AUSTIN, Texas — When life at home wasn’t safe, Allison Franklin found more comfort on the streets of Houston.
“I was raped repeatedly,” Franklin said.
She said her rapist was a family member. She became a runaway before she was a teenager.
“I was already using drugs at 11 or 12 years old,” Franklin said.
She joined a gang: Tango Blast.
In middle school, she became a drug dealer.
“I started selling drugs at school, even though I was runaway, because that’s where my customers were,” Franklin said.
Her gang life was built on a foundation of trauma.
“My family did everything they could to save me from myself. They spent a huge amount of money. At times, I was at home and I would leave again,” Franklin said.
She isn't alone. Her story is reflected across Austin.
“The lifestyle is not everything that it cracks up to be as it relates to a gang member,” Lieutenant Doug Rice, with the Austin Police Department Gang Unit, said.
Lt. Rice said gangs use our schools to sell drugs and recruit members.
“They’re very free-flowing throughout the city,” Lt. Rice said.
In 2016, Austin police, state troopers and FBI agents arrested 15 people accused of being gang members. The charges included drug distribution.
Police said some of those arrested were members of Tango Blast.
That same year, KVUE rode along with APD to see how gangs work.
A search led to the discovery of $700 in cash, a bag of marijuana and no driver's license. Officers said that man had had 73 charges filed against him.
The Texas Department of Public Safety's "Gang Threat Assessment" from 2018 shows Tangos in Austin had “the highest number of arrests for homicide and sexual assault” and “continue growing at a fast rate and maintain the highest membership numbers among all Texas-based gangs.”
The FBI warns Tango Blast works with cartels and ranks in the top three gangs for cross-border crimes, including child sex trafficking.
“They are associated sometimes with the cartels that are pushing narcotics through the I-35 corridor, and into the city itself. They are associated with them, but we don’t see random acts of violence with [other] Tango Blast,” Lt. Rice said.
Austin-based members commit more narcotic dealing, and any violence tends to stay within the gang itself, Lt. Rice said.
“They do commit assault, but usually it’s gang member on gang member,” Lt. Rice said.
Austin police records show 456 documented Tango Blast members in Austin.
Police document gang members in the city using the state’s Code of Criminal Procedure.
“If you compare it to San Antonio, which has 3,800, and Houston, which has 2,500, we don’t have a lot,” Lt. Rice said.
Lt. Rice warned recruitment begins early.
“It could start as early as middle school,” Lt. Rice said.
Austin police officers warn students about the gang life in their “Gang Resistance, Education, and Training” program.
“Sometimes, it’s right in their face on a daily basis. If they grow up in that neighborhood, and there’s a gang working or active in that neighborhood, then they see those people. They hang out with them. They go to school with them,” Lt. Rice said.
Franklin left Tango Blast and went to college, but her troubles didn’t end. The trauma from childhood, combined with hardships after college, led her down a dark path. A sex trafficker took control of her life.
"He turned out to be the most brutal man I’ve ever met,” Franklin said.
She was identified as a sex trafficking victim after a court order mandated individualized therapy.
Franklin now helps others like herself build a better life.
“I do groups in a child detention center, and these kids are 13 and 14," Franklin said. "They are looking at me for help, and all the odds are set against them."
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