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Death row inmate gets service award
Crips co-founder Stanley 'Tookie' Williams praised for his work as an anti-gang activist
By KIM CURTIS
SAN FRANCISCO - Convicted murderer Stanley ''Tookie'' Williams has received an award for his good deeds on death row, complete with a letter from President Bush praising the notorious gang founder for demonstrating ''the outstanding character of America.''
Williams, co-founder of the notorious Crips street gang, has been an anti-gang activist during his many years on death row at San Quentin State Prison, where he was sent after being convicted in 1981 for killing four people. He's authored 10 books, mostly warning young people to stay away from gangs.
The President's Call to Service Award arrived as Williams, 53, continues his final fight for clemency. His case is now being reviewed by the U.S. Supreme Court.
More than 267,000 people have received the award, which costs $1 and includes a certificate of achievement and commendation letters from the president and former Sens. Bob Dole and John Glenn, honorary co-chairs of the President's Council on Service and Civic Participation.
Sandy Scott, a spokesman for the council, said in an e-mail that the awards are approved by nominating organizations, not the council.
Williams was nominated for the award by William A. Harrison of West Monroe, La., a minister with The Old Catholic Orthodox Church.
''People can be redeemed. It doesn't matter where you come from,'' Harrison said. ''You may be on death row, but to be able to lend something that people can say, 'This has inspired me to change my life.'''
Barbara Becnel, Williams' spokeswoman and co-author, said she believes he is the first death row inmate to receive the service award created in 2003 to honor Americans who inspire volunteerism.
One of Williams' books, 1998's ''Life in Prison,'' led to the Internet Project for Street Peace, an afterschool violence prevention program.
Becnel said Williams has received tens of thousands of e-mails -- many from young gang members who said his life story helped them turn their lives around.