tattoo removal, and more. All of these services are provided free by doctors, teachers, and other generous people who donate their time.
The Homegirl Cafe is an example of one of the businesses employing the "most difficult to place individuals," as stated on homeboy-industries.org. It is staffed by 25 of these young women, who were brought out before the book signing audience this Saturday and applauded for their hard work and delicious food surrounding the Cafe. The Cafe, located at 130 W. Bruno St. in Los Angeles (near Alameda), is open Monday through Saturday 7 a.m.-5 p.m. and has been reviewed by Oprah Magazine and the L.A. Times who complimented their food for its Latino flavors with a contemporary twist (Homeboy Industries). Father Gregory Boyle, who founded "Jobs for a Future," the basis for Homeboy Industries, spoke first at the book signing to introduce Father Kennedy. Kennedy laughed and said he was actually depressed to see the book in a sense, because, as he explained, when you spend two years writing and sharing ideas with people, it feels inadequate to just see a book as the result.
He then brought on stage six parents of those who have been incarcerated. They all briefly introduced themselves and their son or daughter whom are currently in prison, and the last woman spoke quietly of her son who very recently received his sentence. "Angel was found guilty a week ago, for 130 years," she said.
Then one of the mother's read from her piece in Kennedy's book, titled "Rachel's Testimony--A Mother's Anguish." The other two mothers standing with Kennedy on the stage broke into tears and and continued to cry throughout Rachel's painful reflections. She describes how her life has changed since her son has been sent to prison.
"I am forever sad. I am sad because there is a piece of my heart that is missing, a beat that is skipping. There is an empty seat at my table, an empty bedroom in my house... There is a pain and desperation that doesn't seem to leave." All of the parents who Kennedy brought out seemed to understand her sadness, as pain was clearly expressed on each of their faces.
After a few more testimonies, Kennedy also discussed the issue of young kids being tried as adults. Kennedy, who is constantly working with these at-risk or already incarcerated youth, states that 55 to life is the common prison sentence now. He added that our country is the only one which can't tell a kid from an adult. Also, many kids are being locked up for "gang enhancement," he reported, which is a law in California widely being held accountable for massive imprisonment.
As far as the benefits of punishment and doing time, he told the story of a woman who lost both of her sons through gang violence; one died, one was imprisoned.
She looked the man who killed her son in the eyes and told him that she didn't wish him to be imprisoned, and said, "no one in this courtroom wins today." She didn't feel any better knowing he had been locked up, and maybe that in itself, Kennedy suggested, can have us reconsider our prison system.
After the book reading ended, audience members moved around the cafe to talk to each other. Many were members of Kennedy's Dolores Mission. One member, Dino Baragas, said, "I feel for the parents of the victims, and the families of the prisoners, but.." and he hesitated, "If you do the crime...[then you do the time]."
Standing by his side, also a member of the Dolores Mission, Patricia Tavera, disagreed and said, "Nobody wins with incarceration." She looked at Baragas with disapproval.
He then made it clear that he meant that only within a system that is just, and Tavera pointed out that sometimes our system is not. When discussing what then should happen, they agreed that situations aren't simply white or black. But Tavera commented; "overcrowded prisons - is that a solution? I think not."