Transformation Stories

Amie Zuniga: How an Accidental Transformation Led to a Life of Purpose

When Amie Zuniga came to Homeboy Industries to have some tattoos removed, she wasn’t thinking about transformation. She was newly sober as a condition of keeping her youngest daughter (she’d already lost custody of her older children), but she had no ambition to stay that way. When she heard about Homeboy’s 18-month Job Training program, “I thought I’d cheat the system for a while,” she recalls. “I figured I’d go back to using eventually.”

Like the majority of Homeboy trainees, she’d grown up in an abusive environment and never imagined herself accomplishing much. But a funny thing happened on her way to “cheating the system”: “It became normal for me to be clean. And I started to see the positive impact of taking care of myself.”

A turning point came when she heard Fabian Debora—a former trainee who is now Homeboy’s Director of Substance Abuse Services and Programs—talk about his own past, fleeing violence in his home only to replicate it on the streets. His story resonated. “I wanted what Fabian had,” she says. And if he could turn his life around, maybe she could too.

From then on, she took full advantage of Homeboy’s services. She enrolled in the Domestic Violence program and took Anger Management classes. She participated in our Restorative Justice program, an intense process in which people who’ve committed acts of violence take inventory of their own victimization and meet with crime victims.

Like all Homeboy trainees, Amie started on the maintenance crew, then worked her way up to more skilled positions. She worked in the Employment Services department and at Homegirl Café. She liked getting job experience, but her real passion was health care.

This is the second turning point in Amie’s story: The woman who once doubted her own ability to stay away from drugs now began thinking creatively about her future, and advocating for herself accordingly.

“I had a plan,” she says. “I talked to everyone.” She pushed for a transfer to Homeboy’s Tattoo Removal clinic. The passage of Proposition 47 enabled her to expunge her record, turning felonies that would have prevented her from working in the health care field into misdemeanors.

Today, Amie works as an HIV Counselor with the Los Angeles Community Health Project. She goes to some of L.A.’s toughest areas to hand out clean needles and share information about HIV and Hepatitis C prevention.

“The other day I talked to this girl at one of the camps under the 110 freeway, and she said: ‘Why would you try to help me? Ain’t no one going to hire me. I’ve been to jail.’ I told her, ‘I thought the same thing. I’ve been to jail too. Go to Homeboy.’”

Now Amie’s goals are to continue her education, move to a bigger apartment so that her older children can live with her when the time comes, and to “use my past for something positive.” She makes sure that the homeless women she encounters on the job get hygiene products in addition to clean needles. She knows that little things like that help people living on the margins maintain their humanity.

Some days, she can hardly believe how far she’s come. “Dude, I have a retirement plan,” she laughs, a bit incredulously. She remembers what Father Greg Boyle told her when she was struggling with her children: “He said, ‘Someday your kids will see the hero that we see in you.’ That meant a lot to me. I’m my own hero now.”


Janet Contreras: Connecting the Dots

Damond Johnson: “We Were at Homeboy for the Same Reason”

Connie Cordero: The Point of Doing Well

Miguel Avila: “I Don’t Want to Let Myself Down”

Erika Vargas: The Small Word That Means Everything

Brazil Jackson: “laugh a little harder, live a little longer”

Marcus Avery: “It’s Family”

Orsy Jerez: Finding an Open Door

Valerie Copeland: “Homeboy is a place where it is ok to be myself”

Will Lopez: “I’ve had my second chance here—and my third, and my fourth”

James Horton: Compassion in Action

Victor Key: A Chance at Happiness

Gordy Abriel: Stepping Into a Brighter Future

Christy Stillwell: From Victim to Advocate

Javier Chavez: Mind, Body, and Spirit

Carlitos Asegura: Who are we? Homeboys! How long will we run? Forever!

Javier Medina: Made from Scratch

David Andrade: “Do it for yourself”

Brandy Harris: “Recognize who you are”

Ruth Butler: “Now I love my life”

Hoang Pham: “Homeboy is my home”

Rasheena Buchanan: “You can’t get this kind of love anywhere else”

Glenda Alvarenga: Hungry for Empowerment

Jermaine Smith: “There’s nothing else like this”

Pedro Mata: Working for a Better Life

Eugene Walker: An Advocate for Positive Living

George Nunez: Being the Father He Never Had

Mariana Enriquez: A Moment of Clarity

Amie Zuniga: How an Accidental Transformation Led to a Life of Purpose

Lami Glenn: “Their generosity is what drives me”

Evan Hess: Father’s Day, every day

Dorene Macias: parenting and paying it forward

Juan Marquez: Constructing Confidence

Gabriel Lopez - Two generations in gangs, two generations of change

Jose Arellano - Lost and found