Monday, April 6, 2015

Peacemaking for Homeboys


Hal Pepinsky,, “peacemaking” at

April 6, 2015


                The latest broadcast of “On Being” ( is Krista Tippett’s interview with Jesuit priest Greg Boyle, who describes Homeboy Industries, and the former gang members, many out of prison, employed in Homeboy Industries in Los Angeles.  The interview begins with Krista Tippett asking Father Greg to describe his early efforts to forge treaties among gangs in the area, which Boyle frames as his failed attempt at "peacemaking,” as treaties were routinely broken.  Beginning with a bakery, the non-profit bakery has become an incubator for enterprises catering especially to gang members leaving prison.

                I am reminded of Edwin’s Café ( outside Cleveland, created by a chef who is an ex-prisoner, which trains people out of prison in culinary arts, restaurant management and now in sustainable agriculture; reminded of the fact food services have been an avenue from prison to the free world, and so have food and other micro-services, notably in restaurants and bakeries, across the country.  With all the occupational barriers to employment for those who have been incarcerated, it is ironic that the avenue open widest for ex-prisoners is to pay them for the food they create, customers trusting that what they sustain themselves with is safe and healthful.

                I am reminded, too, of a utopian vision I wrote in Paul Jesilow’s and my Myths That Cause Crime 30 years ago ( , p. 190):


   Prison industries could be democratic, worker-owned enterprises including, as board members, other groups such as guards and crime victims. Worker-owner prisoners could leave prison belonging to the same enterprises extending into the free world. For instance, make a product in prison, and worker-owner prisoners could market the product upon release. Prisoners could own and be responsible for the major sources of their livelihoods inside and then outside prisons. They could share profi ts and business decisions with their guards and their victims in the process. As I see it, if and when such co-operation happens, there is no question whether it will work. The political challenge is whether powers that be dare try.


                That would be utopian.  Father Greg and others have created communities of employment and care that make peace with ex-prisoners and gang members real.  I’m sending this post to Fr. Greg and to Krista Tippett to suggest that Fr. Greg has not turned away from peacemaking.  He has turned from trying to make peace among gang members by getting them to stop violence in a way that created failure, by attracting them instead to a place of loving, mutual acceptance and respect.  He has turned from imposing a regime to creating what Lloyd Ohlin called a legitimate opportunity structure.  To my mind, peacemaking embraces the possibility of creating safe community—even as one trusted friend to another—as an alternative for victims of violent circumstances to find security.  To continue stuck on a path to making peace treaties enforceable was generating its own disorder.  To be responsive enough to failure on one path toward peace to respond in another direction is peacemaking itself—in the case of Homeboy Industries, peacemaking that works.  Father Greg, I’d say you have let the spirit of peacemaking lift you out of determination to impose peace.  Hearing you is a treat.  Love and peace, hal

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