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Gang Lite?

No longer active, Randy Moreno says Houstone recruits members promising brotherhood without lifelong commitment.
Daniel Kramer

Randy Moreno is staring into an open prison cell where two inmates are waiting to kick in his head. He had promised himself he would never join another gang, and certainly not a prison gang. But now is not the time for second-guessing. This is his initiation.

"Get your shine on!" barks a prisoner serving as the lookout.

Shirtless, wearing white prison pants and matching Chuck Taylor low-tops, Randy, who accurately calls himself "a big guy for a Mexican," steps into the cage. There's not much room to maneuver in the tiny cell, what with a metal toilet, table and bunk bed taking up most of the space. The walls are slowly turning peach-­colored, as over time inmates have chipped away at the top coat of white paint, putting the flakes over their water heaters to sniff and get high.

Suddenly, the first guy lunges forward, but Randy shoves his shoulder, sending him into the metal table in the same instant that the second inmate swings a fist at Randy's head. Somehow, he misses, just as the first guy moves across the room and tackles Randy, hammering his head against the wall. Quickly, Randy bounces to his feet, and the three men continue to swing at each other, as many blows missing as landing.

In all, the "cora-check" lasts less than a minute. It's just a test, a "heart-check" to see if Randy will fight back, proof in gang-world that he'll stand strong and be there to back up his fellow "homitos." Randy passes. It's official. He's been "jumped-in," and now belongs to Tango Blast, the largest prison gang in Texas.

"When I was finished doing it," says Randy, "I barely had a mark or scratch on me."

This is not posturing on Randy's part. His initiation was relatively easy, just cheap, street-punk theatrics compared to the laborious crime-riddled rituals older, more established prison gangs require of their recruits. And that's the point.

Ostensibly, Tango Blast is not your grandfather's or even your father's prison gang of old, with familiar names like the Texas Syndicate and Mexican Mafia, established organizations based on commitment, structure and a rigid do-or-die set of rules. No, this is a new breed putting a fresh twist on an old idea.

It is permeating the social fabric like no such group ever has before. Members proudly advertise their affiliation all over MySpace and YouTube, and people who have never even been to prison wear the gang's tattoos and symbols.

It's disorganized, fast and loose, and with none of the lifelong "blood-in, blood-out" commitment demanded by other gangs. At least that's what members told Randy in the beginning.

"It's a headless organization" says Randy, "like an anthill that busted open but with no queen. Everyone is running around crazy doing their own thing and there's a freedom that none of the other gangs allow. And that's why people join. It's just homeboys looking after homeboys, protecting each other, and once you leave prison, it's not supposed to really exist, even though it does. In some ways, it's kind of like Gang-Lite."

In some ways, maybe, but in others, members are every bit living the gangster life.

Technically, Tango Blast is not a prison gang.

"The thing is," says Sigifredo Sanchez, head of the Security Threat Group Office that monitors prison gangs and cliques for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, "they don't fall under any of our criteria for a prison gang, so we can't establish them as that. A Security Threat Group, like the Texas Syndicate or Mexican Mafia, is far more organized and has laws and regulations, so they fall under the state's definition of a prison gang. But right now, the Tangos are just an up-and-coming group."

This technicality is allowing Tango Blast members to flourish. For security reasons, known members of other gangs are placed in segregation and kept separate from the general population. But because prison authorities cannot segregate members of Tango Blast simply for belonging, they live with everyone else and, according to members, have the run of things, extorting non-gang members for protection and taking control of the illegal drug and cigarette trade.

"When I was inside," says "Pete," a member of Tango Blast who now lives in Port Arthur and did not want his real name used, "I was selling stuff and getting things smuggled in, but this was all on my own accord and I kept whatever I earned. I didn't have to kick it back into the group. And that's why we're not really a gang. Nothing is organized. Each unit has its own set of rules and personality, but the thing that makes us closest to a gang is the fact we fight other gangs. But it doesn't matter which prison you go to, we outnumber everybody, and I think everyone is getting alarmed."

 

Houston police, however, do classify Tango Blast as a gang. For the past two years, officers have been using a computer program called GangTracker, into which they download information about gang members they encounter on the streets, such as the person's name, gang affiliation, nickname and tattoos. Pictures of the member and his tattoos are also entered — a valuable resource for police investigating crimes.

For decades, the Texas Syndicate and Mexican Mafia have been the two best-known Hispanic prison gangs in Texas. Hundreds of news stories have documented members' ruthless violence and military-style crime operations inside and outside of prison. On the street, gangs like Mara Salvatrucha, or MS-13, have garnered lots of attention, most recently in Houston in the form of the ongoing Ashley Benton trial, in which the teen is accused of ­murdering a member of the notorious El Salvadoran gang. In contrast, only a handful of newspaper articles even mention Tango Blast.

Overwhelmingly Hispanic and all-male, Tango Blast formed inside Texas's state prisons during the early 1990s. Originally, say members, it was an offshoot or cousin of the Texas Syndicate, but the "homitos" soon grew tired of being taken advantage of by the established gang to do much of its dirty work. So, in the same way that MS-13 formed in Los Angeles to protect its people from other predatory groups, so Tango Blast was created to shield inmates from other prison gangs. In fact, many older members claim the word "Tango" is an acronym standing for "Together Against Negative Gang Organizations." However, the most common interpretation of Tango is "hometown clique."

This makes sense, because the group is divided up by cities, or hometowns. The four original chapters of Tango Blast are in Houston, called Houstone; Austin, called ATX or La Capricha; Dallas, known as D-Town; and Fort Worth, called Foros or Foritos. These independent groups unite to form the Four Horsemen, sometimes also called Puro Tango Blast. In and out of prison, they tend to stick together. Other cities and regions, including El Paso, San Antonio, Corpus Christi, the Rio Grande Valley and West Texas, have Tango gangs but do not always get along with the original four. Houstone is by far the largest of them all. Exact numbers are hard to come by. While police, county jail and state prison authorities all say Tango Blast is the largest clique in Texas, they will not estimate how many men belong. Several members, including Randy, say Houstone members number in the thousands, and when you "put all the Four Horsemen together, you're in the five digits, easy."

"There's so little structure and so few requirements to get in," says Harris County Deputy Michael Squyres, who works with gang members in the county jail, "that they're drawing very large numbers of people."

The older prison gangs are far more selective about whom they let in, and initiations are more involved than a simple minute-long fistfight with a pair of members. Typically, recruits are forced to commit some violent or serious crime so that members can dangle it over the greenhorns like the sword of Damocles, and use it against them should they betray the gang.

Indeed, the Tango Blast gangs, Houstone in particular, are in a class all by themselves. They operate as both a street gang and a prison gang, and at the same time, in some ways, they are neither.

"We used to joke," says Squyres, "that when you went from a street gang to a prison gang, you'd gone from a farm club to the major league. But Houstone is kind of in-between. They're a weird concept, and it's something we're all having to deal with and adjust to."

Most street gangs are territorial and dominate certain blocks and neighborhoods. Not Houstone. The majority of members joined up while incarcerated and have returned home, be that in the Heights, Baytown, Pasadena or southwest Houston. They do not sport colors or bandannas like street gangs, but do have signifying tattoos, including the Astros logo, local area codes such as 713 and 281, and the Roman numerals XVI, XX and II, which correspond to the letters P, T and B and stand for Puro Tango Blast.

Unlike traditional prison gangs, Houstone is decentralized, with no written constitution or set rules. All members are supposedly equal; all you need to apply is to have spent time in a state prison — although even that is no longer an absolute. Whereas traditional prison gangs have clear-cut systems of seniority and rank, Tango Blast does not. Members elect speakers for each wing of every unit within the prison system. The speakers, called "sillas," Spanish for "chair," then meet with the leaders of other gangs when required and bring the group's consensus opinion to the table.

 

"It's like the only and purest form of democracy in there," says Pete.

When a man joins one of the established prison gangs, he must drop any and all prior gang affiliations. But not if he joins Houstone. Upon release from prison, members can choose to stay active in Houstone, or they may return to their street gang or just plain drop gang-­banging altogether. In traditional prison gangs, death is the only acceptable reason to quit.

"We get a lot of people who will take a minute-long ass beating just to join for the protection and to live a little better," says Pete.

If you listen to many of the guys who have been released from prison, you'd tend to think Houstone is far more like a college fraternity than a prison gang. They talk mostly about brotherhood and looking out for one another, watching football games together and hanging out with their women and kids. After all, unlike other prison gangs, many members of Tango Blast are not hardened criminals, and they simply joined for short-term protection while incarcerated, with the expectation they'd drop the gang once they got out.

"It's just a group of people in the same city or in the suburbs that get together and go to picnics and barbecues," says "Bill," who did not want his real name used and is currently on probation. He calls himself an "active" member. "Me and my homeboys, we try to help each other out and try to get jobs for one another. We act like a second family."

In some instances, says Bill, Houstone even creates peace between street gang members who were at war with each other before they united under Tango Blast.

"I know this dude who I shot at when we were on the streets in different gangs," says Bill, "but he joined Houstone and now we laugh about it. He tells all the homeboys, 'this crazy motherfucker shot at me, and now I have his bullet right now.' And we just laugh about it because it's just part of how we grew up."

But not all Houstone and Tango Blast members choose a crime-free life after getting out of prison. Over the past several years, Houston, Dallas and Austin police have arrested Tango Blast members for everything from drug dealing and kidnapping to sexual assault and murder. Members have been accused of threatening police officers and waging a bloody, all-out turf war with members of the Texas Syndicate over drugs and issues of respect that are spilling over from the prisons into the streets.

"Most of us are trying to straighten up," says Pete of Port Arthur, "but mind you, we're all criminals and it's hard to get rid of that criminal mind-set. So when you get a bunch of criminals together, criminal shit is going to happen."

Last October, for instance, 21-year-old William Linzer, a Houstone member, was accused of kidnapping and then, along with an accomplice, of raping a teenaged girl, says Harris County prosecutor Caroline Dozier. That incident allegedly occurred about a year and a half after Linzer and another man were accused of shooting Darrick Harris in the head with a 9-millimeter handgun outside a block party in southeast Houston. Prosecutors are scheduled to take Linzer to trial on all three offenses this month.

In Dallas, Tango Blast member Guadalupe Rodriguez pleaded guilty last November in federal court to possession of methamphetamine with intent to distribute. During three separate traffic stops in 2005 and 2006, police found more than 660 grams of meth on Rodriguez, as well as loaded guns and thousands of dollars in cash. U.S. District Court Judge Jane J. Boyle sentenced him to more than 32 years in prison. In addition, police determined Rodriguez had lied to government agents about the role of his partners in the dope operation and had in fact contacted certain co-conspirators from prison to brag about cleaning up their responsibility in the venture and to warn them of ongoing police investigations.

"Some of our guys are still hardheaded criminals," says Bill. "You've got dudes out there with good connections that all their life they've been drug dealers, so you can't really get mad at them for doing their thing."

Tango Blast members have been on the receiving end of violence from rival gangs. According to a federal indictment filed earlier this year in Houston against 17 members of the Texas Syndicate, several men, including Francisco Nuncio, also known as Frank the Butcher, conspired to murder a Tango Blast member "for the purpose of gaining entrance to" and "increasing their position in the (Texas Syndicate) Enterprise."

"There's a lot of people from the Texas Syndicate who don't like Houstone," says Bill. They're mad at us, but for them, they're not just going to beat you on sight for the hell of it. They're going to check you out and see what you're about before they stab you or shoot you. It's just all about respect."

 

Sometimes, because Tango Blast is so disorganized and so large, members fight each other without even knowing it.

Take Jason Wooley, for example. Accord­ing to Harris County prosecutor Eileen Bogar, Wooley, a member of Houstone, was working as a bouncer at a pool hall called The Perfect Rack in northwest Houston in July 2004. Another Houstone member, Adrian Payan, and a non-gang member named Emerson Boroquez, says Bogar, showed up for a fistfight with Wooley, when Wooley suddenly drew a gun and fired into the ground. Immediately, a pair of men who were hiding opened fire, killing Boroquez and striking Payan in the back. Wooley was sentenced to 40 years in prison.

"They were all Houstone except for Boroquez," says Bogar, "and the jury determined that it was a planned deal, an ambush. The motive was unclear; it could have been a mistake. And it's highly possible they didn't know each other were Houstone."

For the moment, the gang's greatest failing is members' unwillingness and inability to organize. That shortcoming, in turn, is the greatest asset for police.

"What we're seeing," says FBI agent Brian Ritchie, "is that they're meeting each other in prison and then coming out, finding each other and then organizing on the street in what we'll call cells of various numbers. The violence and conflicts they have with other prison gangs is spilling over into the streets, and they are no different than any other gang in terms of the kinds of crimes they commit, except that they are not that organized. Yet. And that's what we're trying to prevent, because if they do organize, we're going to have a big problem."

But active members such as Bill say Houstone will never be as organized as the other prison gangs.

"Police and prison guards are trying to make us out to be like Texas Syndicate or some shit," says Bill, "but that's just because we're getting so big, and maybe too quickly. But they don't understand that a lot of guys who go Houstone are leaving Houstone because we don't operate like the other prison gangs, and when they try to organize us like the others, we don't play that. Sure, there are groups of dudes doing things, but it's not like they're doing it for Houstone or any greater good. Everyone is their own man, and if a group of guys make the choice to do whatever, that's got nothing to do with Houstone as a group."

When police first caught up with and arrested Randy Moreno in 1998 for threatening to shoot his girlfriend, he had only vaguely heard of Houstone and Tango Blast, and did not know any members or that it was even a prison gang.

Randy was 19 and had spent the last five years gang-banging with the Locos 13 in Alief, where he grew up.

"I was an enforcer," Randy says. "I knew how to intimidate."

Randy is about 5-foot-10 and weighs around 200 pounds. His bald head, thick neck and rounded shoulders give him the appearance of a boxer, though his eye-glasses, which rest on his squat nose, and his puffy, almost chipmunk-like cheeks soften his look. Like most gang members, tattoos are peppered all over his body, including his nickname, "Joker," which he says was given to him because "of my crazy smile when I was hitting a guy."

Randy can't recall how many fights he's been in — he estimates it at nearly 100 — but by the time the law came crashing down upon him, sending him to prison for four years for the episode with his girlfriend and a subsequent theft charge, Randy had already dodged a pair of murder attempts and was running a chop shop and several crews of car thieves, making enough money to prepay two years' worth of rent on five separate apartments scattered throughout the city.

"I guess I just thrived on the violent lifestyle and destruction," he says.

Before going to prison, Randy did know something about the hard-core prison gangs. Several months before he was arrested, Randy accompanied members of one of the Hispanic prison gangs — he won't say which one for fear of retaliation — as they went after a member they believed was a snitch.

"They asked me if I wanted in the gang," says Randy, "but they said that before I answer, I need to think about if I'll still want to be doing it at age 55 and 60. I didn't say anything to them out loud, but I thought to myself, 'There's no way.'"

Randy remembers it was a Thursday, his second day at the Goodman unit in Jasper County, when a pair of inmates first approached him in the chapel about ­Houstone.

 

"I told them I didn't want to be in a gang," says Randy, "but they were like, 'Oh no, we're not a gang.' They said it was just homeboys looking out for homeboys and that 'We can hook you up with some food and stuff from the commissary.' They said they were not like the other gangs because there wasn't the same kind of ­commitment."

Randy told them he'd think about it, and then spent the next two weeks watching what members did and how they ­interacted.

"When I went to prison," says Randy, "I told myself, 'Okay, don't join a gang, behave, make parole and get out.' Well, that soon turned to shit."

He says that when he first entered the system, his mind was focused solely on using the time to straighten out his life. But after hearing Houstone guys pitch the gang and its lax attitudes toward commitment, and realizing he was stuck there for four years, he was sold.

"I told them they seemed pretty cool and didn't seem like the other gangs," he says. "So, I said, 'Fuck it,' and got down with them."

Randy was initiated into Houstone in 2000, back when you had to be in prison to join the gang. Today, the rules seem to be more relaxed, and more and more men and teenagers are claiming to belong who have never served time in a state ­penitentiary.

In Dallas County, for instance, gang prosecutor Heath Harris says he is handling a case in which a young man belonging to the local street gang Brown Pride is awaiting trial at the county jail for allegedly stabbing his girlfriend to death last August. Harris says that jail guards have intercepted the man's mail, which details how he now belongs to Tango Blast and is fighting it out with Texas Syndicate members. The defendant also is covered in Tango Blast tattoos, all of which were applied in jail, Harris says.

"He hasn't gone to prison yet," says Harris, "and he's already been recruited and is aligning himself with that particular group. I'm definitely going to look into having the jail personnel really monitor the situation, because obviously he joined while incarcerated at the county jail. I'm going to talk to the sheriff and see what we can do to gauge what type of recruitment is really going on there."

Deputy Squyres says the same thing is happening in Harris County's jail.

"They're here," he says. "We know they're here and we see them here. People are definitely coming in who have never been in the criminal justice system before who are sporting all the tattoos and claiming to be Houstone."

Members such as Randy and Bill say you cannot join unless you go to state prison. However, they say county jail can serve as an educational seminar, but that's where it ends.

"It's really just the youngsters acting this way," says Randy. "I mean, you don't get initiated in county. But what you do is, you educate them on hand signs, the lingo, and what to do and what to expect."

The problem, he says, is that Houstone has gotten so large, and because it's unorganized, anyone can claim to be a member and it's nearly impossible to prove them right or wrong.

"When I was in county two years ago," says Randy, "this one guy was saying, 'Hey, that dude over there says he's Houstone, but he ain't in Houstone.' 'Well,' I said, 'Who the fuck let you in?' I mean, anybody can just walk on in because it's so easy to join, so you can't really question anybody."

Two years ago, Deputy Squyres was sitting at home on his couch sipping on a soda and watching the Astros play the Chicago White Sox in the World Series when suddenly, out of nowhere, he burst out ­laughing.

"They were showing some guy with an Astros star tattooed on the side of his head," he says, "and the announcer was saying something about what great fans we have here. I turned and said to my wife, 'That's not an Astros fan, he's Houstone.' And then the next day at work, some of the guys started joking about it, saying, 'I bet you that fool couldn't even tell you who's playing first base.'"

Houstone gang signs, symbols and tattoos are beginning to pop up all over town — on the street, at ballgames, at neighborhood parks. And many times, the ones sporting them are nothing but posers.

Several Sundays ago at the Lowrider Magazine Tour Show at Reliant Arena, a Hispanic teenaged boy was walking around with the word "Houston" tattooed across his back and one of the gang's symbols, "713," inked on his arm. When asked if he belonged to Houstone, he said, "Nah, I don't go with them," and then trotted off to catch up with his parents.

 

A few feet away, a man named Rudy was at a vending booth selling T-shirts with "Houston" artistically printed on the front. However, he says he often honors requests to print them up saying "­Houstone."

"Sometimes," he says, "I put on the extra 'e' because Houstone dudes are a lot of my customers and they ask for it. My uncle was real big into that group, but a lot of the time, the guys who ask for the 'Houstone' shirts aren't even real and have never been to prison."

A quick search for "Houstone" on MySpace reveals hundreds of pages with young men claiming to belong. The elaborately designed Web pages show pictures of the Astros star, $100 bills and Budweiser beer labels, but with the company's name replaced with "Houstone, the King of Cities." And they're riddled with catchy phrases like, "If you ain't blastin, you ain't lastin" and "I live the life of a 'G' until the grave or T.D.C. When you fuckin with Texas you fuckin with the best...Houstone Tango Blast."

YouTube also has several videos showing kids driving in cars saying, "H-Town for life," "Houstone to the bone" and other indecipherable rhymes.

"Most of these are people who have never been to prison, and they want to belong and be viewed as part of something," says Squyres. "And most of them are not idiots running around in the streets. These are kids who are sitting in their room who know how to use a computer and are playing all this gangster stuff out in their heads and on their computer because they think it's cool."

Squyres says he's even received reports from junior high and elementary school principals who have students writing Houstone graffiti on school property.

"Houstone has been around for a few years," says Victor Gonzalez of the Mayor's Anti-Gang Office, "but now for some reason the symbols and the name, it's getting all hyped up and people are taking them more seriously. I've got kids out there who can't wait to be Houstone. It's ridiculous."

An 18-year-old member of the Southwest Cholos hanging outside a convenience store in southwest Houston smiles when he hears the word "Houstone." He says he's never been locked up in the penitentiary, but would definitely join up if he is.

"I'd get down with them because I grew up here," he says, "You know, you gotta be proud of where you come from."

Randy has little patience for all the hype and so-called city pride.

"I think all those dudes are fucking retarded," he says. "I mean, Texas Syndicate and Mexican Mafia, they can't jump out there on MySpace or YouTube and say, 'Hey, we're Mexican Mafia, get down with us.' They'd be arrested or put down by their gang for publicizing their affairs. But Houstone does it, and people are like, 'Oh yeah, they're representing their city.' But it's one thing to represent your city; it's another when you do it with Houstone."

Bill and a pack of fellow Houstone members are getting ready to leave a club in downtown Houston late at night when they see a young man near the door with an Astros star tattooed on the back of his head flashing the gang's sign — an "H" — with his hand.

"What the hell you got there on your head?" asks Bill.

"Yeah, I know it's Houstone," replies the guy, "but if I ever get locked up, I'll be down."

An instant later, Bill and his "homeboys" escort the guy outside onto the street.

"Yeah, we beat the shit out of him," says Bill. "The rule is, if you've got our sign or whatever on there, you came from prison. If not, you'll get beat up, stabbed, shot or raped, it all depends upon the kind of guy you meet."

There is an internal feud going on right now in Tango Blast between purists — those who want to keep it a helter-skelter fraternity for ex-cons only — and those who want it to evolve into more of an organized crime family and let in guys who have never been to a state prison.

"Right now, these youngsters are getting out of control," says Bill, "and now they're all over Houston and none of 'em have been locked up and don't know the meaning of it. We're not trying to get locked back up or nothing, but at certain times, if they overdo it or disrespect right in front of us, we'll give them an ass-­kicking and they'll think about it next time when they go home with broken arms or ribs or toes."

 

Brian Ritchie of the FBI says he is seeing a shift happen on the streets. Older members, who have been to prison and paid their dues, are slowly emerging as leaders and younger guys are acting as the soldiers, selling drugs, jacking cars and robbing homes. They then cut the veterans in on the profits, he says.

Reluctantly, Bill admits some of the older members are indeed to blame.

"Yes, this newer generation has changed a lot, but don't get me wrong, some of the old-schools are with them," he says. "Some of the old Houstone who know that everyone is supposed to be equal sometimes mislead the youngsters and have them do their dirty work so they won't go back to prison. It's complicated, because these dudes are trying to use people, and it's not right, but if no one is going to teach these youngsters any better, fuck 'em, they deserve to get used. These youngsters just need the knowledge that Houstone is really all about just being there for each other."

That same Southwest Cholo member who says he can't wait to join Houstone if he ever gets sent to prison also says he sees a lot of "fakers" on the streets.

"If they're young dudes, they're fake," he says. "They have like a brother or cousin in it, but they're not in it but they claim it anyways. I mean, you'll see groups of them, the fakers, run around in packs trying to punk you. They think it's cool and that they'll get respect, but they don't."

About a year ago, says Bill, a group of the younger, more ambitious guys called a meeting in Pasadena to discuss their future and decide if they wanted to impose more of a blood-in, blood-out crime-­family ­culture.

"We heard about the meeting," Bill says, "so about 16 of us went to a park to discuss it. We could've gone out there and found them, but we decided to let them learn the hard way out in the streets. We said, why jeopardize our freedom over some punks who are trying to be something they're not and who are just trying to make a name for themselves? But, you know, they just want to be part of something."

That seems to be the difference between the older Tango Blast members and the younger kids. On the one hand, you have men who either want to stay out of trouble or, if they want to continue a life of crime, don't want publicity which makes being a criminal that much more difficult. On the other hand, you have a group of guys, many of whom have not been to prison, that have a street-gang mentality and don't grasp the necessary nuance of keeping things quiet.

"It's a schizophrenic group," says Squyres, "because of the different kinds of people involved. Street gangs by their very nature tend to be flamboyant and in-your-face, because what's the use in being in a gang if no one knows you're a gangster? But people in a real prison gang who are interested in being in a for-profit criminal enterprise definitely don't want these knucklehead youngsters drawing attention to them."

This split is as representative of what Tango Blast is all about as anything else. They're all over the map, with no direction — one small group doing one thing while another does something utterly ­different.

Randy has already seen the beginning of a metamorphosis firsthand.

In 2001, Randy got into it with his fellow Tango Blast inmates over whether or not to go to war against rival members of the African-American gang, the Crips, who were gaining strength in his unit. The gang took a loose vote; the consensus was no. But Randy didn't care, and publicly chastised his fellow members for being "pussies." The next day, Randy was standing in the gym during recreation time when members of his gang piled on and began beating him. The day after that, they paid a member of a rival gang to kill him, says Randy.

When he looks back over his life as a member of Houstone, Randy sees a touch of irony. Back when he joined, it was "jump" guys in and, if necessary, "jump" them out. But years later, they tried to snuff him out.

"I'm glad I never joined one of the 'families,'" says Randy, "because I would still have to be in it, and it would have really fucked up my life. On the other hand, joining Houstone or Tango Blast is like running head-on into total chaos. Yeah, they say it's something new, and it kinda is, but really, they're just doing the same thing as the others, just without the ­commitment."

chris.vogel@houstonpress.com


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