Tuesday, March 26, 2013

LA, Justice: The Power of Second Chances

LA, Justice: The Power of Second Chances

Many times when someone makes a mistake, we as a society are quick to
disown or to disregard these people after the first mistake. Throughout this first half
of the LA Immersion trip, I have had the privilege to listen to people’s stories about
their fallings and their how they were able to rise up and overcome their past.

The first such story I listened to occurred on Sunday during a tour of the Pico
Gardens housing projects, which are low-income housing units in Boyle Heights. The
man saw our group approaching and shared his past with us. Fr. Greg Boyle of
Homeboy Industries picked him up off the streets and gave him a job at Homeboy.
This job helped him put his life back in order and he eventually had a young son.
That son, he explained, became his reason for living. After he told his story, his
young son ran up and his father picked him up, sharing a tender father-son moment
with our group. At this moment, I was touched because I could see the genuine
dedication this man had to his son and the love his son had for his dad. Especially
considering the past the man had, this represented a moment of triumph and pure,
unbridled joy for him.

The following day, our group had the chance to tour Homeboy Industries.
Our tour guide, Josh, told us about what exactly Homeboy Industries does and
shared with us his history and how he ended up working at Homeboy. Josh lived a
seemingly normal family life until he was 12. He was kicked out of the house upon
his mother getting involved with an abusive boyfriend and later joined a street gang.
At 16, he was witness to a homicide between two gang members and was arrested
and questioned by police. Because he wouldn’t give the identity of the shooter, he
was locked up in jail until he revealed the shooter’s identity. Revealing the shooter’s
identity, according to Josh, would have put his family in danger because in gang
culture, if someone who is arrested “snitches” upon other gangs, the other gangs will
go after the “snitch’s” family. After many failed parole attempts, his mother got in
touch with Fr. Greg, who proceeded to fight for Josh in parole court. Demoralized
after constant failures to receive parole, Josh was overcome with emotion upon
hearing he earned parole with help from Fr. Greg and Homeboy Industries. Upon
being released from prison after 29 years, he was overcome with similar emotion.
Shortly after, Fr. Greg gave him a job at Homeboy and has been working there for
the past 4 years, working his way up from within. The second chance Homeboy has
provided has given Josh a new perspective on life. He said that, “His worst day at
work is also his best”. This spoke volumes with me because through his struggles, he
learned to recognize the value of the “little things” in life. Homeboy was a huge
blessing for him, best indicated by what he told us at the end of the tour. His dream
was that in approximately 4-5 years, he could start his own division of Homeboy
Industries that would give others the opportunity for redemption that he took
advantage of for himself.

That brings me to the overarching theme of these two stories: the power of
second chances. Both the man we encountered on Sunday and Josh had a checkered
past that, without Fr. Greg’s help, would have kept them in a cycle of despair.

Because of the second chances they were afforded, each gathered the strength to
overcome their past, their fears, and to rebuild their lives into something they could
be proud of. The man lives for his son; Josh lives for sharing his stories with others
and seeing other former gang members rebuild their lives.

Society, as a whole, is reluctant to give these people second chances. They
will see them make a mistake and live in fear of seeing them fail to change. This fear
is often reflected in society’s general attitudes towards those in jail. It prefers to lock
them up, afraid that they will come back unreformed, and hurt others. Not 100%
of released criminals will change. That’s a fact of life. But should society let those
select few blind them to the fact that those who are in prison have the potential for
change? Is it just to give those who make a mistake “x” number of chances before
they are disregarded from society forever? As a society, it would be productive to
ask ourselves and reflect upon these questions.

As the man with his son and Josh showed, they can change. They can rebuild their
lives. When we see the results of their efforts and the efforts of people who give
them second chances, like Fr. Greg, it transcends itself into something beautiful
and touching. They’ve unlocked the power of human potential. Despite their past,
they’ve tapped into that potential more effectively than most people ever have.
Bearing witness to that unlocked potential was an amazing privilege. Sometimes all
it takes is a second chance for those with a dark past to rise up and take control of
their lives. That second chance can truly be a powerful thing.

~Joe Sarmiento

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