Tattoos on the Heart

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Tattoos on the Heart Chapter 9 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Mother Teresa once said that people have “forgotten that we belong to each other.” The opposite of this process of forgetting, Boyle suggests, is kinship: recognizing our common humanity and our love for each other. Boyle has given away thousands of his personal cards to gang members about to go to jail. He always tells them the same thing—give him a call when they’re out, and he’ll remove their tattoos and give them a job.
In this chapter, Boyle arrives at one of his most important points. Kinship, as Boyle defines it, is a deep sense of connection and love for other people. Boyle tries to live his life according to the principle of kinship.
Themes
Kinship Theme Icon
Boyle recalls a teenager named Louie. Louie has just gotten out of jail, and he’s eager to have his tattoos removed. Louie claims that Boyle is the first person he’s seen since leaving jail. Boyle smiles and says, “Louie … I have a feeling I was your second stop.” They collapse in laughter—and out of nowhere, a sense of kinship arises between them.
For not the first time in the book, humor brings two very different people together. Boyle can be sarcastic, and sometimes he even makes fun of his employees. Nevertheless, he clearly loves them and cares about them.
Themes
Kinship Theme Icon
A couple years ago, Boyle was diagnosed with leukemia. So far, he’s survived cancer-free. He remembers a gang member calling him from jail and saying that Boyle shouldn’t trust the doctors who’ve diagnosed him. Boyle likes to think of the calls he receives from prisoners “second opinions.”
As of 2017, Boyle is still alive and working as a community organizer in the Mission. The fact that he continues to work hard even after his diagnosis emphasizes his commitment to helping other people.
Themes
Kinship Theme Icon
Boyle reunites with a young man named Lencho who’s just left prison. They first met when Lencho was only fourteen years old. Lencho is now twenty-four, and having a hard time finding a job. Boyle immediately offers Lencho work with Homeboy Industries. But he also wants to do something much more valuable: to show Lencho that he’s respected and loved—in short, that he’s not just a social outcast.
It’s interesting that Boyle considers the abstract, emotional side of Homeboy Industries (making Lencho feel loved) more important than the practical side (getting him a job). But such a belief is consistent with Boyle’s emphasis on faith and recognizing God’s love.
Themes
Kinship Theme Icon
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Boyle recalls Richard, a young man who started working for Homeboy Industries at the age of nineteen. One day, Richard learns that Boyle’s family members are “somebody”—in other words, they all have successful careers. Boyle realizes that Richard thinks of himself as nobody. Later, Richard tells Boyle about a photograph he’s found of himself at the age of ten. Boyle realizes how important this photograph is to Richard: it gives him a sense of his own worth. Boyle takes Richard to a professional to enlarge the photograph as much as possible.
Richard seems not to have a high opinion of himself. But Boyle wants to magnify Richard’s sense of his own worth—and in this sense, the process of enlarging the photograph symbolizes the kind of emotional therapy that Boyle excels at. Boyle teaches his employees and students how to love themselves, “enlarging” their self-worth.
Themes
Kinship Theme Icon
Gangs and Gang Violence Theme Icon
The Outcast Theme Icon
Boyle grew up in a big house with lots of brothers and sisters. He and his siblings would listen to an old toy phonograph that would play a song with the lyric, “Long lay the world in sin and error pining—‘til He appeared and the soul felt its worth.” Boyle often thinks about this song, and what it suggests about the importance of kinship. People must remember “that we belong to one another.”
The song suggests that the soul will exist in a state of sin until God helps the soul recognize its own worth. Put another way, one cannot be a good person until one recognizes one’s own worth—an act that, according to Christianity, is only possible with the belief in God. But the song also suggests that people must treat each other with respect, too—in doing so, they remind each other of their worth, and strengthen their relationship with God.
Themes
Kinship Theme Icon
Christianity Theme Icon
The Outcast Theme Icon
Fifteen years ago, a man named Bandit comes to see Boyle. Bandit is a well-known thief in the gang world, but he tells Boyle that he’s tired of his life. Boyle offers Bandit a job with Homeboy Industries. Fifteen years later, Bandit is running the warehouse and has a wife and three children. Tearfully, he asks Boyle to bless his daughter, who’s about to go to college. He admits to Boyle that he’s very proud of himself for making big changes in his life.
Bandit tires of his violent life in the gang world, and hungers for something more fulfilling—a wife and a family. It is Boyle’s firm belief that all human beings, not just Bandit, fundamentally want to be happy, be loved, and love other people.
Themes
Gangs and Gang Violence Theme Icon
In 2005, the White House honors Homeboy Industries for its contributions to gang intervention. First Lady Laura Bush visits the facilities, and the visit goes very well: everyone is very respectful, and a little overwhelmed to be so close to the wife of the president. Boyle is invited to speak at a conference at Howard University in Washington, D.C., and Boyle accepts. Bush tells him that he should bring three of his employees with him. Boyle chooses three ex-gang members Alex, Charlie, and Felipe. Boyle has known all three of them for a very long time, and their stories are typical of the gang members that Boyle tries to help.
Laura Bush was the wife of George W. Bush, the president of the United States from 2001 to 2009. Laura Bush’s invitation to Boyle is another sign that Boyle has attracted considerable renown for his nonprofit work. However, as he’s done in the past, Boyle doesn’t treat the invitation as an opportunity to bask in his own glory—rather, he uses it to honor and validate three of his employees.
Themes
Kinship Theme Icon
Gangs and Gang Violence Theme Icon
Before the trip, Boyle takes Alex, Charlie, and Felipe to get suits for their visit to D.C. But then, Alex admits that he hasn’t gotten permission from his parole officer to go to Washington, D.C. Boyle calls the parole officer and begs for Alex to be allowed to leave the state. The officer insists that Alex can only leave Los Angeles under “high control.” Boyle reaches out to Laura Bush, and within a week, the parole officer decides to let Alex leave.
The section further emphasizes the influence that Boyle has gained over the last twenty years—now that he counts Laura Bush a friend, he has the power to negotiate with parole officers on behalf of his employees.
Themes
Kinship Theme Icon
Christianity Theme Icon
Gangs and Gang Violence Theme Icon
The Outcast Theme Icon
At the White House, Boyle and his three companions enjoy a lavish dinner, including caviar—a food none of the former gang members have even heard of. When they’re on their flight back in Los Angeles, Alex tells the flight attendant that he made history—he and his friends were the first gang members ever invited into the White House. He adds that the food “tasted nasty.” The flight attendant began to cry—a clear expression of her kinship, Boyle thinks.
Notice that Boyle barely describes the White House ceremony—more interesting to him is the flight back to Los Angeles, since it provides him with a better illustration of the principle of kinship. The immediate, intuitive bond between Alex and the flight attendant is the perfect example of kinship: Alex and the flight attendant don’t know each other, but they’re capable of feeling compassion for each other anyway.
Themes
Kinship Theme Icon
Gangs and Gang Violence Theme Icon
The Outcast Theme Icon
In 1996, a gang member named Chico calls Boyle and asks for a job. Boyle meets Chico in person—Chico insists that he’s interested in learning about computers. Boyle arranges for Chico to take classes and also work at the Homeboy Industries center. He warns Chico that if Chico begins associating with his old gang friends again, “I will fire your ass.” Although Boyle doesn’t hear from Chico for a couple days, he soon receives a fax from Chico saying, “I really love this job.”
Boyle offers one final example drawn from his career as a community organizer. Chico is, in many ways, exemplary of the young people with whom Boyle works: he’s a social outcast (in the sense that he has a criminal record and finds it hard to find a job), but he’s very eager to succeed.
Themes
Kinship Theme Icon
Christianity Theme Icon
Gangs and Gang Violence Theme Icon
The Outcast Theme Icon
Shortly afterwards, Boyle learns that Chico has been shot. Boyle visits Chico in the hospital—Chico may be paralyzed for the rest of his life. A week later, his heart stops, and his life comes to an end. At the funeral, Boyle weeps—he’s buried eight people in just three weeks. He murmurs, “That was a terrific kid.” The mortician, who’s also present, says, “He was?”
In this moving scene, Boyle clashes with a cold, callous mortician, who seems to find it impossible that someone with a criminal record could be “a terrific kid.” The mortician’s behavior suggests that many people find it difficult to feel compassion for people who are unlike them.
Themes
Kinship Theme Icon
Christianity Theme Icon
Gangs and Gang Violence Theme Icon
The Outcast Theme Icon
The mortician’s reaction, Boyle thinks, reminds him that kinship can be hard for some people. But it’s crucial that we teach ourselves to listen to “the voices from the margins” and respect people who are unlike us. This vision may take time to come true, but “we can surely wait for it.”
Even if some people find it hard to feel compassion, they have the potential to feel this sense of compassion. Boyle concludes by encouraging people to nurture and develop their sense of compassion—as Boyle himself has done over the course of his career.
Themes
Kinship Theme Icon
Christianity Theme Icon
Gangs and Gang Violence Theme Icon
The Outcast Theme Icon