This year I was again honored with an invitation to sign my novels at the Texas Gang Investigators Association Annual Conference (TGIA) held in Corpus Christi, Texas. It’s truly an author’s dream to have 853 attendees, plus families, guests, and speakers stop at your table to talk, purchase books for the first time—or return to buy more. This experience makes the long hours of writing worth every minute, especially when someone comes to tell you how much they enjoyed your novels.
Through the years I’ve become friends with many of the men and women at this conference. My respect for all they endure from their work, the public, personal sacrifices they and their families make, as well as their dedication to duty, only continues to grow. Having been an officer, I know it’s a low paid, thankless profession with the media, politicians, and segments of the public anxious to crucify you, and slow to ascertain the truth. But these men and women of TGIA, ranging from patrol officers, investigators, prosecutors, judges, and probation officers, plus a hundred other county, state, and federal criminal justice positions are doing the dirty work few in our society would ever consider. Not only are they protecting us at home, but a majority of these men and women are veterans and served in our military.
While there I met many interesting people, learned of an excellent non-profit organization that helps children, and was further educated about the evils infecting our society. As a veteran (Semper Fi!) and former law enforcement, I believed I’d seen or heard about the worst that man can do to man—yet talking with these folks still remains an eye-opener for me.
The non-profit organization is 10-7 Outdoors, a group of sincere, dedicated law enforcement officers who organize and manage hunting and fishing trips for children of law enforcement personnel who have paid the ultimate sacrifice or have been seriously injured in the line of duty. John Barrett Story, six years old, was taken on his first fishing venture by this organization. His father, Craig Story, was killed on duty as a motorcycle officer for the City of Arlington, Texas. Aside from catching five fish, John was treated like royalty and given much needed love and support. There are other children’s stories as well, but I can’t list them all. Go to the 10-7 Outdoors website and give a donation of any kind to support this fine group of people in their efforts to provide love and encouragement to the children of men and women who gave all for us. Every penny donated to 10-7 Outdoors goes toward helping the children, not to pay some administrator’s high-priced salary, as is often the case in other non-profit organizations.
Every year I’m amazed at the quality of speakers the TGIA conference has for its members. This year was no different. Attendees crammed the room to listen to them, and when a grand ballroom is filled with 853+ people, you know the speaker is top of the line. One such speaker I was privileged to meet was Ann M. Carrizales.
Ann and her beautiful daughter, 11 years old MiKayla Rae, stopped by to discuss my novels. We had a wonderful conversation because Ann, aside from being intelligent and attractive, always wears a smile, has a heartwarming personality, speaks in a positive manner, and makes you feel as if you’ve been friends for years. As we talked, I realized she was the officer I’d seen in the past on Houston and national news channels. While on patrol for the Stafford Police Department, she made a suspicious vehicle traffic stop in the early morning hours of October 26, 2013. Three members of a violent gang with ties to MS-13 were in the car. One of the men shot her twice—once in the face and once in the chest—then sped away. Wounded, she returned fire, gave pursuit, radioed information and followed them through two counties until they bailed out of the car in a Houston residential area and assisting officers could continue the hunt. Only then did she allow herself to be medically treated.
Ann was one of the TGIA speakers who had a packed house when she gave her outstanding motivational talk on “Officer Survival, Staying in the Fight to Win.” Her ‘Never Quit’ mindset is amazing to say the least. To learn more about this outstanding lady and the volume of awards she has received, perform a Google search on Ann M. Carrizales or stop by her website. And in the future, look for the release of her inspirational books on unleashing your never quit, winning warrior mindset. She’s also available as a motivational speaker for corporate and public groups.
At the conference every year I discuss the latest gang trends with the TGIA Board of Directors, speakers, and members. From these talks I always write an article to inform and educate the public about what is happening in their communities—often in their very own neighborhoods. Unfortunately, a majority of people think gang problems are thugs spray-painting graffiti on fences and buildings, and doing petty crimes. This year I asked what the latest trend in gang activity is and the immediate response was ‘Human Trafficking.’
Gangs are a contagious, deadly disease that has spread across international borders and into the United States, infecting prisons, every state and major city, down to Small Town, USA. Yes, even your community whether you believe it or not.
The reasons why people join gangs is a social study within itself that has been debated for years. Libraries are filled with books written on the subject. One misconception John Q. Citizen always has about gangs is that they are composed of basically illiterate, low-intelligence people. Granted, 99% of gang members may not have attended a four-year university like you, your son and daughter, but they’ve earned their PhD’s and graduated from the University of Criminal Life on the streets and in prisons. Their constantly changing methods of operation are what keep law enforcement working overtime to decipher.
In past years they remained fiercely independent of one another, but today, they’ve discovered that temporarily setting aside differences and uniting their efforts in organized manners helps further their criminal pursuits. The unification orders flow from the prisons to the big city gangs, and then acting as an umbrella, the big city gangs expand their activities to include the smaller gangs. Murder, protection rackets, robberies, drugs, human trafficking—the list goes on and becomes mind boggling because there seems to be no end to their enterprises. And as an additional note, Asian gangs are among the toughest for law enforcement to infiltrate and combat due to language, culture, and lack of police resources in this avenue. As in the majority of cases, law enforcement finds themselves reactive rather than proactive because of constant gang evolution.
Human trafficking is nothing new. It’s been around for centuries in one form or another. Let’s say you are a present day gang leader. You want to make money and in the process, want the lowest losses and penalties. Professional hits, robberies, drug running, etc., all have stiff laws and penalties if you are caught. But presently, human trafficking does not. Through trafficking, you can remain fairly safe while those at the lowest levels of the crime (the pimps and slaves) take the risks and suffer the consequences if the police bust through the door.
Human trafficking isn’t only about sex. It involves forced labor as well; indentured servitude, slaves of a sort in that a person, man or woman, can never pay off their debts to their keepers in order to be released. Like the sex slave, the indentured servant is a prisoner, often kept under the harshest conditions and methods so they do not escape. They come from domestic and foreign settings even though the public generally believes they are strictly foreigners. You’ve probably seen these victims of human trafficking and not realized them as such because they will never speak out and live in fear. They are forced to work as maids, in construction, cafes, nail salons, and other businesses where they may blend quietly. (No, not everyone working as maids, in construction, nail salons, etc., are slaves.) At the end of the workday, they are returned to a house or location and locked in, often with dozens of other slaves.
This is the basic foundation of human trafficking for forced labor. It is far wider in range and more in-depth than this brief writing. But human trafficking in the sex trade has become the latest trend for quick monetary gains, extreme profits, and holds the least potential of arrests to upper level gang leaders. In one case I learned of, a prostitute earned enough money within two weeks for her pimp to pay cash for a new Mercedes.
What is needed? First, a woman or child, from juvenile age to adult (age has no limit in this), from America or another country, who is either kidnapped, a runaway, from a dysfunctional setting, abused, mentally confused, or extremely gullible. The second thing needed is the pimp or mouth (this may be man or woman) that convinces the slave through coercion, drugs, or physical force that everything will be fine if they do what is told. The mouth then gets the word out on the streets that fresh products are available, lines up the places of prostitution, meetings, and orders the women to accept the johns (clients). The women are also forced to work in places such as strip clubs, dancing and prostituting themselves.
After the mouth, comes the strong arm; the person that verbally abuses, physically beats, rapes, and enforces the rules with the sex slaves through whatever means necessary to ensure compliance. Whether a child or adult, sex slaves are treated with less importance than cattle. They are cut with knives, burned with cigarettes, mutilated, and branded to depict their owner’s trademarks. They are bought, sold, and traded from one gang to another, one city to another, or one state to another. Trading from city to city keeps fresh product available for clients. There’s always a renewable resource when it comes to the product.
Branding is popular. Owners enjoy tattooing their names or logos on their slaves. This could be a nickname such as “King Daddy” placed across the slave’s chest or a large barcode (yes, like on products you buy at a store) on their necks and arms. The pimp and the strong arm are often one and the same.
So the pimp has his products, the slaves are prostituted, money is flowing—and if the police bust the operation, then it is the slaves that are arrested and charged with minimal offenses such as prostitution. Maybe the pimp gets caught, but the strings are cut at this point and the gang leaders are clear. A fine, maybe some jail time occurs, but nothing compared to drug trafficking charges and their penalties. Say the word “Prostitute” and a woman (or a man too) walking the streets in skimpy clothes comes to mind. In this day and age, social media heavily comes into play. Pimps don’t have to jeopardize their operations by putting slaves out on the streets. They use a variety of common, local websites to advertise their products even though they know law enforcement monitors them once the back-pages are discovered.
It was noon on a weekday in Corpus Christi when I interviewed Miss X (the true name shall remain undisclosed), a member of TGIA. She showed me how easy it was, at that very moment, to locate a prostitute if I were a John. Miss X pulled her cellphone out, typed in the name of a local website, went through its pages, and BAM, there were 22 sex listings offering whatever I desired. Of course a telephone number had to be called to make the appointment, but after reading the somewhat coded listings, there was no doubt as to what was being offered. Miss X could even tell by the ad wording which was gang organized. Once appointments are made, the meeting places could be any hotel, motel, or neighborhood house in the city, and the meeting places change constantly.
This is all one side of the problem, but what happens when the sex slaves are ‘used up’ and can no longer perform for whatever reason? They are dumped on a street or murdered, and the pimp goes in search of more products. The few slaves that manage to escape or are freed through police arrests are then confronted with vast challenges of reestablishing their lives after some of the most horrid mental and physical abuse a person could endure.
I’ve only lightly touched upon the problem of human trafficking. With so much profit involved, there’s still the process of laundering the money. That’s where crooked lawyers and business fronts such as smoke shops and others come into play.
For non-law enforcement readers of this article, I hope you will continue to read and learn more about gang related problems. It’s happening in your communities and often in your very neighborhood. Support your local police departments by talking with them and reporting suspicious activity. The Houston Gang Task Force is a great resource of knowledge. For law enforcement personnel reading this article, if you are not a member of the Texas Gang Investigators Association, (TGIA), then I recommend you become one. Your department may not have the budget for a formal gang unit, but you as an individual can become one for them and start being their subject matter expert. The networking and knowledge available to you in TGIA is priceless. If I were still an officer, I would be a member.
My thanks go to this valuable organization’s membership for all they do each day. My gratitude goes to every board member for making this one of the best law enforcement conferences known, and inviting me to be a part of it. Of course I’ll miss a name, but I wish the best to my friends: Janelle, Paul, Sandra, Patrick, Joey, Rhonda, Rocky, Bear, Ringo, Jabari, Cara, Andy, Robert, John, Ann, and more.