Homeboy is an excellent program in Los Angeles that reforms criminals and this story from the Catholic Register profiles one success story.
WASHINGTON — From the very beginning of his life, Hector Verdugo had everything going against him — until, following a prison stint, he received the chance he needed from a Catholic priest.
“My earliest memories are just violence,” Verdugo told a gathering of Catholic activists at the Catholic Social Ministry Gathering in Washington, at a Feb. 9 session dedicated to the Church’s vision of “restorative justice.”
The strikes against Verdugo’s life began before he was born. His mother was a heroin addict; his father died from a heroin overdose a week before Verdugo’s birth. Heroin claimed the life of his grandfather, too. “And so my life began,” Verdugo recalled.
In the East Los Angeles projects, Verdugo grew up in a culture where the gang became his family, because they took an interest in him when others wouldn’t. One of his first memories was picking up a gun hidden in the bushes and the cholos, or homeboys, showing him how to hold it.
“We looked up to them,” he said.
The only prospects (and expectations) people had for him in the projects: a life headed toward juvenile hall as a youth and then to prison as an adult. They gave him just the rules to survive there.
“It’s sad that the neighborhood I go to was preparing me for this,” he said. Prison functioned as a massive drug-networking center, so that when a person left, “you’re coming out with better product and better prices.”
But reading a Time magazine article in prison while high on methamphetamine jolted his conscience to the core: A woman high on meth had killed her baby with a microwave oven. Verdugo had justified selling meth — not to his own neighborhood — across the country to people he didn’t care about: “Klan members” in Tennessee and Kentucky. Except, he couldn’t do it anymore.
“I felt like God spoke to me and he said: ‘You’re doing this, and you’re doing this to my children.’”
After prison, Verdugo stopped dealing drugs. But the problem he faced — along with many other ex-prisoners — was that he wanted to change, he just didn’t know how. All he knew was dealing drugs, so he struggled to hold a job and was convinced it was just a matter of time before he would end up in front of a judge and back in prison.
More than 600,000 ex-convicts are released annually, but most do not end up rehabilitated and restored in society after prison. According to the Bureau of Justice statistics, more than half of prisoners released are arrested within one year. Within three years, two-thirds (67.8%) are rearrested; within five years, 76.6% are back in prison.
But Verdugo’s life took a different turn. A friend put him in touch with Homeboy Industries in Los Angeles, run by Father Greg Boyle, where programs including creative writing, poetry, meditation, prayer and therapy helped bring Verdugo healing, purpose and the sense of family he was looking for.
I realized this is what I wanted all my life,” said Verdugo, who serves as Homeboy Industries’ associate executive director.
“God said, ‘You’re in the right place. Be a part of it, and if you don’t like it, be part of the change.’”
According to Homeboy Industries, more than 70% of former gang members and ex-prisoners who have gone through their program are successfully rehabilitated.
Retrieved March 13, 2015 from http://www.ncregister.com/site/article/homeboy-redemption-seeks-to-help-restore-americas-future/