In the spring of 1971, when Tookie was 17, he was in a very different situation. He was a high school student from South
Central Los Angeles. He had a fearsome reputation as a fighter and as a "general" of South Central's west side.
And, around that time, Tookie, along with Raymond Lee Washington, created what would one day be a super-gang, the Crips.
Back in the day when Tookie and Raymond founded the Crips, many of the young people of South Central Los Angeles were
involved with small gangs. Those gang members roamed South Central taking property from anyone who feared them, including
women and children. To protect the community, Tookie and Raymond organized the Crips.
By 1979, the Crips had grown from a small Los Angeles gang to an organization with membership spread across the State
of California. By this time, Crips had also become just like the gang members they had once sought to protect themselves from
-- Crips had become gangbangers who terrorized their own neighborhoods.
Soon the Crips lost both their leaders: in 1979, Raymond was murdered by a rival gang member, and, that same year, Tookie
was arrested. He was charged with murdering four people. In 1981, Tookie was convicted of those crimes and placed on death
Life in Prison
In 1987, Tookie began what became a 6 1/2-year stay in solitary confinement. After two years there, Tookie began to look
at himself. He focused on the choices he had made in his life and then committed himself to make a drastic change. The long,
difficult process he undertook to rebuild his character put him in touch with his true spirit, his own humanity. Only then
could Tookie finally begin to care about the many children, mothers, fathers and other family members of this country hurt
by the Crips legacy and by its explosive growth. The gang is now in 42 states and on at least one other continent: South Africa.
Youngsters in Soweto and other South African cities have formed the Crips copycat gangs
Tookie greatly regrets the violent history of the Crips -- particularly how so many young black men have hurt each other
-- and he wants to do what he can to stop it. The Tookie Speaks Out Against Gang Violence book series for elementary-school-age
children is the first fruit of his longing to prevent young people of every color from becoming gangbangers, from ending up
in prison, crippled by bullets, or killed.
Tookie is determined to make amends for having been a co-founder of the Crips. He intends to try in every way he can to
guide those youngsters who have imitated him away from the road that led him to death row where he faces State execution.
"Don't join a gang," he tells children in his books, writing from his San Quentin cell. "You won't find what
you're looking for. All you will find is trouble, pain and sadness. I know. I did."