Stanley James II says that the first thing he ever wanted to be was a gangster. But secondly, he wanted to help people.

James, who is now an author and founder of the publishing company, Gang Tales, grew up in North Long Beach in the area along Artesia and Long Beach boulevards.

As a kid, he had a good and a bad life, James, now 33, said.

“The first thing I see really going outside is Crips and Bloods and hustlers selling dope and everything,” said James. “But I had the other life too. I grew up in a house with Black Panthers, Martin Luther King—so I had the best of both worlds.”

While James had always loved to write, he had not grown up seeing himself as an author or a publisher, he said. He had dreams of rapping, of acting and of modeling—up until the eighth grade, he even wanted to be a basketball player, James said.

But by the time James was 12 or 13, he had begun selling drugs. When he was 17, he officially became a member of the Northside Four Corner Blocc Crips, a gang initially established in the early 1960s, known then as the Squarehood Crips before changing its name in the 1980s.

The next year, at the age of 18 and while a student at Wilson High School, James was arrested for the first time.

While James spent the next few years in and out of prison due to drug charges, it was during this time that he began writing poetry and short stories, which he passed around to other inmates, including what would become the basis of his first published work, “The Bust: Live By the Gun, Die by the Gun.”

At the age of 26, James was released from county jail for the last time.

“That’s the time when I really started taking life seriously,” James said. “I was going through a lot at that time when I wrote that book, ‘The Bust.’ I lost three best friends to a murder …  I was going through it. And I just really felt at that time, I gotta leave it all behind. I just had a son. I was growing up, you know.”

James began selling his stories and poems in “chap books,” or pieces of paper stapled together, on the streets of LA, soon getting the attention of LA-based publishing company, No Brakes.

“If I could really hustle the illegal way, what if I just tried doing it the right way?” James said. “I just never looked back.”

Loosely based on James’ life, “The Bust” was published in 2017 by No Brakes.

James has since published several poetry and fiction books, and work on his 10th book is currently underway.

Realizing that authors may not always understand what rights they are signing away when working with publishing companies, James decided he wanted to create opportunities for other authors like himself.

“You can make a million just off the audio books alone, and you just signed off for all that,” James said. “So it’s my thing just to independently teach the people that work with me.”

Officially founded in 2020, James’ publishing company, Gang Tales, has taken on seven other authors so far, including fellow former gang member Travon Edwards, who belonged to the Eastside Rollin 20s Crips, a rival gang to James’.

Gang Tales authors retain 100% of rights to their work.

“I felt like I always wanted to give back once I get to a certain level, always wanted to pull the ladder down and bring out the voices that really get overlooked,” James said. “It really starts with: I just bring in people from the streets,” James said.

“We’re just trying to get people out of the street life,” he added.

In the roughly 10 years that James has pursued writing professionally, he has doubled what he earned in the streets, he said.

But for James, uplifting and creating opportunities for others who have been in similar situations has been far more rewarding, he said.

“Just seeing that I could do something positive and bring other people up that walked in the same shoes, like pretty much I walked in, like just that’s more rewarding,” James said.

And as for the future of Gang Tales?

“To be around for the next 100 years,” James said. “I’m really loving the journey.”