Words That Sustain Me: Reflections on “Tattoos on the Heart” – part 1


“With That Moon Language”

Admit something:
Everyone you see, you say to them,
“Love me.”
Of course you do not do this out loud
Someone would call the cops.
Still though, think about this,
This great pull in us to connect.
Why not become the one
Who lives with a full moon in each eye
That is always saying
With that sweet moon
What every other eye in this world
Is dying to
— Hafez.

The book, “Tattoos On The Heart” by Gregory Boyle is an astonishing book that will touch the deepest parts within you with its stories and make you weep. This book was not on my radar until my book club collaborator, Ali, mentioned it which led it to being our book selection for the month of June. As .Gregory Boyle says in the preface of his book, the stories of him sharing his life with homes are the bricks this book is built on. And these book are the bricks that our book club is built upon. We’re just trying to slather some mortar on it to hold it together. Our mortar is how these incredible books effect us, move us, and touch our lives.

Gregory Boyle ( “G”), is a Jesuit priest and founder of Homeboy Industries, the largest gang-intervention program in the world, located in Los Angeles .California. Throughout the book, Father Greg uses
“homie speak,” which is the Spanish-English they use to communicate. Homie speak is nearly identical to the prison slang we use in Texas prisons and on death row. So, it’s as if the author wrote this book in our language allowing me to truly understand the stories and sayings that are quoted in Tattoos Of The Heart. I must tell you that I read this books decade ago and was in awe of it then. Now? Tattoos Of The Heart turned me inside out. For twenty years I was unable to feel much of anything because of the trauma that come from being on Texas death row. This trauma rendered me numb, and wearing this numbness as armor allowed me to survive all that I’ve experienced.

I couldn’t cry, I struggled with identifying what emotions I felt because I was numb. This is how a human being can have his best friend executed on death row and not feel anything. Since I’ve been redeemed by the Lord, He has given me a heart filled with empathy, love and compassion. I feel everything. It seems I cry everyday now! This book reminded me of critical life lessons and made me weep many times.

I understand that I am deeply connected to all my brothers and sisters in this place where I live my life. And I share a kinship with every other soul on this earth. Be it friend or enemy, I am yours and you are mine, and if I can keep this at the forefront of my mind I’ll be able to have love for everyone, including those who hate me. In doing this, I am bearing the beams of love Father Greg talks about. I was a amazed to have the author confirm that true courage is transforming one’s life from wolf behavior to becoming a sheep part of Jesus Christ’s flock.
From having a callus (numb) heart, to being a compassionate child of God. That absolute truth should be tattooed on our collective hearts.

There are too many favorite quotes in this book for me to try to narrow it down to just ONE! So, here we go, I want to share my favorite parts of this book by chapters.


Here we meet Louis and hear about his past and tragically, how his life was taken from him. Louis was a gang banger, the biggest drug dealer in town, and he left all that behind because of the birth of his precious daughter, Tiffany. In this story, Louis wanted to know why white people use the word “great” all the time? Then one day, his daughter uses the word great to describe the home Louis provided for her by working at Homeboy Bakery and being a wonderful father to Tiffany. But, the past seems to catch up with him and Louis was killed by enemies.

At his funeral, Louis’ homies asked, “what’s the point if this can happen to ya?” Or, what’s the point of transforming from wolf to sheep AFTER you land on Texas death row? Father Greg answered it wonderfully, Louis (along with the brothers on the FBP on DR, “life row”) are human beings who come to know the truth about themselves and liked what they found there.

Julian of Norwich saw life’s struggle as coming to discover that we are ” clothed in God’s goodness.” Like the homie Louis, the redeemed on life row have also embraced this goodness — this greatness, and nothing will ever be the same again. And as Father Greg said, “And, really, what is death (or execution) compared to knowing that? No bullet, or needle can pierce it.”

Chapter 1. God, I Guess.

The title to this chapter seems to describe my entire life. Living with God during my childhood, then for so long without God and finally these past two years with Him. Without God, why would anyone want to accompany those on the margins, the homie, the incarcerated, those on death row?

I see my old self in so many of these homies like Rascal, who was recalcitrant, defensive and primed for a fight. Full of attitude, you couldn’t tell him nothing. But on one particular day, he chose to take Father Greg’s advice and let it, “marinate on his heart” I’m my most spiritually enlightened self when I allow my heart and soul to marinate in the vastness of God. Father Greg summed it up best with, “Jesus chose to marinate in the God who is always greater than our tiny conception, the God who loves without measure and without regret.” And, “To anchor yourself in this, to keep always before your eyes this God is to chose to be intoxicated, marinated in the fullness of God.” Wow! It can’t be said better than that.

Or Rigo’s story, how, after sharing the horror of his father’s abuse, expresses to Father Greg what his mother is. How his mom takes seven buses to see his sorry ass every Sunday. My mom and dad would travel four hundred miles round trip once, sometimes twice a month to visit me here. And imagine, the expansive heart of God who travels four million miles just to arrive at us. And how after all of that, we settle for less intimacy with him when we could have as much of God as we want.

I loved Cesar’s story. A huge, scary looking ex-con on “swole,” freshly released from prison and Father Greg takes him to JCPenny to buy clothes, and all the customers were afraid of him. That story reminded me if my brother Gary Raynard Green. We called Gary “Big G” for a reason. He was NFL lineman big, six-foot three, three hundred pounds, and if he did not smile he was scary looking. But I was privileged to see his smile daily and the love of God in his eyes. Now for the quote:

“God is more expansive than every image we think rhymes with God. How much greater is the God we have than the one we think we have. More than anything else, the truth of God seems to be about a joy that is a foreigner to disappointment and disapproval. This joy does not know what we’re talking about when we focus on the restriction of not measuring up.” And, “First things, recognizably first, the God who is greater than God, has only one thing on her mind, and that is to drop, endlessly, rose petals on our heads. Behold the One who can’t take His eyes off you. Marinate in the vastness of that.”