False Promises of Gang Life

Parents may not realize this, but research tells us that the number one reason children join gangs is for a sense of family or belonging. Today’s working parents are busy. This isn’t wrong; this is necessity, but sometimes kids feel neglected or inadvertently get lost in the shuffle. Some children simply aren’t as outgoing as others and feel isolated or bullied at school. These kids can easily get discouraged and lonely. They are easy targets for the lure of gang promises. The reality of gang life is not what it may appear to be.

Young people are drawn into gangs because of the illusion of friends who “have their back”, money, respect and the glittery lifestyle some celebrities represent. There is not protection in a gang. As a matter of fact, there is much more danger in joining a gang than not because you and your family become targets for rival gangs. Entire families are put in harm’s way. Most young people never meant for siblings and other family members to be killed. They usually don’t realize the far reaching consequences of gang involvement.

Gang members usually end up dropping out of school because of fear of rival gang members. Without an education, there’s not a lot of hope for financial security. Respect in a gang is simply fear. Real respect is recognizing the rights of others and treating people the way you want to be treated. Real respect is earned through education and accomplishments. Gang violence and criminal acts are hardly respectful. How much respect is garnered for those behind bars? Does anyone really grow up thinking, “hey, when I grow up, I want to go to jail”? Does anyone really think they should be beaten senseless to gain friends? Should you really have to commit crimes to keep “friends”? Most teens are tired of parents and teachers telling them what to do. Gangs dictate what you wear, where you go, who you can hang out with and date. They will rob you of your freedom and choices.

According to statistics, gang involvement makes one 60% more likely to be a victim of homicide. Teens who find themselves involved in gangs usually never intended to ruin their lives. They were trying to find something positive, but they found it in the wrong place.

If a young person you know is entertaining the thought of joining a gang, remind him or her of the consequences and the alternatives. There are clubs, church activities, Boys and Girls clubs, sports, various lessons in art, dance, music, etc. If you are already involved in the gang culture and want out, go to your local police gang task force. According to the website above, there are ways out, but you may likely have to change your location. It won’t be easy, but can be done. Remember, it’s much easier to never get involved than to get out.

Newton Gang Robs Two Banks in One Night

On January 9, 1921, the Newton Gang drove into Hondo, Texas, a small town 30 miles west of San Antonio, to rob one of the two banks in town. It was just past midnight and the temperature was near freezing.

The Newtons knew the night watchman in Hondo, and as was his habit, they found him huddled around a pot-bellied stove in the depot. They cut all of the telephone wires and then went back to check on the night watchman. He had not budged from his spot by the stove so Joe was placed across the street as a lookout while the rest went to the bank.

In his 1979 interview, Willis proudly told his version of the story:

“Sometime you just get lucky ’cause they had left the vault door open. They had left it unlocked so we didn’t need no nitro or nothing. We jimmied the window, walked over to the vault, tried the handle and she opened! You would be surprised how many times them banks would just close the door so it looked locked during the night.

“We had the vault cleaned out in no time and went to see if the night watchman was still in the depot. Sure enough, he was reading a magazine and drinking coffee by the stove. Well hell, we figured we had plenty of time so we’d go over to the other bank and give it a try. I kept Joe and Doc watching the night marshal while Jess and I went down to the other bank.

“We got inside that bank and cleaned it out. Damn, two banks in one night and the night marshal, he never come out of the depot!”

The local newspaper, the Hondo Anvil Herald, carried the story with a splash headline:

Yeggs Rob Hondo Banks

One of the Most Daring Robberies Ever Staged in Texas Occurred Here Sunday Morning

The people of Hondo were amazed and angered Sunday morning when it became known that both banks had been entered by yeggs, between midnight and daylight, and robbed of both money and valuables. Entrance to the First National Bank was effected by forcing the front doors; while the entrance to the State Bank was effected by prizing down the bars over the last window in the alley between Parker’s and the bank.

The newspaper went on to give an elaborate description of the robbery:

Owing to most of the money in both banks being in the money safes, with time locks set, the loss in cash was not serious, the First National losing a total of $2,814 while in the matter of actual cash loss the State Bank was a little more fortunate, its loss being $1,879; both banks losing a total of $4,694 nearly all of which was silver coin.

The funds of both banks were covered by burglary insurance, consequently neither will suffer loss. [Just like Willis had assured his brothers.]

Owners of private boxes, who had put their valuables in the vaults of the banks, are the heaviest losers, and their actual loss will not be definitely known for some time-probably a month-as the owners of the boxes are the only ones who can clear up the loss, the officials of the banks not being advised of the contents of the boxes.

The safety deposit box owners had cash, government bonds, War Savings Stamps, jewelry, and other valuables in their boxes so it was impossible to determine the exact amount taken in the robbery. Estimates of as high as $30,000 were never confirmed.

The article continued to describe the “safe experts:’

… That the robbers were experts is borne out by the fact that they were able to work the combination on the vault of the First National Bank. [Willis said it was left unlocked.] They were also experts in the use of explosive, the vault doors of the State Bank being blown open by one of the most powerful explosives known-TNT [ Willis swore in his interview that he never used dynamite-only nitroglycerine.]

The vaults were thoroughly ransacked and the floors were strewn with papers about two feet thick.

From the thoroughness with which the robbers made their search for securities it is evident that they spent two hours or more in the vaults of the banks and the private boxes of the customers are in a sad plight, most of them showing that they were beat open by some heavy instrument, probably with a sledgehammer that had been stolen from the blacksmith shop of Mask & Co.

… That the robbers were no tyros (archaic word meaning beginners) in the business of robbing is again borne out by the fact that they took every precaution against being apprehended by the possession of jewelry, gold coins, and so forth, which might lead to their identity. The floors of the vaults were literally strewn with such articles as might lead to their detection. Notes and other articles of value that could not be turned into money were cast aside and left behind.

It is generally believed that the band was composed of from six to eight men, and that both banks were robbed simultaneously, a gang being assigned to each bank.

Another circumstance that indicates that the robbers were not new to the game of bank robbing is borne out by the fact that every telephone line in town was cut, apparently, before the banks were robbed. And this part of their plans was carried out most effectively and by an expert telephone man.

… Cables were severed, apparently with saws, and single wires were cut with wire clippers. Only three telephones connected with the local exchange were working Sunday morning.

The robbery was discovered by the night watchman about five o’clock Sunday morning and immediately reported to Deputy Sheriff C.J. Bless.

… Harry Crouch, our local telegraph operator, was summonsed and messages were sent east and west in an effort to intercept the robbers, but as far as the general public is advised, nothing was learned as to the direction in which the robbers went.

Detectives from San Antonio and the surrounding area converged on the Hondo banks searching for clues to the duel-heist robbery.

… One of the most remarkable coincidences of this whole business is that these robberies could have occurred right in the heart of the town and not more than 200 feet apart, and not one among our people being any the wiser until daylight it was revealed what had transpired, and that too, it was since developed that the night watchman and the two other men were in the waiting room of the depot, not more than sixty yards from the front doors of the First National Bank, while the robbery was being accomplished. The robbers must have done their work very silently to avoid detection. [It is hard to image a “silent” explosion of nitroglycerine.]

The word the newspaper used for the night burglars was “yeggs,” a popular vernacular expression of the era. It is interesting to compare the newspaper reporting to Willis’ account in which the vault of the First National Bank had been left unlocked and they used nitroglycerine (rather than TNT) to blow the vault door on the State Bank. Even more interesting was the fact that there were no follow up articles on the robbery. There was not a single mention of the multi-bank burglary over the ensuing months-although it contained large advertisements from both banks. It was as if both banks had never been robbed.

The Galveston Daily News on January 10 reported the robbery describing a “clew” that proved to be a red herring:

Robber Heel May Lead to Arrest

Telephone Connections Cut When Banks at Hondo Are Looted

San Antonio, Texas-January 10-A rubber heel, lost from a shoe, may lead to the identification of the bank robbers who made a successful haul of $20,000 from the First National Bank of Hondo and the Hondo State Bank early Sunday morning.

The bank robbers gained entrance to the two banks by prying the iron bars loose from rear windows of the buildings and manipulating the combinations of the vault in the First National Bank, but blew off the door of the vault in the state bank.

The haul was made from the safety deposit boxes in both banks, the robbers obtaining only $1,500 in cash from the First National and $29,350 of the state bank’s money. The smaller vault safes in both institutions were untouched.

The balance of the loot, it is estimated by officers at the two banks, was secured from owners of safety deposit boxes in the banks. Hondo was not aware of the visit of the bank robbers until almost noon Sunday, when the open windows at the rear of the two bank buildings were discovered.

Heel lost in bank.

Sheriff J.S. Baden, during his investigation was given the lost rubber heel, which had been found in front of the vault of the First National Bank. Further investigation disclosed a set of burglar tools consisting of a pipe wrench, saw, and chisel, which had been left by the robbers. These however are not considered as important for they are of a standard make, easily purchased at any hardware store.

Just outside of the window through which the robbers entered the state bank, Sheriff Baden found the numerals 13,555 scratched on the brick work. This, bank officials believe, indicates the amount the robbers secured from the deposit boxes in the bank. [This curious piece of information appears to have been just another “red herring.”]

Sheriff Baden believes the robberies were committed by a band of six men, who sent an advance guard of two into Hondo last week.

… Hondo citizens, who were up at an early hour Sunday morning, reported to the Sheriff that they saw a high-powered automobile leaving the outskirts of town occupied by six men. These, the Sheriff believes, were the Hondo robbers.

[Ironically] Sheriff Baden suffered a loss by the early morning visit of the robbers, as his safety deposit box in the First National Bank was broken open and $300 in stamps and $150 in bonds were taken. A $100 Liberty bond, the property of his son O.J. Baden, of Donna, was left in the box.

In light of the erroneous “clews’, the Newtons were never tried for the Hondo bank robberies.

Willis Newton was born in 1889 and died in 1979, making him the longest living Texas outlaw. He and the Newton Gang hit trains and banks in the early 1920s but their biggest haul occurred in 1924 when they robbed a train outside of Rondout, Illinois-getting away with $3,000,000. They still hold the record for the biggest train robbery in U.S. history.

Graffiti, Gangs, And (Your) Teen(s)

While walking through a neighborhood recently, I noticed some graffiti writing in the middle of the street. I immediately thought to myself, “wow, do people STILL draw graffiti these days”?… Now this particular neighborhood was “nice”, “quiet”, and everyone pretty much kept to themselves. “So”, I thought to myself, “WHY would someone(s) purposely target a street in an area like this?… unless, there is more to the story here.

Upon a little further research, I discovered that this may have been left-behind traces of an unruly group. This made me wonder if this could have been some type of gang-like activity (sometimes I am a little naive to things that are outside of ‘my world’). As I continued to ponder on this, it made me realize that our teens are becoming more and more involved in troublesome behaviors and self-destructive affiliations.

My mother always said that life is FULL of C-H-O-I-C-E-S.

The current events in the news show young men (and women) spending countless years that equal MORE than the REST of their lives behind bars, because of the choices they made previously to join a gang. It saddens me to think that they will NEVER have the chance to re-consider their actions again.

On my way home, I came up with my own list of reasons why we are losing our kids to “the streets”, and violent activity. Maybe this list of reasons will reach at least one parent, Youth Leader, or even a teen who may be able to get through to a loved one, a close friend, or someone special to them and help them decide AGAINST joining a gang or making ANY potentially violent/harmful decision(s).

My list of why…

– a sense of belonging. He or she may not feel connected to his or her own family.

– this group may represent the ONLY thing they recognize as a sense of community.

– he or she may be BORED. Having nothing of interest to them to keep them busy, or to positively impact their time

– he or she may be trying to fit in, feel accepted as a part of a larger crowd.

– he or she may be HURTING, and searching for SOMEone who understands them.

– it MAY be a cry for help or attention that they may feel they are not getting at home.

– he or she may have a NEED for an authority-type figure, or someone to look up to in their life.

– he or she may want to be viewed as “cool”, or stand out to their friends.

– his or her environment may not be very positive or productive, so they may choose what is “common” and available to them. Thus, falling into a stereotypical-type scenario.

– he or she may not feel that they have inner leadership instincts, so they may choose to follow the crowd (we were taught to ALWAYS be a leader… NEVER a follower)

– he or she may not be much of an independent thinker, so they allow others (and other things) to influence their mindset and thought process.

I remembered reading an article in a Teen Voices Magazine on the realities of gang-life, and how a young 16-year old girl shared her story of how and why she joined a gang. Her story was very insiteful, and REAL. She mentioned that she was searching, trying to fill her need for someone to show her affection, and that they loved and cared for her. She wanted to be accepted, protected, and respected. She understood that many kids join gangs; believing that selling drugs, etc. would eventually fulfill their inner desire for “fancy”cars, and nice(r) clothes. She said that many feel that it is the ONLY way; not realizing the REALity of it all.

Gang violence and acceptance is a part of our society today. This issue is RARELY addressed (until someone is shot, injured, or death occurs as a result). My deepest belief is that the RIGHT decisions can be made in a teen’s life, and it all starts with the RIGHT conversation. So, let’s get talkin’.