Employing At Risk… Jobs not Jails

Dwayne Ross Human Service Training and Staff Development for Agencies that serve the community and improve the Human Condition

I sat across from this young man listening to his story. It was pretty intense as he shared the facts of his hard life at age 14. He shared how he had murdered a man in cold blood as an act of revenge to a family member and how he had to be the trigger man because other family members were too old and would get life in prison without parole… but not him, maybe he would get 25 years or even less than that, after all he was a minor… he would get out… he was right. The facts were there staring him in the face and staring right at me. I was listening to “Juan” not his real name, but a real person none the less. He was at a major Workforce development conference with Father Boyle from East L.A. a place, I was all too familiar with as a young man myself, working for Douglas Aircraft Company where we had a training program dedicated to helping, “At-risk men and women” gain employment as Aircraft Production Mechanics.

This was not an orientation, Father Boyle was sharing his “Jobs not Jails” story and the young man presenting was talking about how he had a second chance at life. By being so young he was tried as an adult, sent to prison with hardened criminals and even saw family members inside the wall. The reality for him was he chose to listen to an older gentleman who was given a life sentence. The older man educated “Juan” about how to keep his self from becoming a part of the cell. He was At-risk for many things! He had to serve until 18 yrs old at a juvenile detention center, but on his 18th birthday, he was shipped to one of California’s most notorious criminal workshops… Folsom State Prison. He managed to survive, but now he was out and had to learn how to survive the streets all over again. He was 29 years old now and very far away from the 14 year old who walked into the gates.

His eyes were honest, his breathing was even as he told the story of how Father Boyle took him in and helped him gain a skill he could put to work! I raised my hand and asked, “May I visit the site of your center Father Boyle?” his answer was a resounding yes.  I made the visit later that year and saw an amazing wall mural.

Homeboy Industries Wall Mural

The answer for Juan was in the skills he obtained, and the work he was able to accomplish. Father Boyle believed in Jobs not Jails for anyone who wanted to get out of the gangs and make a new life for him or herself. No pressure, co coaching, no begging!

If you want to change… He made it happen and so can you!

The two of them spoke of other gang members who didn’t make it.. about people like “Chubby” not his real name and how some gang members had died in Father Boyle’s arms running from others after being shot in the streets. If anyone was at risk it was these young men who were looking for a better life, a way out and hand up! Father Boyle started the program back in 1988 that grew into an Industry! Homeboy Industries…

That was then….

I met him in San Jose’ California. He talked about how they started a bakery… did you ever ask the person who made your bread if they had a felony? They started a silk screening company… have you ever asked the company who mailed you the cool “T ” you are wearing , how much time they have done? A few years ago, they even started a “Garden in the back” to make herbs that would later go into their own seasonings and salads for the Cafe’… have you ever called the salad dressing company to ask, “How many gang members, welfare recipients, disabled employees do they have?” Sounds crazy right… so who’s really at risk?

Father Boyle created Work! Yes… I hear you, “but he call it jobs…” but the reality is the people are doing their work. Things they are good at, things they have an affinity towards, things they enjoy and the money comes secondarily. They have meaningful opportunities and that is all a person in the so called “at-risk” people group are asking for. They are saying, “Give me an opportunity to change my life and the lives of my family members and won’t let you down.”

This is Now!

In order to make an impact in the lives of others we must first see them the same as anyone else, people. You can not look at the risk, but at the person as an individual regardless of his or her background. The next thing is you must look into their hearts and help them find their Work. Finally, we must then Carve what they want, Customize what they are able to do or Create what they need.

“Be the Change you want to see in the world.”     Ghandi

By the way they have Homegirl Industries too.

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