Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion

by Gregory Boyle Reviewed by Eileen Quinn Knight, Ph.D.



The author is a Jesuit priest and the founder and executive director of Homeboy Industries. He makes approximately two hundred speaking appearances per year and has received numerous humanitarian awards, among them the California Peace Prize. Homeboy Industries is a gang intervention program located in the BoyleHeights neighborhood of Los Angeles, the gang capital of the world. In the marches he had with parishioners that gave birth to Homeboy Industries in 1988. Armed with fliers reading jobs for a Future, hundreds of women walked to the factories surrounding the housing projects and, with this show of force, handed a flier to the foreman of each factory. It had become clear that what gang members most requested were jobs. Having a job was all they ever talked about. Homeboy waited for the factories to call with employment offers, but this never happened. Still, an organization was born. Jobs for a Future which initially sought gainful employment for the gang members from Pico Aliso. This parish led program soon launched projects that hired huge swaths of gang members: the building of a child-care center, neighborhood clean-up crews, and graffiti removal, landscaping and maintenance crews. Gang members were placed in a variety of businesses and nonprofits, and Jobs for a Future paid their salaries.


By 2007 Homeboy Industries had so burst their seams that they built the current headquarters. Homeboy Bakery, and Homegirl Café near Chinatown in downtown Los Angeles. Our most successful business is Homeboy Silkscreens, ably run all these years by Ruben and Cristina Rodriguez, and they operate four others. Homeboy bakery, Homeboy/Homegirl Merchandising, Homeboy Maintenance and Homegirl Café, where women with records, young ladies from rival gangs, waitresses with attitude, will gladly take your order. Los Angeles County claims 1,100gangs with nearly 86,000 members. A great number of these youth know to come to Homeboy when they are ready to “hang up their gloves.”


Homeboy Industries can only hire and help a finite number of gang members. Though thousands have found assistance, it remains a tiny drop in a pretty deep bucket. In the city of Los Angeles, Homeboy Industries has operated as a symbol as much as a place of concrete help. For more than twenty years, it has asked this city, “ What if we were to invest in gang members, rather than just seek to incarcerate our way out of this problem? “After two decades, the city of Los Angeles has embraced Homeboy Industries as its own and has allowed it to shape how we see this ‘condition “and how we can, in part, respond to it.


Boyle tells us stories of the intricacies of how this operation runs. Many would be classified as success stories and many would not, but living in this complex atmosphere he know how to handle all things that are outside the bounds of what he envisioned. The essays about universal kinship and redemption are moving examples of the power of unconditional love and the importance of fighting despair. In each chapter we benefit from Boyle’s gentle, hard-earned wisdom.