Death row inmate up for Nobel Peace Prize

The Associated Press
Monday November 20, 2000

SAN FRANCISCO – San Quentin death row inmate and Crips street gang co-founder Stanley “Tookie” Williams has been nominated for the 2001 Nobel Peace Prize, a member of the Swiss parliament confirmed Saturday. 

Parliament member Mario Fehr nominated Williams and said the inmate changed the lives of others through his series of children’s books and international peace efforts. 

“I think he has done extraordinary work,” Fehr told The Associated Press in a telephone interview Saturday. “For these young kids that are in these street gangs, I think it is one of the only opportunities to get close to them. To get them out of the street gangs.” 

Williams was said to be surprised by the nomination. 

“He was positively stunned,” said Barbara Becnel, a journalist who edits Williams’ writings. “He was wide-eyed like a child and really excited and he was also very humbled by it.” 

She broke the news of the nomination to Williams in person on a recent prison visit. 

Williams, 46, and high school buddy Raymond Washington joined forces and created the Crips in 1971 as an alliance to combat rival gangs in east Los Angeles. 

Washington was killed by his street adversaries in 1979. Williams, “Big Took” to his gang buddies, continued his violent ways, imposing his 300-pound heft on those who dared stand in his way and transforming the Crips into a statewide urban threat. 

The lawless ways of Williams finally caught up to him in 1981 when he was convicted of killing four people. Now he spends his time behind bars authoring children’s books and coordinating an international peace effort for youths — all from the confines of his 9-by-4 cell. 

Williams dictates his writings in 15-minute phone calls to Becnel. His first book was published in 1996 and he has published seven since. 

His latest book is “Life In Prison,” a gritty first-person book targeted at sixth-graders. The work chronicles day-to-day life behind bars in San Quentin: 

— “I have been locked up nearly 20 years, and every day of my incarceration I have been homesick. ... My homesickness even makes me feel sick to my stomach.” 

— “It’s very humiliating to have guards watching us closely to make sure none of us is breaking the rules by touching, or being touched, too much.” 

Williams also created the Internet Project for Street Peace, which links at-risk California and South African youths together through e-mail and chat rooms allowing them to share their experiences and transform their lives. 

Abdulahi Mohamud uses the project in his work with Somali youths living in Switzerland. The Internet Project for Street Peace helps youths communicate with their counterparts in California who are trying to distance themselves from gang life. Mohamud applauded Williams’ efforts and was instrumental in getting him nominated for the esteemed prize. 

“He’s a great man. We are happy to nominate him,” Mohamud said. 

Winnie Madikizela-Mandela visited Williams last year and called the two hours she spent with the death row inmate the “highlight” of her trip to California. 

A five-member awards committee gives no hints and never releases the names of peace prize nominees, only the number — a record 150 this year. However, those nominating others for the award often divulge choices in advance. 

Members of national assemblies and governments, and members of the Inter-Parliamentary Union are among those persons entitled to nominate candidates. The 2001 Nobel Peace Prize will be awarded on Dec. 10, 2001. 

Fehr said Williams’ violent past did not diminish his qualifications for the award.  

“Everyone can change his life, no matter what mistakes someone has done,” Fehr said.