Piri Thomas (in arms) with father, mother, and sister, 1932.

The films' subject, poet, novelist, activist and educator Piri Thomas, is considered to be one of the preeminent figures of Nuyorican (i.e., New York Puerto Rican) literary culture. His first book, Down These Mean Streets (Vintage/Vintage Español), published in 1967, is a landmark in modern American literature for its concern with issues of poverty, youth violence, imprisonment, and racial identity, as well as for its groundbreaking bilingual style. Down These Mean Streets has, along with Claude Browns Manchild in the Promised Land and The Autobiography of Malcom X, proven to be one of the most important books on ethnic identity formation and urban issues in post-war America. Such contemporary luminaries as Spike Lee and John Leguziamo have publicly cited the books influence in their personal and creative lives. The New York Times listed Down These Mean Streets in 1995 as one of the all-time "10 Best Books About New York."

In addition to Down These Mean Streets, Thomas' writings include Seven Long Times, about the time he spent in state prison for armed robbery and attempted murder, Savior, Savior Hold My Hand, about his work with youth gangs in Harlem after his release from prison, and Stories from El Barrio, a collection of short stories. Thomas' writings have been included in many anthologies, including Prison Writings in Twentieth Century America, Growing Up Hispanic, The Latino Reader, and Aloud: Voices from the Nuyorican Poet's Cafe. Today, Thomas continues an active schedule of poetry readings and workshops in schools, universities, prisons, nightclubs and festivals throughout the country and internationally.