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      Growing Up Behind Bars

      Since the age of ten Thomas has been in and out of the juvenile systems. Now 15, Thomas said he does not want o leave the comforts of those cold cement walls."I feel safe here."Thomas has spent the majority of his childhood locked up.While other kids learned math, Thomas opted to join a gang at only 7 years old.He learned the science behind how they operated.He said a few adult role models in his life did the same"so the ~gang lifestyle TM is all he knows. "I never liked the free. I had some relatives that were always locked up and I always wanted to be like them. For me it was like a dream come true." To live that ~dream TM Thomas had to surrender his free will| When asked to do something, he said he cannot refuse. "I've had to beat up by's...a lot of stuff." He cannot get out"it is like a drug and he TMs addicted."I just like the gang banging." "It's not a good way to live but sometimes it runs in your blood that you will grow up to be a criminal."But, the life of a gang banger comes at a price|a price he and others do not think about until it is too late."I am scared. You never know---one day you're here and the other day you're gone. One second you're here and the next day they can come by and shoot you." Unfortunately, more and more children in the Rio Grande Valley choose this path. "These cartels and other members from across the border, Gang Enforcement Officer, ~Casey TM said.They are recruiting these juveniles because they're an easy target. They know the Texas judicial system and that these kids will get a slap on the hand." He adds, the promise of easy money lures many of these kids into drug and human smuggling.

      "You put yourself and your family in jeopardy. They already know where you live and what you drive. They will follow you around without disregard." But high risks can have high rewards"Casey said that is why more kids are joining gangs|for that chance. "The crimes are out there....we're getting more heavy hitters now, Joe Ochoa, facility administrator for the Hidalgo County detention center, said. Last year, the center processed 773 kids"355 of them committed felony offenses. Fast forward to 2012, those statistics are starting to change. As of October"the center processed more than 549 kids"231 of those have committed felony offenses. Ochoa expects that number to double by the end of the year."Those kinds of activities going on in Mexico and all the illegal activity and gang activity going on over there isn't going to go away and will continue influencing adults and juveniles here." For 25 years Israel Silva, Jr. has worked with Hidalgo County youth. He said the crimes these kids are committing have gotten out of control. "We're going to keep getting kids. If it gets worse, there is no telling what's going to happen....with the nature of the behavior and referrals coming to our department." For Thomas, all he has is time. Time to think inside the cold cement confines of his prison|think about the milestones he has already missed because of gangs and what tomorrow holds. KATIE: 'Where do you see yourself in the future? When you turn 18?"Thomas: "In federal prison."