Stanley “Tookie” Williams, 49, wakes up at 4 a.m. on California’s San Quentin Prison death row to write, before the prison reverberates with shouting. The New York Times Magazine says he doesn’t have a chair or a desk in his cell, so he uses a rolled-up mattress as a stool and his bed frame as a desk. Sometimes he writes answers by hand to messages from conflicted gangsters who e-mail him at his Web site, Tookie’s Corner. He works on a monthly newsletter he writes for kids. He has also written, with a former journalist named Barbara Becnel, nine children’s books warning young people away from gangs; he recently wrote to Los Angeles community leaders with suggestions about how to combat the once-again-rising tide of gang violence. There were 616 gang-related homicides in Los Angeles last year.
In recognition of his advocacy work, Williams has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize three times — in 2001, in 2002 and again this year. He earned an uncommon recommendation lst year from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, which in the process of rejecting his appeal, noted that he would be a worthy candidate for clemency because of his “laudable efforts opposing gang violence.”
The Times Magazine profiles Williams, who with a friend in 1971 started the gang known as the Crips. The profile is sympathetic, but some are dubious of Williams’ “conversion.” Nancy Ruhe-Munch of Parents of Murdered Children says, I”I think he’s just writing these books because he wants to get off death row.”