The East L.A. neighborhood of Boyle Heights is a rough place. Plagued by violent crime and poverty, this rundown area has a history of gangs and prison sentences.
In fact, more than 65% of ex-cons in California are back in jail within three years. This recidivist behavior represents an enormous cost to society, both in terms of prosecution and imprisonment of the perpetrators, and also for the toll they take on their victims and the public safety of their communities.
The cycle is extremely difficult to break, beginning with few positive role models, poverty and lack of education. After inmates complete their sentence (and their debt to society), it is nearly impossible to get hired. Even when applying for jobs such as pizza delivery or garbage collection, employers can legally reject applicants with a felony conviction, and most job applications ask for that information.
With few career opportunities and no resources, the cycle continues when ex-cons return to breaking the law. Boyle Heights is hardly the place where you’d think to find a thriving business, especially one with a culture that helps reform its ex-con workers.
Father Gregory Boyle (his name is a only a coincidence; the neighborhood wasn’t named after him) set out to create radical change. He believed that people with a rough past deserved a second chance and could thrive in the right environment. Boyle realized that these hard-hit individuals needed jobs, not handouts — so he started a company to give them a shot. Homeboy Industries was launched in 1992 to employ those that most needed a break. It began as a bakery and has since grown to encompass a wide variety of offerings including apparel, salsa and cafes.
The story is authentic, which has driven demand for its products and services. Today, the company has over $10 million in revenue and employs 400 people that may otherwise be back behind bars.
The culture built by this unconventional leader is surprising. Rather than checking workers’ pockets, he extends trust. He treats the team with dignity, compassion, and respect, which in turn is given right back to Boyle and the organization as a whole. A deep sense of pride permeates the team members, who will do whatever it takes to contribute to Homeboy’s overall success. As new people join the company, those with a longer tenure help assimilate new arrivals. By giving them a second chance, the company changes its employees’ perspectives about their own future, transforming from crime to contribution.
In your own organization, do you peek over your colleague’s shoulder with a watchful eye of doubt? Do you send the message to those around you that they can’t be trusted? If so, you’ll end up with a team that trusts no one in return. Trust is earned, not issued. To build a culture of trust — in your company, community, or family — start by extending trust to others. Show others they are trustworthy, and you’ll end up with plenty of people you can count on. No second-guessing required.