Tattoos on the Heart


Gregory Boyle

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In Los Angeles, many gang members have elaborate tattoos that show their gang affiliation. The tattoos can’t be removed, except with surgery, which evokes the permanent, lifelong allegiance that gangs demand. However, Father Gregory Boyle’s nonprofit, Homeboy Industries, offers tattoo removal surgeries. Tattoos, then, symbolize the crimes that Boyle’s associates have committed—crimes that supposedly render them unlovable and irredeemable. However, Boyle removing the tattoos of ex-gang members makes one of Boyle’s most important points: no crime is so great that it can’t be forgiven. Thus tattoo removal dovetails with Boyle’s religious message: just as tattoos that were thought to be permanent can be removed, even the most serious crimes can be forgiven, and even the most hardened criminals are entitled to God’s love.

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Tattoos Symbol Timeline in Tattoos on the Heart

The timeline below shows where the symbol Tattoos appears in Tattoos on the Heart. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Introduction: Dolores Mission and Homeboy Industries
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...the ‘90s, Homeboy Industries grows and begins to offer more opportunities for gang members, including tattoo removal surgeries. By 2000, the nonprofit employs more than a thousand people, and moves to... (full context)
Chapter 5: Slow Work
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...a gang member named Grumpy. Boyle gives Grumpy his card and offers to remove Grumpy’s tattoos for free when Grumpy gets out of jail. Grumpy sneers and says, “Why’d I get... (full context)
Chapter 9: Kinship
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...tells them the same thing—give him a call when they’re out, and he’ll remove their tattoos and give them a job. (full context)
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...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... (full context)