According to the latest statistics from the FBI, some 33,000 violent street gangs, motorcycle gangs and prison gangs with about 1.4 million members are criminally active in the U.S. today. FBI agents say many are sophisticated and well organized and all use violence to control neighborhoods and boost their illegal money-making activities, which include robbery, drug and gun trafficking, fraud, extortion and prostitution rings. The most recent National Gang Threat Assessment report found gangs are responsible for an average of 48% of violent crime in most jurisdictions, up to 90% in others.
A few months ago I met Twon Billings who joined the notorious Crips street gang when he was just 8 years old. He followed the footsteps of other family members into gang life while living in Los Angeles, California where the Crips have nearly 10,000 members and is one of the city’s largest gangs. From his early years into young adulthood, Twon called himself an “Angel of Destruction” who terrorized community. He was involved in a wide range of crimes including car-jackings, shootings, felonious assault, arson, weapons possession, receiving stolen property and other offenses. Eventually, he was convicted and sentenced to 13 years in adult prison. Twon said of his time behind bars, “It actually taught me a lot, I had the opportunity to learn about life.” Unfortunately during that time Twon also learned his mother was battling breast cancer and she eventually lost that fight in July of 1991. Twon continued, “I made bad choice in my lfe, I made bad decisions in life, I felt responsible for killing my mother.” That’s when Twon became inactive with the Crips and made the decision to save other young people from the same path.
When I met Twon last December, he was receiving the first annual “Supporting Families of Victims Award” from victims rights advocate Yvonne Pointer. It had taken several years, but Twon had transformed from angel of destruction to angel of change and hope in the community. He was no longer terrorizing neighborhoods with violent crimes, but working to make a difference in the community and helping the people he used to victimize. Twon told me, “When I’m out here working with the young people and I’m out here talking to men and women about decisions, bad choices in my life, I’m an example of what I don’t want them to be.” He continued, “So when they look at people like myself that’s been in prison 13 years, leader of the Crips they listen to you. A person that had made bad decisions, that was hurting people to a person that’s now building community”.
And Twon is now taking his anti-gang message to schools. Play the blog video to hear the information he shared at a parent-student assembly. And then on the home page watch Twon Billing’s inspiring story, “Angel of Destruction to Angel of Hope.”
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