G-DOG is what the homies call the priest.
This is the story of a remarkable odd couple. There's Father Greg Boyle, a white Jesuit priest who's spent some 25 years in the toughest part of East LA, and then there's the tough, street-smart, and amazingly sweet young people – all former gang members – whom G-Dog loves and helps, and who love him in turn. For Father Greg's remedy for what he calls "a global sense of failure" for kids at-risk is radical and simple: boundless, restorative love. His unstoppable compassion has turned around the lives of thousands of Latino, Asian and African American gang members.
G-Dog works by a powerful idea: "Nothing Stops a Bullet like a Job." Over the years his Homeboy Industries in LA has become an international model for rebuilding and redirecting the lives of gang members. Kids come in off the street, rival gang members - 12,000 a year - looking for a way out of gang life. Homeboy, located in a gang-neutral area of downtown LA on the edge of Chinatown, takes them in, providing free job training, tattoo removal, counseling, yoga, fatherhood- and substance abuse classes. If they stick with it, the kids get jobs baking, cooking, serving, printing t-shirts and cleaning in the Homeboy businesses – a café, retail store, catering service, a silk screen shop – to learn the soft and hard skills to move on.
In 18 months the homies are ready to go into the world to make a positive difference. For Homeboy has an astonishing success rate – 70% turn their back on gang life, compared to a recidivism rate of 70% of other such programs. Homeboy is the one place in the 'hood that turns lives around: swapping violence for community and building for the first time a sense of the future. We see it happen in G-DOG.
"Jobs not jail"
The film is often hilarious and astonishing but it is not just a poem of sweetness and light. G-DOG chronicles a tough year in the life of Homeboy Industries. 2010 is a year of tumult, change, and pain. In today's straitened financial times, Homeboy faces a bruising battle with the bottom line: one day, as we watch, the fan is hit, and Father Greg has to shut down parts of Homeboy. It's a crushing blow, and it gets worse. East LA is always East LA; death is still out there, and sure enough it comes home to roost. Two people we've seen early in the movie are dead by the time the credits roll. The question is, Will the homies and Homeboy itself survive?
"Homeboy is a therapeutic community – a place of hope and kinship."
Greg Boyle began with the classically humble ambition of devoting his life to the poor. Instead he became a cultural icon -- America's leading gang expert, author of a whopping bestseller, "Tattoos on the Heart," celebrated guest on Dr. Phil and Tavis Smiley.
In 1986 Father G was assigned to the poorest parish in East L.A.'s Boyle Heights. The naïve young priest walked into the middle of a war zone, the gang capital of the country. Gang violence rocked the city in the 90s, dubbed the "Decade of Death," and Father G was astonished to find teenagers planning their funerals and not their future.
"I came from a middle-class Irish-American family," recalls Greg Boyle. "As a kid, I wouldn't have known what a gang member looked like if one hit me upside the head. I couldn't have joined a gang if I'd wanted to. I wouldn't have been able to find a gang if you'd sent me on a scavenger hunt."
But what Father G lacked in experience with gangs, he made up for it in resourcefulness - he quickly partnered with the Latino and black mothers in the rough housing projects and out of the ashes of destruction rose a phoenix of hope – Jobs For The Future - a program that provided job training and jobs, alternative schools, social programs.
As he was launching Homeboy during the worst violence, Father G said, "If we don't address where all this comes from – dysfunctional families, grinding poverty and joblessness – this stuff is going to repeat itself"
Says L.A. County Sheriff Lee Baca, "You cannot arrest yourself out of a gang problem. You cannot put enough people in jail or prison to solve this problem."
In an era that emphasizes being 'smart on crime,' citizens and civic leaders around the country have come to better understand the complexity of gang life. Father G's years of working in the margins have helped put a human face on gang members and the pull of gang life.
He said, "We're going to stand with the demonized until the demonization stops. And it really has. We now get fan mail where we used to get hate mail."
"No hopeful kid joins a gang."
So it is that G-Dog (Greg Boyle, G or Greg) has created a global model for social reform - a beacon of hope for families, law enforcement, children's advocates, and policy makers.
Greg Boyle is a charismatic visionary but he's made the dream real: Homeboy Industries has become the largest, most successful gang intervention and rehab program in the U.S. and an inspiration for helping to kids at risk whether in Toronto, Manchester, Hamburg, Rio and more.
G – DOG is a story of second chances – for kids at risk of joining gangs and for those trying to leave gang life – in more ways than one. The powerful chronicle of how young people can redirect their lives is also the story of Father Greg's own transformation. He tells us, "The day simply won't come when I am more noble and have more courage than the homeboys and homegirls I have known. In Africa they say ' a person becomes a person through other people.' There can be no doubt that the homies have returned me to myself."