Over the years, Boyle has baptized thousands of people in Los Angeles. Sometimes, he’ll run into adults whom he baptized twenty years ago. In 1996, he baptizes a teenager named George Martinez. George wants to be baptized immediately following his taking of the GED exam. Just before the baptism, George’s brother Cisco is murdered in a gang fight. Boyle decides to proceed with the baptism. The ceremony is very emotional, with George weeping throughout. But it represents an important part of George’s life—the moment in which he agrees to embrace God and find the courage to live a happy life.
Boyle is devastated by Cisco’s death, but he also believes in the importance of baptizing George. This is another point in the memoir in which Boyle’s belief in specific religious rituals—not just the general principles of love and compassion—may be challenging for some readers.
Boyle recalls a young man who worked for Homeboy Industries. He calls Boyle on New Year’s Day and wishes him a happy New Year. Over the phone, Boyle can sense his pride—he has a family now, and he’s even cooked a turkey dinner for them. Shortly afterwards, Boyle meets the man in person, and the man confesses, “I always suspected that there was something of goodness in me, but I just couldn’t find it.”
Notice that the young man in this anecdote describes the goodness inside him. One of Boyle’s most important points is that all people have the potential to be good—it’s just that many of these people never realize their potential. Boyle’s mission isn’t exactly to teach people how to be good; rather, he reminds them of their own capacity for goodness.
Boyle next recalls a teenager named Terry who used to come to the church. She would wear a short, red dress, and often asked Boyle to promise that he’d bury her in the dress. Boyle realizes that Terry thinks she’s going to die soon. He encounters many young women who think they should have children at a young age, since they doubt they’ll live long.
This is one of the most controversial, and telling, parts of the memoir. By arguing that impoverished women in the Mission are choosing to have children they can’t support (and, in fact, won’t be alive to support) Boyle seems to fall into the rhetoric of “blaming the victims”; in other words, suggesting that impoverished people are responsible for their own poverty.
Many of the gang members Boyle meets grew up without a father. And some of the youths Boyle meets who did have fathers in their lives had to endure horrible beatings and other forms of abuse.
Boyle is well aware of the absence of loving parenting in the Dolores Mission, and in many ways, he tries to provide a loving, parental role for his congregants, students, and employees.
The next person Boyle writes about is a young woman named Natalie Urritia, who comes to work for Homeboy Industries after a year in prison. She’s a former gang member and a drug user, as well as a mother of two children. Boyle often wonders what Natalie would be like if she’d had a better childhood and more reliable parents. Once, Boyle has a dream about her—in the dream, Natalie is about to sing a song before a big crowd. The crowd, which thinks that Natalie is an awful singer, boos and jeers. But when Natalie opens her mouth, her voice is beautiful, and the crowd falls silent.
Two important things to notice here. First, Boyle sees Natalie as the victim of her troubled childhood (undercutting the implied point of the previous section). Second, Boyle’s dream seems to symbolize Natalie’s potential—and, perhaps, all people’s potential—to be good. Even if society expects the worst from impoverished people of the Mission, Boyle knows that his congregants have goodness inside them.
Perhaps the most basic difference between Homeboy Industries and a Los Angeles gang, Boyle argues, is that gangs offer conditional love and support: if their members do something wrong, they can be punished or even killed. Homeboy Industries, on the other hand, offers its members unconditional love: Boyle will always help and look out for his congregants.
Boyle sees his church as a kinder, gentler alternative to gang violence and the culture that arises from it in the Dolores Mission. Boyle implies that the gangs’ conditional love prevents members from feeling secure. Love and compassion are not real or supportive unless they are unconditional.
One day, Boyle is working when he notices that Danny, a young kid, has wandered into his office. Danny insists that Boyle stay still so that he can draw Boyle. The final image is hideously ugly—because, according to Danny, “Ya moved.” This episode, Boyle writes, reveals how God works: God can see the beauty is every person, even if people “move” and therefore seem “less than perfect.”
This is one of the odder parables in the memoir. People sometimes have a hard time recognizing the inherent good in other people. However, Boyle argues, God is capable of seeing the good in anyone—and, furthermore, people can learn to see the good in others by worshipping God. (There are several different people named “Danny,” in this book—this is a different Danny than the one Boyle buries.)
Boyle meets a teenager named Andres. Andres has run away from home at the age of thirteen because his mother tortures him, holding him underwater and putting out cigarettes on his skin. Boyle offers Andres a home to ensure that he doesn’t fall in with a gang. During Mike Wallace’s visit to Homeboy Industries, Wallace tells Andres, “You’d really have to be an asshole not to continue on this path of success.” Andres thinks that Wallace is calling him an asshole, and later admits to Boyle that he wanted to “toss up” (i.e., punch) Wallace. Boyle laughs and thinks, “Who among us hasn’t wanted to ‘toss up’ Mike Wallace?” Andres later visits his mother with Boyle. When his mother sees him, she just says, “You are garbage.” To Boyle’s amazement, Andres forgives his mother.
Wallace’s smug observation is a telling example of the way many people think of the poor. Wallace would seem to believe that Boyle’s employees “owe” Boyle for all the time Boyle has invested in them. This suggests an overly mechanistic, dehumanizing view of the poor, as if the poor are just a problem that can be solved with enough time and money. In contrast to Wallace’s point of view, Boyle doesn’t think of his employees as investments: he loves and respects them with his whole being. Boyle tries to impart these emotions to his employees, and the fact that Andres finds the willpower to forgive his mother for abusing him suggests that Boyle has impressed upon Andres the importance of unconditional love.
Boyle has noticed that his students and congregants have a tendency to think of their flaws as proof of unworthiness. Gangsters in particularly have a habit of growing attached to their weaknesses. Boyle’s mission is to draw these people’s attention to their virtues and inherent goodness.
Boyle emphasizes the innate goodness of all his congregants. He thinks that anyone, criminal or not, is capable of leading a good life.
Boyle recalls a man named Fabian, who worked for Homeboy Industries for many years, and now has a job, a wife, and three children. When Fabian was 19, Boyle traveled to Washington, D.C. to give a speech; with him were Fabian and Felipe, “an enemy from [Fabian’s] gang’s worst rival.” On the trip, Fabian and Felipe got along well and enjoyed watching movies together. Boyle remembers Fabian as a compassionate, incredibly friendly kid—he could make friends with absolutely anyone.
Boyle’s story suggests that there are no uncrossable barriers between people. Even if the two people are sworn enemies—as Fabian and Felipe were during their time in rival gangs—friendship can bring them together.
In recent years, in part because of his cancer diagnosis, Boyle has started to receive a lot of awards for his two decades working with gang members. Whenever he gets an award, Boyle gives it to one of his former students or employees. On one occasion, Boyle chooses a teenager named Elias Montes to accept an award he receives from Loyola Marymount University. Elias is honored, but then—when Boyle informs him that he’ll have to give a speech—horrified. Elias eventually gives the speech. He speaks plainly but sincerely, and when he falls silent, the audience “goes nuts.”
Boyle seems to take keen pleasure in seeing his students and employees win acclaim from others. Many of the young people Boyle works with have never been cheered for. For Elias, the experience seems to be very inspiring—it reminds him that he’s respected, supported, and loved.
Boyle recalls the day that Jason—a quiet, somewhat sullen former gang member—ran into his office. Jason was overjoyed to have gotten a job. Later, he tells Boyle why he spent so many years committing crimes and doing drugs: “I was so fuckin’ angry all the time.” But eventually, he found the courage to let his anger go forever. Soon after, Jason was gunned down by rival gang members, and Boyle buried him. Jason, Boyle thinks, was the light of the world.
Boyle is devastated by the death of Jason, but he also rejoices that Jason was able to turn his life around before his tragic murder. By comparing Jason with the light of the world—a symbol usually associated with Jesus Christ—Boyle emphasizes his point that people should emulate Jesus Christ, treating others with compassion.