Considering his background, it may be hard for many to view 41-year-old Abdul Chappell as a man of peace and positivity.
After all, he dropped out of school in the eighth grade, is credited as a teenager with starting a branch of the California-based Crips gang on Fort Worth’s west side, and spent most of his adult life in prison.
He has been shot six times and was stabbed once during a prison riot.
Yet Chappell is indeed a man of peace and promise who, after recently being released from the federal penitentiary, is back on the streets — trying to help young people and ex-offenders avoid his mistakes and to achieve worthy goals in spite of their circumstances.
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To focus only on Chappell’s former gang activity and the negative things which caused him to be incarcerated would be a huge mistake. Because even behind bars, he worked to bring peace between the rival Crips and Bloods gangs during one of the most violent periods in Fort Worth’s recent history.
The Star-Telegram reported in 1992 that Chappell was among the gang leaders who came together in the Tarrant County Jail to prove that the Crips and Bloods could live and work together. Calling members on the outside, they arranged a truce between the opposing groups that is credited with reducing gang violence by 48 to 50 percent.
In an interview last week, the former gang leader talked about how early on he (and other black youths) were highly influenced by rap groups and media. He was particularly in awe of the group NWA, whose members he said “were our James Dean and Fonzarelli.”
He was so intrigued by the group — “the anger in their music inspired us” — that he took his mom’s brand-new Dodge Aries K and, with several friends, headed to California to find his new idols.
That meeting never happened, but he remained in California with an aunt for a while — and that’s where he was introduced to the Crips, which he viewed more as a brotherhood than a gang. That’s what he brought back to Fort Worth’s Como community, but later Crips and Bloods leaders from the West Coast came to town and began to “use” the local group to make money by selling drugs.
While in the Tarrant County jail “on bogus charges,” Chappell said he was promised he would be released after the truce was initiated and the charges against him had been dropped. Instead, he was sent to state prison on a parole violation stemming from a robbery charge a few years earlier.
After returning home, he started a record company and worked with the gangs to produce and sell music so that they could learn how to make money without dealing in illegal drugs.
But later Chappell said he was set up by an acquaintance and was charged with a federal crime of having 30 grams of powder cocaine. Although indicted for powder cocaine, he received the much harsher sentence for crack cocaine: 20 years in the penitentiary.
Rather than remain bitter, he used his time productively. He wrote six books, designed programs to help youth, taught Latino and African-American history for 20 years and has worked on getting his paralegal certification.
His incarceration placements show his progress to become a model inmate, moving from a maximum security prison in Indiana to a minimum one in Wisconsin and then to the low-security correctional institutions in Seagoville and Fort Worth.
He said he now wants to use his knowledge and his detailed intervention programs to help others. He’s already been talking with groups of youngsters and last week met with Tarrant County Commissioner Roy Brooks about helping with the re-entry program for returning ex-offenders.
Chappell says his “commitment now is obligatory. It is not optional.”
I believe him.
Bob Ray Sanders’ column appears Sundays and Wednesdays.