By David Liebler.
“Welcome back to the good journey.” — Father Greg Boyle
Father G — as he is affectionately known — is the Founder and Executive Director of Homeboy Industries, one of the nation’s largest and most successful gang prevention and re-entry programs in the United States. He touched the hearts and minds of hundreds of county officials a few months ago when he spoke at our CSAC Annual Meeting in Orange County. But he has been touching the hearts and minds of thousands of troubled individuals for the past 25 years.
Los Angeles County Supervisor Don Knabe calls Father G his hero. And after seeing the positive impact Homeboy Industries has on so many people — people who would otherwise have little future except for one behind bars — we understand Supervisor Knabe’s sentiments.
I had the privilege of tagging along with CSAC President Vito Chiesa and Executive Director Matt Cate Tuesday for a tour of Homeboy Industries in Los Angeles County. Prevention and re-entry programs are of particular importance to CSAC leadership and it was with great enthusiasm that the pair showed their commitment to a packed house of “homeboys” and “homegirls.”
Our tour was conducted by Russell McNeil, who came across Homeboy Industries by accident (or fate) a few years ago. Russell, 33, had spent 12.5 years of his adult life behind bars. After a chance 20-minute meeting with Father G, Russell knew his life was going to change.
“Everyone who walks through these doors, they never leave the same,” he explained.
Russell talks about the words that described his life before he found Homeboy Industries: manipulation, disrespect, false promises, lost, last chance; the list goes on and on. During our tour, we heard a number of other words instead: courage, respect, commitment, healing, listening, re-examining priorities. We heard how a number of homeboys and homegirls are now taking community college courses; others are diving into acting classes, and still others are learning new trades — more importantly, all are learning a new way of living.
“This place is just a blessing,” Russell said. “Without Homeboy Industries, I would be nothing.”
Thousands of others echo those words. Their enthusiasm at being given a chance for a new life is evident the moment you walk through the door of Homeboy Industries. The encouragement, smiles and warm greetings reverberate off the polished cement floors. The place is literally buzzing with positive energy.
“It’s all right to change,” Russell said with a smile. “I now know I’m a good person.”