Posted: May 11, 2012 1:53 AM
Updated: May 11, 2012 10:53 AM
WESLACO - Teens in the Rio Grande Valley are being lured into the gang life with the promise of money and power. But getting involved in those organizations comes with a price.
One man CHANNEL 5 NEWS spoke with used to live the gang life. He has a lengthy criminal record. He says he's now trying to turn his life around but the past keeps creeping into his present.
We'll call the man "Joe". He grew up in Harlingen, selling drugs. Soon he was moving up the criminal chain.
"Sure the money is great. The promises sound so promising, but you have so much to loose," says "Joe."
It's a lesson he learned the hard way. "I wanted to feel important. I guess, because when I was growing up I was restricted from a lot. I was restricted from the streets, so when I got to a certain age I decided I knew what was best for me," says "Joe."
Joe was raised by his grandparents after his mother abandoned him at the age of three. His grandparents tried to protect him from getting involved in street life. But that all changed when he became a teenager. He went out against their will. He started selling drugs at school and hanging with criminals.
"I started working with these guys. I didn't know until later they were acquainted with the Texas Syndicate," he says.
"All of these gangs, prison gangs, Texas Syndicate, Mexican Mafia, they are all involved in drug trafficking, arms trafficking, and human smuggling," says San Juan Police Chief Juan Gonzalez.
Gozalez says gangs are responsible for almost all the crimes we see in our region. He says law enforcement knows the gangs are linked with cartel organizations on both sides of the border. Those are the same gangs that get their manpower in poor Valley neighborhoods. They target kids.
"They prey on these vulnerable communities. They know they can send a couple of guys to go recruit these youngsters," says Gonzalez.
He tells us children and teens are promised what they don't have, money and power.
"They target them because they are vulnerable," says the police chief.
"Joe" reflects on how vulnerable he was. He says he was sucked into gang life and learned the way things worked quickly.
He started taking on more and more risks.
"I was delivering 800 pounds to Weslaco. I got into shootouts. It was quick money. I've literally sat with murderers and they talk about it like it's nothing," says "Joe."
A human smuggling deal gone bad got "Joe" kidnapped in Mexico. His wife had to cross the border to pay ransom and save his life.
"Even then I didn't realize I had to change," says "Joe."
His life didn't change. He started spending more time in jail. His wife finally left him.
"I decided I had two choices: Go buck and go wild or find that peace I need. And I found that peace in the Holy Bible," he says.
He says his last time in jail changed things. He started to reflect on his childhood, started thinking about the mistakes he made and paying attention to what he ignored.
He made a choice to change from behind bars. Out of jail once again, he and his wife are working on staying together. But taking care of his family is hard. Due to his criminal past, he can't find legitimate work.
Gonzalez says it's not just about the job, it's about the criminal life.
"I've seen guys who have been in gangs forever. Now they are in their 40s and 50s, they are still being exploited by the gang. When they were in those gangs in their 20s and their teens. So they don't forget. They want you to make sure that all your life you owe something to the gang," says the police chief.
"Joe" understands his past is still affecting his life in more ways than one. He was a message for other children tempted by money and power.
"Don't fall for it. You have so much to lose," he says.