Homegirl Cafe helps gang members change their lives

Wed Oct 27, 2010 3:55pm EDT
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By Lucy Nicholson

LOS ANGELES (Reuters Life!) - It was Stephanie Lane's first day on the job as a waitress at Homegirl Cafe and the last thing she wanted to do was wait on the police.

The restaurant, staffed by female gang members trying to leave their past behind, is part of Homeboy Industries, the largest gang intervention program and one of the most successful in the United States.

Quitting a life of drug dealing, fighting and stealing cars on the streets of South Los Angeles, where she followed her father and mother into the Crips gang, was not easy. Lane faced the first of many tests when the police chief and top brass were growing impatient waiting for service in the cafe.

"No girls wanted to take their order," Lane said. "They're the reason all of us have been through what we've been through."

Lane glowered as she approached the table. She knew they'd be looking at her tattoos, sizing her up. She trained her eyes on her pad as she took their drink order. A hand suddenly grabbed her arm and the chief was looking at her.

He told her to smile. When she asked why he said because he wanted a cup of coffee.

Two and a half years later, Lane, 21, smiles broadly as she recounts the story, masking her struggles.

The journey to set her life straight illustrates the difficulty of leaving gang life behind. She has been in fights, sent back to prison and gunned down. Each time, she returned to the cafe.   Continued...

<p>Shameeka Welch, 17, (L) and Fallon Tooks, 27, pose outside Homegirl Cafe in Los Angeles, April 23, 2010. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson</p>