Jobs, Not Jails: LA Gang Intervention using Jalapeño Cheddar Loaves

Jobs, Not Jails: LA Gang Intervention using Jalapeño Cheddar Loaves

"What if we were to invest in gang members, rather than just seek to incarcerate our way out of this problem?" - Father Greg Boyle, Tattoos on the Heart


On a sweltering July day in the summer of 2016, gazebos lined South Pasadena's weekly farmer's market, held every Thursday near the Metro train stop. In simple block letters read Homeboy Bakery, and under it, an overwhelming amount of spiced loaves, large chocolate chip cookies, and buttery carb-y pastries. Behind the counter was a man- bald, tattooed, and intimidating. As I picked up a jalapeño-cheddar loaf, I mentioned to him that I was a huge fan of the bakery, its mission, and its people. He was delighted by my mention of meeting his company's founder and my adoration of the company itself. When it was due for me to go, I didn't have cash to purchase my loaf of bread. I was about to return the loaf onto the dark blue table, but the man placed his trust in me. He allowed me to take what I wanted, with the promise that I would return the next week to pay him back. Trusting a stranger. Feeling compassion. Showing love.

Homeboy Bakery is nestled in Los Angeles' Chinatown, adjacent to their sister, Homegirl Cafe. Both eateries are from Homeboy Industries, a gang intervention program focused on pushing the "restart" button on the social lives of marginalized gang members.

The program offers gang members, even those who are from enemy gangs, employment through their many job opportunities that range from silk screening, solar panel installation, and, of course, bakeries and restaurants. Additionally, the company provides educational services, such as GRE prep, mental health services for domestic abuse and substance abuse, tattoo removal, and legal counseling. The program seeks to decrease incarceration and death within gang communities by emulating their slogan "Jobs, Not Jails."

In the wake of DuVernay's documentary, 13th, American society is gaining awareness of incarceration in this country. The overpopulation, unfair circumstance and intentional abuse and mistreatment faced by inmates scream "injustice." Additionally, socio-political conversations on immigration, particularly the mistreatment of young children at the US-Mexico border, has highlighted a perception of the "other" rather than the "human." As a society, we have responded with a lack of compassion and marginalization for people we deem different.

Father Greg Boyle, the founder of Homeboy Industries, writes in his novel Tattoos on the Heart about the boundless love and compassion he has felt towards gang members and how this love has transformed their lives and their relationship with others. The novel and program come from a very loving place as Boyle, a white priest, emulates patience and compassion towards gang members, mostly Latino or Black, who have been surrounded by death and criminalization. It's a touching novel that explores the marginalization gang members feel, regardless of their imprisonment history, because we as a society have pushed them and their broken narratives into a corner. People shudder at the thought of places with "high gang activity," but fail to recognize that gang life is a response to society's lack of compassion towards those in poverty, those living in under-resourced areas, and/or coming from immigrant families. The novel leaves the message that no matter who you are or what you have done, you are capable and deserving of love.

Gang life is complex, and the reasons why people enter and stay in them is complex in and of itself. Multiple socioeconomic factors play a role in these individuals' lives, factors that are mostly out of their control. Homeboy pushes these technicalities aside and sees the human behind the bars who seeks help, compassion, and love. If only we can perceive the world in this way- with love rather than fear or hate. Love takes on many forms, but overall, it seems to be a willingness to open up without judgment or predisposition, with blind trust and faith, and with boundless compassion.

You can support Homeboy at your:

  1. Local Los Angeles Farmer's Market
  2. Local Ralph's that sell Homeboy made chips and salsa (I recommend the pineapple ginger)
  3. The LAX airport now has their own Bakery location
  4. If you're in the LA area, visit Homeboy Bakery or Homegirl Cafe (the chilaquiles? AMAZING.)
  5. Volunteer for educational, legal, and medical services
  6. Learn more at

For me, love was placing the green paper on the man's tired hands for two things: 1) my loaf of jalapeño cheese bread and 2) the blind trust he placed on me to return the next week in that sweltering July heat.

High school me taking selfies with the founder of Homeboy IndustriesAshley Lanuza

*cover photo not affiliated with Homeboy Bakery

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Irish-American History Is Just As Important As Any Other Culture, You Can't Prove Me Wrong

I cherish being Irish and I will not let anyone let me feel bad for that.


Depending on when you're reading this, Saint Patrick's day has either just passed or is around the corner. For me, Saint Patrick's day is tomorrow. I've been debating this article for some time now because I didn't know how it would be perceived. At this point, though, I feel it's important for me to get out. No, Irish people were never kept as slaves in America, and I will never be one to try and say they were. However, Irish people were treated tremendously awful in America. A lot of people tend to forget, or just try to erase entirely, the history of the Irish in America. So much so that I felt shameful for wanting to celebrate my heritage. Therefore, I want to bring to light the history that everyone brushes under the rug.

In 1845, a potato famine broke out across Ireland. This was a big deal because the Irish lived off, mainly, potatoes. They were cheap, easy to grow, and had tons of nutrients. So when the famine struck, many people either died of starvation or fled to America in seek of refuge. When the Irish arrived in America they were seen as a threat to the decency of America. People viewed them as drunk beasts, sinful savages, barbaric, violent, belligerent, stupid, and white apes. When the Irish would go to look for jobs, many times they found signs that read "Irish Need Not Apply," even when the job was hiring. Therefore, the Irish did the jobs no one wanted, and even jobs African slaves wouldn't do. The biggest example of this is when Irishmen built canals and drained swamps. They were sent to do these things because of the enormous amount of mosquitoes; in the swamp, they would get bit and ultimately die of malaria.

Also, during this time, Irish people were poor and therefore lived in the same neighborhoods as the free African Americans. A lot of the Irish people were friendly with their neighbors of color and even got into interracial relationships. Because the Irish lived in these neighborhoods they were seen as dirty and even a lot of people at this time put African Americans higher on the totem pole than Irish. One person during the time even said, "At least the black families keep their homes clean."

The main reason American's outlook on Irish people changed was that most Irishmen took up fighting for the Union in the Civil War. I make this argument, not because I think the Irish suffered more than African slaves. I don't say this in means of trying to erase the struggles of the African slaves. I do not think that any of our ancestors should have been treated the way they were. I mean to say that the Irish did in fact suffer. Irish people were treated wrongly on the basis of...nothing. Simply because my ancestors hailed from the shores of Eire, they were treated with malice. And I write this simply because I want people to remember. I want people to understand what happened.

On Saint Patrick's Day this year, next year, and for the many years to come, I want people to embrace the Irish culture. I want the folks of Irish heritage to not be ashamed of where they come from; to not be ashamed to share their culture the way I have for many years. I want everyone to have a beer, wear some green, eat a potato or two, and dance the Irish step; to celebrate the history of Irish people with a bit more understanding than before.

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Our Leaders Need A 'Time-Out'

We all learned a few essential rules as children.


As I look watch the news, I can't help but wonder if the lessons we learned as children might not serve our leaders well. They seem to have forgotten these basic lessons. I am reminded of the book by Robert Fulghum "All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten."

Watch out, hold hands, and stick together.

I think this could be useful in a couple of different contexts. First, the current divisiveness in the country doesn't serve us well. We are first and foremost, a part of the family of humankind. Differences in politics, religion, and so on come in far behind that one important attribute. What happened to the notion of agreeing to disagree?

Second, when leaders get off a plane in another country, they should remember who they came with and who they represent - "watch out, hold hands, and stick together."

Clean up your own mess.

Trump seems to take great pleasure in blaming everyone else for their "mess." The government shutdown was someone else's fault – any Democrat. When the stock market went up, he happily took credit, but when it went down, he quickly shifted gears and placed the blame on the Federal Reserve Chairman. Daily and hourly tweets out of the White House place blame on someone else for his "mess." Sadly, he still likes to blame Obama and Hillary for his mess.

Don't lie.

Politicians have always had a bad reputation when it comes to honesty. Still, the number of lies that we hear from Trump (and members of his staff) is unprecedented even for a politician.

We all learned these lessons when we were little more than five years old. Now more than any time in history I think our leaders need a " time out" to re-learn these lessons.

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