Monday, February 21, 2011

Readin': G-Dog and the Homeboys

After reading Tattoos on the Heart by Father Greg Boyle, S.J., I wanted to read that book's predecessor, G-Dog and the Homeboys: Father Greg Boyle and the Gangs of East Los Angeles by Celeste Fremon. The first edition was published in 1995. The new edition that I read had been updated with an Introduction and Epilogue by Celeste written in 2008, along with a forward by Tom Brokaw.

Ms. Fremon originally intended to write a simple Sunday magazine article on Greg Boyle. She became so interested in what he was doing, and eventually, so involved in it, that she came to write G-Dog. It is an extraordinary work as it portrays East L. A. Mexican-American gang members, not as the monsters they are characterized as in the news, but as the human beings they are in all their flaws and glory.

It is obvious to me that she gained these people's trust because the interviews in the book are extraordinary. The general structure of the book is a chronology of the work Father Boyle did over 6 years in East L. A.. At the end of many of the chapters there is a break and then a first-person narrative by one of the young men or women she had come to know. These are probably the most heartbreaking parts of the book. They speak with such honesty and in so many cases with so little hope. I found myself wanting to reach out to them to give them the boost up and out that they needed. I also knew that most of what was written happened 15 or more years in the past, so that lots of life had happened to them since then.

In her Epilogue, Ms. Fremon is eloquent and factual about what will work to fix the gang problem. It is not the standard societal response of more prisons and tougher sentencing; all that does is perpetuate the problem. The fix is harder, but so much more worthwhile; it involves making a commitment to work with these people and put in place the structures that will help them to build resilience in their lives. I don't intend to rewrite the book here, it is all very well done and said much more eloquently than I could manage. I found her arguments to be sane, evidence based and profoundly sensible.

I know that a long-term commitment to people is what is needed to help them break cycles of poverty, intergenerational abuse, and long term traumatic stress. I can only hope that more people with the ability to offer help will actually do so. G-Dog and the Homeboys is proof that this approach works, as long as there are structures in place to make it work.

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