Tattoos on the Heart is a story by a Jesuit priest named Gregory Boyle who has been working with gang members in California since the mid 1980s. His organization, Homeboy Industries, is responsible for giving many gang affiliated teens and young adults a second chance at life. While going through thick and thin with cancer and even family problems, Greg has always got his "homies" with him in times of need and vice versa.
This book was amazing. So, for all of you readers out there, I took it upon myself to answer some of the discussion questions asked in the back of the book, And with that, let's begin.
•Greg talks about offering opportunities, not to to people who need help but to those who want it. What difference do you think this makes?
I believe that this makes a difference in terms of effort and putting in work. Sure, someone might need help, but they may not put in as much as somebody who wants it. People who want are more likely to try hard with whatever it is that they're doing. If you want something bad enough in life, you're going to give it your all. For example, everyone who received Greg's help had to come to him first in his office for a job. He didn't go around and chase anybody who he thought needed one. There is a special power in want that need just doesn't seem to contain. The first step to being helped in any situation is going out and seeking it in the beginning. And although not everyone was a success story, each person was close to success by asking for help from Greg. They didn't die in vain. As a matter of fact, if they hadn't asked for help, they probably would've died in vain doing something bad.
•Greg writes, “Kinship [is] not serving the other, but being one with the other. Jesus was not ‘a man for others’; he was one with them.” How are the two different, and how does Greg integrate this distinction into his work?
What Greg did with his work was to empathize with homies rather than sympathize for them. Being a man for others wouldn't have worked. It would've required Greg to have to stand tall and act like a man of such high stature. Thus, the gang members wouldn't have liked him and treated him with the respect like they did. He wasn't only seen as this religious figure, he was seen as a friend and father by many. An example of this is how he treat gang members as they were his own kids. When Greg took Richie and Chepe to that fancy restaurant and everyone gave stares at two tattooed boys, he didn't care. Greg wasn't embarrassed or ashamed of the people who he kept company with. His entire attitude was, “don't judge someone unless you've walked in their shoes.” Not once did he condemn someone for their past or present. Greg was not an advisor or boss, he was Greg, being one with everyone.
•How does life in a gang—which promises a sense of safety, belonging, and an income—compare to life at Homeboy Industries (HBI)?
It compares in the sense that everyone wants to see each other do well and succeed, but the difference is how you go about it. A gang teaches people how to bond through survival tactics and wrongdoings to receive benefits. Homeboy Industries however, teaches core values that a person should always have, which a gang can't do. Homeboy shows people to love themselves using spirituality and oneness with God. Also, gangs show this feeling of conditional love, meaning they'll only care about you if you're down with them. They'll hate you if you want better for yourself and try to leave. However, at Homeboy Industries, everyone loves each other no matter how many times a person fails. There's always second, third, and fourth chances. No one gives up on anybody. Promises there are kept and followed through with. People are in and out of juvenile detention, but aren't looked down upon. Everyone is human. In gangs, your life can be taken at any breathing moment, and sometimes even trust is an issue, leaving a person feeling paranoid and isolated. And nothing is promised or guaranteed.
•Greg spends a lot of time talking to the homies about their different conceptions of God. Do you believe in God, and if so, how does your belief color the way that you view disparities in privilege and opportunity?
I believe in God 100% and that He created everyone equal. However, the people created designed systems in ways that benefit certain people and hurt others. At the beginning of the book, Greg talks about how life in a suburban area was completely opposite from what he later faced. He didn't even know that things like gangs existed when he was younger. You see, people like Gregory had better shots at life from the start since he was raised in a nice neighborhood and had money. I've noticed that when a homie comes to him and tells them about something tragic that occurs, he can never tell him that he's been there. Sure he’s been through rough times, but not like these kids. In today's society, people who aren't privileged need the opportunities, because even an opportunity in itself is a privilege. Therefore the kids at Homeboy had the privilege of an opportunity. Sometimes the privileged don't understand how important it is that everyone has equal rights to do things whether it's education, housing, and work. Privilege is something you're born with, an opportunity is something thrust upon you. Privilege also gets you opportunity in the first place. They both go hand in hand.
•In the preface, Greg explains the title and his hope that readers will tattoo these stories onto their hearts. Which of these stories about Greg's work stuck with you the most?
The story of Soledad stuck with me the most. Her story is a great example of what forgiveness means. Many people mistake forgiveness as excusing what a person has done, but forgiveness is really for the forgiver. The forgiver needs closure and to heal. When Soledad prayed for her son's killer to survive, she was forgiving him without even directly saying it. Even she said that most of her friends would probably tell her to hope he doesn't make it, she did the opposite. Personally, I don't think I could forgive someone who's done such a horrible act. In the Bible in Matthew 6:14, it is written, “For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.” So, in other words, Soledad was forgiven by God as well as her son's killer. And if she hadn't prayed for him, he most likely would have not lived.