HOUSTON -- A former Houstone gang member said he managed to escape the crime-filled lifestyle, but it wasn t easy.

Houston law enforcement leaders gathered Thursday morning to announce a new initiative to fight gang crime.They said there are some 10,000 gang members living in the area. Not too long ago, one of them was a man named Ryan, who said he lived the gang life for more than 13 years.

It s from being, or wanting to be, a part of something that you usually don t have at home or in your community, Ryan said.

While in prison he joined Tango Blast, a prison gang also known around Houston as the Houstones.

The Houstones are Houston s largest gang. Gang investigators said if the group ever gets organized, the city would have to go to war with them.

Ryanhas a hugeHoustone gang tattoo on his stomach.

This is one that stands out a little more, he said.

He's in the process of trying to get his tattoos removed, but it's not cheap. He said he s been quoted $1,300 per arm.

Ryan said he joined the Houstones and was rewarded with jewelry and a sense of brotherhood, but then, shortly thereafter, he was forced to go to work.

There came a serious side to it. You had to load up in a car and everybody got guns and you had to go take care of somebody. That was just a part of it, he said. You know you couldn't act scared and you couldn't refuse because then if you refuse, or try to back out, then you were the enemy.

Ryan was convicted for evading arrest, stealing cars, assault, burglary and possession of drugs.

He said he finally had enough when he became a Christian.

I just came to them and said, Hey I just want out, Ryan said. It didn't go too well, Jeff. They hit me with a master lock in the head. I got 16 stitches.

But Ryan said he urges current gang members to not let the beatings scare them.

Image-wise, it is all a lie and don't buy into it, Ryan said.

He said there are numerous programs available to help gang members, like the Divine Fellowship Church on Jones Road.

That is where Ryan is currently volunteering and counseling others.

He said getting completely away from the gang life is his goal, because he still gets recognized asa Houstonewith his tattoos.

Ryan said anyone who would like to get help can contact the Divine Fellowship Church at 281-955-5145.

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