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Crips Founder Seeks 'Redemption' on Death Row

Stanley "Tookie" Williams has led a life so dramatic that Hollywood turned his autobiographical book into a 2004 made-for-TV movie: Redemption, starring Jamie Foxx. But Williams remains on Death Row, facing execution as early as this fall if appeals on his behalf fail.

Born and raised on the mean streets of south Los Angeles, Williams and a friend co-founded the notorious Crips street gang when he was just 13. "We performed mayhem and aggression throughout the city. We terrorized everybody. We made it a living hell...," he says today. "We made a mistake -- we morphed into a monster."

Now 51, Williams sits in San Quentin prison in northern California, convicted of the 1979 killing of a convenience store worker during a robbery. He was also found guilty of shooting and killing a motel owner, his wife and daughter -- crimes he says he did not commit.

Still, in the books he's written about those days, he admits that as a Crip and a drug addict, he was unapproachable, unreachable, unteachable and incorrigible. "I was miseducated on manhood. I thought that manhood constituted violence, aggression, womanizing," he says.

Once behind bars, Williams says he found his own path to redemption. He re-educated himself, reading everything from the dictionary to law books. And he began writing children's books -- nine so far -- and speaking out against gangs. He's made public apologies for creating the Crips and adopting the gangster lifestyle.

Those efforts earned Williams a nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize, and may be a factor should Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger decide to grant him clemency. Williams could also appeal his original conviction to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

As an arts correspondent based at NPR West, Mandalit del Barco reports and produces stories about film, television, music, visual arts, dance and other topics. Over the years, she has also covered everything from street gangs to Hollywood, police and prisons, marijuana, immigration, race relations, natural disasters, Latino arts and urban street culture (including hip hop dance, music, and art). Every year, she covers the Oscars and the Grammy awards for NPR, as well as the Sundance Film Festival and other events. Her news reports, feature stories and photos, filed from Los Angeles and abroad, can be heard on All Things Considered, Morning Edition, Weekend Edition, Alt.latino, and npr.org.