Looking Outward – December 2010

by Angela Derrick

“When Justice is blind to innocence… a modification by the people is required. It is you, the people, who must speak out with a powerful voice to help expedite justice.” –Stanley Tookie Williams (B.12-29-53) (D.12-13-05)

“Give the world the best you have, and it may never be enough; Give the world the best you’ve got anyway. You see, in the final analysis, it is between you and your God; It was never between you and them anyway.” –Kent M. Keith

My column this month is dedicated to the memory of Stanley Tookie Williams. I was in the kitchen preparing dinner when the words of the newscaster drew me in front of the television… “Author of a series of books educating youth on the danger of gangs, nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize five times…execution date set for December 13th.” Now that got my attention, the sheer incongruity of the combination.

I knew next to nothing, no, honestly, pretty much nothing about capital punishment. It was the books that hooked me. You see, I love to read and I love books. And then I heard him speak and he exuded a peace and an eloquence that I seldom encountered in people I met face to face. It came through loud and clear. That is something that cannot be faked. You are either at peace or you aren’t. Period.

I am not here to tell you that Stan Williams lived a life entirely without sin. None of us do. Not you, not I, no one. We are all sinners. To say otherwise is to be hypocritical. It’s really easy to point a finger at someone else, but as the saying goes, when you’re pointing a finger at someone, four more are pointing back at you.

Stan Williams was convicted of murdering four people. I am not wholly convinced he was guilty, but that is a different story for another day. Did he live a blameless life? No. Did he do some really bad things? Yes, he co-founded the Crips gang, a gang that spread all over the world. Many young people died as a result of their gang involvement. He was a bad ass on the streets of LA, a bad ass in court, a bad ass in prison.

Stan’s story could have ended there. But then he met Barbara Becnel, a reporter, and life began to take an unexpected and interesting turn. Prior to meeting Barbara, he had undergone a personal transformation. He was such an unruly prisoner that he spent more than six years in the hole, in solitary confinement.

To be redeemed means to be forgiven for our sins, to be saved. The current American Correctional model does not believe in forgiveness. It believes in punishment. If we are to buy into the current philosophy of American Corrections-build more prisons, Three Strikes You’re Out, etc, then there are many of us that are behind hope.

I refuse to believe that. There is good in all of us. No one is beyond hope, beyond saving.

Barbara Becnel went to San Quentin to meet the infamous co-founder of the Crips gang with the intention of writing a history about gangs. Instead she encountered a man who was to become one of her dearest friends and that friendship would literally change her life. Barbara was willing and able to see the humanity in Stan. Together they co-wrote a series of eight books for children about the dangers of gangs with topics such as violence, self-esteem, wanting to belong.

Through Barbara he was able to reach out and begin to make a difference. He wrote his memoir, Blue Rage, Black Redemption, and it was made into a film (Redemption) starring Jamie Foxx. He wrote a Peace Protocol that was utilized in New Jersey to stop the fighting and bloodshed between warring gangs. On his website were letter after letter from young people who wrote to him sharing how they had left the gang lifestyle as a result of his, Tookie’s influence. He wrote an Apology taking responsibility for his part in creating the Crips gang; he wrote two letters to youth, he became a mentor. Stan Williams did what he could, from where he was to rectify what he had done.

You may be reading this and may be thinking, well, so what? So he wrote some books and some letters. Big deal. He was probably just trying to save his own ass.

How many times do you try to rectify your mistakes? Do you stop and take the time to take responsibility or do you try to shove it under the rug and hope that no one will notice?

Stan Williams would have never gotten out of prison. Never. The most that he could have hoped for was a sentence commutation to life without parole. He could however, have continued to be a positive role model by showing that it is possible to change.

Brian Nichols, the so-called Atlanta Court House Shooter who shot and killed four people (a judge, court reporter, sheriff’s deputy, and a federal agent) was sentenced to life without parole. The truth about capital punishment is that it is meted out arbitrarily and capriciously. Only 3% of murderers end up on death row.

On December 13, 2005, the State of California executed Stanley Tookie Williams. It bears repeating that there is good in all of us. Many, nay the vast majority of us do not reach our full potential until at least mid-life. Many of us may go down really bad paths, but none of us are beyond hope.

In the last season of his life Stanley Tookie Williams was a good man, he made a difference. May he rest in peace. To learn more about Stan’s books and read his Apology and other writings, visit www.Tookie.com.

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