Election Section

Reading Features Books by Founder of Crips Gang By KEN BULLOCK Special to the Planet

Friday June 17, 2005

Being a condemned prisoner, I’m viewed among the least able to qualify as a promoter of redemption and of peace. But the most wretched among society can be redeemed, and find peace, and reach out to others to lift them up. Real redemption cannot be faked or intellectualized. It must be subjective: experienced, then shared. 

— Stanley Tookie Williams 

from the preface to his autobiography, Blue Rage, Black Redemption 


Selections from Blue Rage, Black Redemption and other books by Stanley Tookie Williams will be read by San Francisco supervisor and former mayoral candidate Matt Gonzalez, Williams’ editor Barbara Becnell and others at 7:30 p.m. Monday at Moe’s Books on Telegraph Avenue. 

The event, co-produced by Amnesty International, is part of the Monday At Moe’s reading series. Williams was, as a teenager, co-founder of the Crips gang in South Central Los Angeles, and, since incarceration on San Quentin’s Death Row, has been an author and advocate of gang intervention and self-rehabilation. He has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize and the Nobel Prize in Literature. 

Williams has published eight books, subtitled Tookie Speaks Out Against Gangs, for elementary school students since 1996 with subjects like “Wanting To Belong,” “Neighborhoods,” “Violence” and “Drugs.” 

His book for middle school students, Life in Prison, which was honored by the American Library Association, “tells what a day in prison is like, disabusing the reader of any romanticizing of what, to so many kids, has become a badge of honor,” said Summer Brenner, a literacy tutor for at-risk children and teens in West Contra Costa County and an organizer of the reading. 

Brenner said the books are useful tools in teaching and have led to a television film Redemption about Williams’ odyssey through gang violence and the legal system to self-awareness and intervention. The film, available on DVD, was produced by Becnell and stars Academy Award-winning actor Jamie Foxx as Williams. It has been shown to U.S. military personnel in Iraq. 

“His time in prison becomes an interior journey,” Brenner said. “He learns to read, becomes a writer—a direct message of what it means to have the time to get to know yourself without the distractions of drugs, violence, social disinformation.” 

The book Blue Rage, Black Redemption, for high school students and adults, was released in April of this year and is already being used in schools. 

“In Chicago, the vice superintendent created a program around it for the principals of the 25 most at-risk schools,” commented Becnell. “They in turn took it to their teachers, who will work with their students using it.” 

Summer Brenner characterizes Blue Rage, Black Redemption’s evolution of emotional tone: “it ranges from anger to self-awareness, with a sense of the loss of childhood love of curiosity beaten out of him by his environment ... a step-by-step evolution of a human being from a defensive to an offensive stance.” 

“He insisted the book come out first in paperback, so prisoners, who can’t receive hardcover books sent to them, could read it,” said Becnell. 

Williams has been incarcerated since 1979. Becnell said he has “had nothing to do with the spread of the Crips and other gangs to the national level during the crack cocaine explosion in the ‘80s.” 

His appeal has been denied by the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. His petition is currently before the Supreme Court. If the Court refuses to hear his case, or doesn’t grant Williams a new trial, “a date for execution will be set,” said Brenner, “possibly late this year.”  

She said, “He’s never denied the criminality of his background, but protests his innocence of the charges he was convicted of.” 

Williams has attracted the attention and respect of the member of Swiss parliament who nominated him for the Nobel Prize, educators and literature professors who’ve taught his books, and advocates of a moratorium for the death penalty from all over the political spectrum (including members of Congress and state legislatures). 

His own dedication is clear in a passage from Blue Rage, Black Redemption: “To poor people, prisoners, slaves and the disenfranchised everywhere—through faith and theories put into practice, you can bend the most oppressive circumstances to your will, to make the impossible possible.”