Piri Thomas was born to Puerto Rican and Cuban parents in New York City's Spanish Harlem in 1928. Poverty in the ghetto led him to drugs, youth gangs, and a series of criminal activities, for which he served seven years in prison. There he began his life of rehabilitation, vowing to use his street and prison experience to turn youths away from lives of crime. Thomas then lectured at schools and universities across the country, and authored several books including Down These Mean Streets; Savior, Savior, Hold My Hand; Seven Long Times; and Stories from El Barrio. He died in 2011, at the age of 83.