Wednesday, May 11, 2011

homeboy industries

LATimes | Lorenzo had a hard time concealing his nervousness. Standing in front of a large room packed with Boeing employees in late March, the tall, lanky African American gang member described the arc of his life. At 22, he had spent nearly a third of his life incarcerated.

Peering out of his round, black-rimmed glasses, he talked about his seven months at Homeboy Industries (the largest gang reentry program in the country), and about how he had moved quickly from the janitorial team to become an assistant in the accounting department. "I used to steal money," he said. "Now I'm counting it."

I had the honor of witnessing Lorenzo's seven-month journey from convict to accounting assistant, watching as he became the young man God had in mind when he made him. But despite his remarkable turnaround and the many things he had to offer an employer, Lorenzo's prospects for finding a job outside our program were dim.

Opportunities for second chances are few for people like Lorenzo. Homeboy Industries is about the only game in town. Most employers just aren't willing to look beyond the dumbest or worst thing someone has done.

Another "homie" recently came to me for help after, for the third time, he was let go from a job because his employer had discovered he'd done five years in prison. He told me the boss said, "You're one of our best workers, but we have to let you go." Then, with a desperate sadness, the young man added: "Damn, G. No one told me I'd be getting a life sentence of no work."

The business of second chances is everybody's business. We lose our right to be surprised that California has the highest recidivism rate in the country if we refuse to hire folks who have taken responsibility for their crimes and have done their time.

Even in this alarming economic climate, where the pool of prospective employees is larger than ever, we need to find the moral imperative as a society to secure places in our workforce for those who just need a chance to prove themselves. This can't be the concern only of a large gang rehab center; it must also be part of our collective response to keep our streets safe and our communities healthy.

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