Transformation Stories

Janet Contreras: Connecting the Dots

“I see myself as a rose,” says Janet Contreras. “Each petal is part of my transition, and now I’m blossoming.”

Before she went to prison, Janet studied to be a makeup artist, so her choice of metaphor isn’t surprising. But with a strike and felonies behind her, she didn’t think she had a future. When she came to Homeboy Industries in search of a job, she asked her interviewer, “Do you think they’ll even consider me?”

The answer? “We’ve got you.”

Three years later, Janet is creating that same sense of safety and support for the team she oversees as a Navigator—Homeboy’s name for on-the-ground mentor/managers who have been through the program themselves.

“We don’t do the work for trainees, but we connect the dots,” she says. “I listen to them, and pretty soon you hear what’s behind their words. You see the hurt.”

Earning the trust of men and women who’ve been thrown away by their families and communities is a challenge. Recently Janet counseled a trainee who fell into a state of despair when her final parole hearing was delayed by a month. “I told her, ‘Look, think of it as weeks, not a month. You’ll have more time to look for housing, and you’ll have your first turkey with your kids on Thanksgiving.’”  

Janet tries to be a role model and a surrogate mom to her team; since she doesn’t have custody of her children, her Homeboy family (including her fiancé, Boris, a fellow Homeboy graudate) helps heal the wounds from her past.

“I learn a lot from them, too,” she says. “I always make sure to thank them for their work. People feel good when they’re seen and respected. I’ll go with them to scrub the floors in the café when they’re working. I tell them, ‘Why not? I’m just like you.’”


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Janet Contreras: Connecting the Dots