continued from page 123
So every night, after work, he drove to a
Burger King parking lot, reclined his seat, and
tried his best to sleep. Every morning, he
stopped at a friend’s apartment just long
enough to iron his shirt.
One Saturday, I went with Boyle to a girls’ probation camp, for Mass. Around two dozen teenagers, wearing matching green T-shirts and
black, shapeless shorts, filed into a room that
looks just like a school classroom, except the
bulletin boards remind the girls not to throw
gang signs and to think about self-control.
Boyle told a funny parable about facing
fears, which involved being chased by dogs,
back when he was “a new booty priest.” Then
he told the story of a 19-year-old boy who
showed up at Homeboy looking for $50. After
some prying, the boy admitted he wanted to
“I’m not giving you money to buy fireworks,”
Boyle told him.
“Well, I guess my baby girl isn’t going to have
a Fourth of July. . . .” the boy said. Boyle spoke
the boy’s lines in a mopey voice.
“How old is she?” Boyle asked.
“Three months,” the boy said. Boyle’s teenage flock giggled.
“Three months? Just wave your lighter in
front of her face, she won’t know the difference!”
The room erupted, the girls rocking in their
chairs with laughter.
When the boy got up to leave, Boyle gave him
the money. “Go get your explosion on,” he said.
There was a theological point: “I always have
a funny story at communion time that underscores that no one is perfect, and that communion is not for perfect people but for hungry
people,” Boyle told me. But that probably matters less than this: The girls were rapt. After
Mass, they came to him and lingered as long
as they could. He spoke to each one in turn, as
if she were his favorite niece: “You are so much
126 fastcompany.com may 2012
more than the worst thing you’ve ever done.”
He asked when they were getting out and gave
them all his card, with his cell-phone number.
“Come see me,” he said. “We have jobs.”
Back at Homeboy, young people kept arriv-
ing in Boyle’s office straight from prison, look-
ing for work or money. “Have you eaten any-
thing today?” Boyle asked a skinny, dull-eyed
teenager. The boy shook his head. Boyle reached
across the desk, slipping him a folded twenty
in a handshake, and then squeezed his fist,
instead of bumping it.
Boyle looked out into the lobby. “My God,
where do all these people come from?” he said.
There are 1. 6 million people in U.S. prisons,
and very few are in for life. The rest have to go
somewhere, and do something. In California,
65% end up reincarcerated within three years,
at an average annual cost of $46,700 per adult
prisoner—and much more for Division of Juvenile Justice inmates. The recession has forced
states to think about ways to reduce their prison
rolls. In October, California began an 18-month
process of cutting its state-prison population
by 33,000, in part by transferring responsibility for some inmates to county authorities.
Other states are watching closely.
Homeboy is on solid financial footing now.
Its 2012 budget is roughly $14 million; about
$8 million of that will come from foundations
and private donors, $2 million from government contracts, and $4 million from business
revenue—almost double what Homeboy’s ventures earned in 2009. Recently, Boyle promoted
the finance director Karatz hired to a newly
empowered COO post that will report directly
to the board if Homeboy’s budget becomes
precarious again. But head count is also back
up to more than 380 employees. The job market has made it harder than ever for homies
to graduate to regular employers, and Boyle
believes Homeboy must continue to hire, so
the payroll grows.
Boyle also continues to give cash to people
who show up in need, and to pay for things
he could never get a budget line for, despite
his board’s entreaties to stop. The woman who
punched the receptionist? Boyle gave her
$200 the next day, when he learned she had
been kicked out of her place and had no money,
and nowhere to go. His receptionist hugged
her. “We are all she has,” Boyle said. He gives
away nearly his entire salary, and when his
wallet is empty, he writes Homeboy checks.
“You have the power to remove me,” he has
told his board. “He is going to help his kids by
any means necessary,” said Ross, of the Cali-
fornia Endowment. “For someone with as big
and as authentic a heart as he has, he’s no po-
One day, Karatz said, Boyle pulled him aside.
“Bruce, I know you don’t believe this, but I believe
that a supreme force sent you to me,” he said.
“You’re right. I don’t believe you,” Karatz said,
and laughed. “But I would not be so bold to say
I know how the world works.”
“It’s been interesting,” Boyle told me. “We’ve
butted heads from here till Tuesday. But it’s
nice, I actually enjoy it. The day won’t ever come
when I could run GE, but Bruce could. And the
day won’t ever come when Bruce could run
Homeboy, but I have great affection for him.
Because he gets who our people are, and he’s
moved by them.”
It was nearly dark. There was just one person
left for Boyle to see. She had been waiting for
hours. Shoaf brought her in and lingered for a
moment. “Can I borrow the van?” he asked
sheepishly. He left with the keys, of course.
“You don’t know me,” the woman began.
Her hair was pulled back into a thin braid that
fell to the middle of her back. Her face was
hard, opaque. “When my daughter was growing up, I was never able to put new clothes on
her for school, not one time,” she said. Her
voice started to shake a bit, but she kept going.
Her daughter was grown now, with her own
kids. The woman had started at Homeboy two
weeks ago, as a janitor, and today, she got her
“I told my daughter I’m going to buy her kids
an outfit for school,” she said. She tried to con-
tinue, but she started to cry, and then sob, her
whole body shaking. “I wanted to thank you,”
she said, struggling to speak. “I’m going to tell
her how you helped me.”
“No,” Boyle said. “No, tell her you did it. You
Douglas McGray is a fellow at the New America
Foundation. His last article for Fast Company,
“The New Junk Food,” appeared in our April
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