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Casting Bread on Troubled Waters : Struggling Homeboy Bakery Gave a Former Gang Member a Place to Start Over

July 24, 1994|FRANK RANGEL | Rangel was interviewed by Times Staff Writer Kevin Baxter.

To Frank Rangel, 25, a former hard-core gang member, "making bread" used to be a street term that meant hustling money. Now, it means baking loaves of pumpernickel and rye at the Homeboy Bakery, next to the Dolores Mission Church in East Los Angeles.

The bakery, part of Father Gregory J. Boyle's Jobs for a Future program, pays at-risk young people such as Rangel $5 to $7 an hour from money raised through sales and from community donations. But the modest salary is just part of what the workers take home. "Thanks to Homeboy, I got values now," Rangel says.

A year ago, the bakery was turning out 4,500 loaves of bread a month. Now, production has stopped to search for a new oven--or for the funds to repair the old one. If repairs are not started soon, there is a chance the bakery could go out of business, just as its sister job-training project, Homeboy Tortillas, did. For Rangel and others, that could mean a return to the streets.

I'm not a role model. I'm an example of what a project can do for some hard-core inner-city kids if they have the opportunity.

I grew up in the Aliso Village projects. Before, I used to get in a lot of trouble with the police. I've lived the hard life. I got busted with a .357 and a .44 because I was in the wrong place at the wrong time. I wound up pleading no contest. Boom, they gave me six months and I only did three. And from there I went to probation, and my probation officer got really attached to me. He knew that I wasn't a menace to society and that I had potential. He gave me a letter of recommendation and I brought it down here.

My mother and father, they were two different people and they separated. I was on my own; I grew up with my aunt. I was the black sheep of the family, moving from my mother's side of the family to my dad's side. Everybody thought I wouldn't succeed in life. But I was just trying to make it.

But Homeboy changed my life a lot. I have values now. I know how to carry myself a little better. I've been to Washington and met the President of the United States. When Vice President Gore came down here, I met him, too.

We've got a crew of nine here. We're all from different gangs. If we were on the streets, well, we're like the Hatfields and McCoys. We don't get along with the guys across the street. But when they come down here, they're our brown brothers. Whatever there is out there on the streets, it stops at the gate when you come into the business. We're a family here at Homeboy Industries.

I'm a baker. But right now we're remodeling the place, so they got us learning several different trades. They got us doing plaster and masonry. They got us hitting sledgehammers on the ground and making drains, learning plumbing. They got us going on the roof and hammering nails in wood and learning carpentry.

But my real job here is to school the little guys, try to keep the peace. A gang member from 13 to 18, if they don't get the right kind of schooling from the guys above, they're not going to fly right.

Here, they're not telling us to sell ourselves short, to change the way we dress or to get out of gangs. They trust us. They respect our ideas here. Father Greg gave us the opportunity to make honest money and he really doesn't ask for anything. He teaches us not only to respect ourselves but to respect our elders. He shows us the important values of life.

Nobody wants to be running from the police. Nobody wants to be dealing drugs all their life. Everybody wants to make an honest living.

Now I set goals. I'm going up the ladder little by little without skipping a step, with a positive mental attitude.

The priests want to send me to college. I want to study psychology. I want to be a psychologist, psychiatrist, something just to let people come and talk to me and I can talk to them. My job is to tell these guys there's a different place besides the projects.

But first we need money to fix up the place so we can start baking bread. Actions speak louder than words and this is a place of action. If they let this pass, it will be a big mistake because we see this as an example for all of urban Los Angeles.

Now they're going to spend more money for nicer prisons when you could build places like this. Why not try to make changes and build places like Homeboy Industries? It's a lot cheaper to build a bakery than to build a prison. And we're either going to be in prison or in the bakery.

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