HOUSTON -- Angel Ponce's life is about promise. He's going to college and he's working for the City of Houston. You would never know he was once a gang member who was initiated at age 10. The initiation involved getting "clicked," or beat up for a minute and a half, by 5 gang members.
"I remember standing up from the ground, bleeding from my nose, busted lip, swollen eye, bruises all over my body, I felt like I could hardly breathe," said Ponce. "I got tattoos representing the gang. I started wearing the style of clothing of the gang. I started getting in trouble in school because I couldn’t concentrate."
A lifestyle of alcohol and drugs led to a bad car accident that left Ponce in a wheelchair. It was also a wakeup call to get out of the gang.
"I had to relocate, move to another side of town," said Ponce. "I had to fade away."
Now there's one less gang member in Houston, but there are so many others. In fact, there are more than 10,000 gang members who belong to 200 gangs in the Houston area, and 50 percent of gang crime here is drug-related, according to new statistics released Thursday.
"It is all of our responsibility to end the scourge of gang violence," said Harris County District Attorney Pat Lykos
That's why a group of law enforcement agencies, including the DEA, FBI, ATF, HPD and the Harris County Sheriff’s Office, have launched a new website called StopHoustonGangs.org. People can leave anonymous tips about gang activities on the site, as well as learn more about gangs.
"I would tell the youth out there that there is a way out," said Ponce. "You can contact the Mayor's Anti - Gang Office."
Ponce works there. His team educates young people about gangs and talks to parents about gang-involvement warning signs.
"If you’re looking within your own family, I would look for things like use of an unfamiliar nickname, carrying a bandana, signs of physical violence, truancy and discipline problems," said Patricia Harrington, the Director of the Mayor’s Anti-Gang Office.
The Anti-Gang Office helped Angel Ponce, too. It’s the place he turned to when he wanted to leave the gang. Now, he’s using that life experience to help others.