Williams will be 50 in December
A Nobel Peace Prize nominee - and convicted killer - could be executed as early as next year. BBC News Online's Chris Summers visited him recently on Death Row at San Quentin prison in California.
When 17-year-old Stanley Williams and his pal Raymond Washington founded the Crips street gang in Los Angeles 32 years ago they created a Frankenstein's monster.
The Crips have spread, like a plague, to cities and towns in 43 US states, as well as Canada, South Africa and Germany.
Originally founded in black communities of South Central LA, Crips now include as members white farmboys in states like Tennessee and Arkansas.
12,000 Crips, 5,000 Bloods and 30,000 Latino gangsters in LA alone
About 250 gang-related murders in LA every year
Estimated 1,500 Crips in California jails, and another 1,000 Bloods
When he was sentenced to death for four murders in 1981 Williams was still very proud of the Crips and revelled in being leader of the notoriously bloodthirsty alliance.
He spent seven years in solitary confinement after prison officials were warned about a gang war which was about to erupt behind bars.
But gradually he realised the error of his ways and in 1993 he began work on a series of books which encouraged kids not to join gangs or get involved in violence.
In 2001 he was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize by Swiss MP Mario Fehr because of his "extraordinary youth violence prevention and intervention work", which includes his own website.
In his books Tookie warns kids against joining gangs
But Williams' struggle for redemption may have come too late to save his life.
He was convicted of murdering cashier Alvin Owens, 26, in a February 1979 robbery at a 7-11 store which netted only $120.
Two weeks later he is said to have killed Robert Yang, his wife Tsai-Shai and their daughter Ye Chen Lin at the LA motel they ran.
Williams - nicknamed Tookie or Big Took because of the muscular bulk he built up through weightlifting - has always denied all four murders.
He said his conviction was based on "hearsay" from witnesses - who claimed to have heard him bragging of the crimes - who had either been beaten or bribed into making their statements.
One witness, Samuel Coleman, had his ribs fractured and later said he was so scared he would have told the police anything. The prosecution later admitted it had been an "illegal interrogation".
Williams blames his predicament on "bad karma" caused by the numerous "atrocities" he committed against members of the black community, mainly rival gangsters.
He says of the prison authorities: "They've kept me fossilised in the amber of a gang past. They thought of me as irredeemable and they thought I would not change."
Williams has now been on Death Row for 22 years and his dramatic life story seems to be drawing to a conclusion.
Last year three judges on the ninth circuit of the US federal appeals court upheld his death sentence.
But, in an almost unprecedented move, they also suggested California's Governor Gray Davis commuted it to life because of Williams' "laudable" efforts to educate youngsters about gangs.
His lawyers are planning to appeal against the decision to uphold the death sentence and may ask for a majority decision by all 28 judges on the ninth circuit.
If this fails, the ball will be in Governor Davis' court.
He is currently fighting an attempt to have him "recalled" - or thrown out of office - despite being comfortably re-elected last year.
San Quentin, home to California's most notorious inmates
With his popularity ratings at rock bottom, Mr Davis may consider it electoral suicide to commute Williams' death sentence as it would leave him open to accusations by his Republican opponents that he is soft on crime.
A few days before I visited Williams on Death Row at San Quentin prison a message - or "kite" - was reportedly found at Corcoran state prison near the state capital Sacramento.
The note was said to have claimed some of the 1,500 Crips incarcerated in California were planning to step up attacks on prison guards and police officers, possibly including murder, if the state went ahead and executed Williams.
The kite led to 4,000 black inmates in California jails being subjected to a "lockdown", which confined them to their cells and curtailed visits and other privileges.
There is a fear that if Williams' execution goes ahead Crips will seek to "avenge" him, although he insists he would not condone any attack on prison guards or police officers.
A California Department of Corrections spokeswoman said: "From what Mr Williams has said he has rejected that [gang] life but he remains the spiritual leader of the Crips."