Making of a Monster
03/21/1994 at 01:00 AM EST
HE APPEARS BEHIND THE GLASS PARTITION IN THE VISITING room of California's Pelican Bay State Prison—a hulking young man in a mustard-color uniform, his arms heavily tattooed. Kody Scott now calls himself Sanyika Shakur, but he is known on the streets of Los Angeles as Monster, a former member of the Eight-Tray Gangster Crips gang. He sits down, grabs the phone and explains why he must bear witness to the horrors of life on the battlefield that is South Central L.A. "The violent epics in our communities need to be exposed somehow, need to be talked on," he says. "I'm not glorifying it, I'm clarifying. It happens."
Scott, 30, is eager to talk; he is permitted to give only one interview every 90 days at Pelican Bay, the concrete-and-steel fortress 16 miles south of the Oregon border that is one of the toughest state prisons in the U.S. And he has plenty to say about what went down during his 12 or so bloody years as a Crips gang-banger, which he chronicled in a riveting autobiography, Monster (Atlantic Monthly Press). Scott describes the dozens of shootings he has witnessed, including his first victim at age 11; the robberies and assaults he committed while high on booze or PCP; the arrests that landed him in prisons from San Quentin to Folsom.
Published last year, the book was critically acclaimed and its author compared with Eldridge Cleaver for the brutal world he portrayed. Then came the backlash. Some readers and reporters doubted Scott's claims of a new, nonviolent mind-set and blasted his book for romanticizing a life of mayhem and murder. Scott takes his critics seriously. "That you've been a killer, that you've been shootin' people, that's nothing to be proud of," he says. "But the attention I'm getting is deserved insofar as I have something to say—whether people like it or not."
The fifth of six children, Scott was 20 when his mother, Birdie, told him his father was former L.A. Rams running back Dick Bass, with whom she had had a brief affair. (Bass, who works as director at the Norwalk, Calif., Chamber of Commerce, says proof of paternity "has never been validated.") When Kody was 3, Birdie separated from his stepfather, Ernest Scott, a warehouse worker, and struggled to support her brood as a bartender and hairdresser. While his four older siblings attended school and eventually found jobs, Kody dropped out after sixth grade and pledged his allegiance to the Crips. "They were lawless and seemed answerable to no one but themselves," he says. "That power was alluring."
Initiation rites included stealing a car, getting high, then setting out to shoot rival Bloods. At 13, during a robbery, Scott so disfigured a man by stomping on his face that the Crips named him Monster. He quickly rose through the gang ranks, building a fearsome reputation enhanced by his 20-inch biceps. At 16, he fathered his first child with girlfriend Regina Hyde—the same year he was shot six times in a Bloods ambush.
Convicted of assault in 1985, Scott did time in L.A. County Jail and Chino, Soledad, San Quentin and Folsom prisons, where he embraced radical black Muslim teachings. He took a new Swahili name and by 1987 decided to extricate himself from gang life. "It took three years and a few beatings I had to mete out," he says. "I had to prove that I could still do damage. It was just that my mental had changed."
But not entirely. In 1991, after Scott joined the black nationalist New Afrikan Independence Movement, he beat up an alleged neighborhood crack dealer and stole his car. He pleaded guilty to robbery and was sentenced to seven years. He began work on Monster after former Newsweek editor and China Beach co-creator Bill Broyles, who was introduced to Scott in 1992 while researching a TV project on L.A.'s gangs, encouraged him to write about his experiences, then passed the manuscript to his editor at The Atlantic Monthly.
Part of Scott's $150,000 advance has been used to buy a new car for Hyde, 32, whom he married in 1990, and new clothes for their children—Keonda, 13, Justin, 7, and Sanyika, 3—whom he writes to weekly. Confined to the Security Housing Unit—where some of Pelican Bay's 1,400 most dangerous inmates are housed—Scott is already at work on a second book. His family is convinced that Scott, who is eligible for parole in September 1995, has abandoned his criminal ways. Broyles isn't so sure. "The violent side of his spirit is very present," he says. "He'll be wrestling with it all his life."
NANCY MATSUMOTO in Pelican Bay