October 20, 2018

Elul 6: Clever’s Offer – Father Greg Boyle

“Clever” seems eager to begin at Homeboy Silkscreen and, at 22 years old, he has assured me he is ready to retire his jersey from the barrio. He moves with me easily through the factory, shaking hands with those printing shirts or catching them as they are spit through the conveyor-belt dryer.

Until he turns a corner and sees “Travieso,” a 24-year-old from an enemy ‘hood. They stare at their feet. They mumble. They do not shake hands. I will discover sometime later that the hatred they hold for each other is profundo. This is a personal pedo, and the breach is beyond repair. This much I sense in the moment.

“Look,” I tell them, “if you can’t hang working together – I gotta grip of homies who would love to have this jale.” They say nothing, so that’s that.

Some months later, “Travieso” finds himself surrounded in an alley, greatly outnumbered by members of an enemy gang, who beat him badly. While he is lying there, they kick his head until he is lifeless. At White Memorial Hospital, he is declared brain dead. The doctors will wait 48 hours to secure a “flat read,” then they can officially declare him “deceased.”

During those first 24 hours, I am in my office late at night, and the phone rings. It’s “Clever.” “Hey,” he begins awkwardly, “that’s messed up ’bout what happened to “Travieso.”

“Yeah, it is,” I say.

Clever asks, “Can I give him my blood?”

This offer sucks the breathable air out of the atmosphere for both of us. Clever punctures the quiet with great resolve and unprotected tears.

“He was…not…my enemy. He was my friend. We…worked together.”

Father Greg Boyle is the Executive Director of Homeboy Industries, a nonprofit offering alternatives to gang violence. www.homeboy-industries.org