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“Prison is a waste of the best years of a person’s life,” writes Danny Trejo in his gritty autobiography, “Trejo: My Life of Crime, Redemption, and Hollywood. “When I arrived in Soledad [in 1968], I wasn’t there to do my time and get home. Since I assumed I’d always be there, I treated it like a job.” Trejo’s “resume” already included Chino, Jamestown, Folsom, and San Quentin prisons.
Trejo describes the politics of prison society as well as some of the gangs and brutal fights he was part of. (If you are squeamish, skip that part.) “You’d never guess that the baddest of the bad--me--would make it out of the prison system and instead of dying in the street as a stone-cold junkie and killer, I’d end up being shot, stabbed, decapitated, blown up, hanged, flattened by an elevator, and disintegrated in a career that made me the most-killed actor in Hollywood history,” writes Trejo.
The fact that his uncle Gilbert had trained young Danny in the art of boxing made his life in prison better; he was given time to train and some other privileges not offered to most other prisoners. “Whenever I was boxing, I wasn’t in the penitentiary. My mind was in another world . . . but then there were moments when I feared prison was turning me into someone I didn’t recognize.” Trejo says he always admired his uncle Gilbert because he made time for young Danny. The problem was, it was Gilbert who also introduced Danny to the drug culture.
Following a huge riot while he was in Soledad prison, Danny reached a low point of depression and fear, and began to remember some advice he had received from people who, like him, had a history of substance abuse, but who had success with a 12-step program. He began actively participating in the program and encouraged other inmates to attend. “I needed sobriety not just to get out of the hole or look good for the parole board; I needed it for my life to make sense.” At this time, early memories of his Catholic grandmother helped to ground him.
When he was released about a year later, he was unwelcome at parents’ home, but he reached out for help from others and started making better choices to honor the commitment he made to himself, including actively helping others in recovery.
His Hollywood career was a happy accident. Someone offered him a part as an extra because of his tough-guy appearance, and soon he was working with box-office stars such as Charles Bronson, Val Kilmer, and Robert De Niro. His most thrilling acting experience to date, though, was with a Hollywood newcomer. In 2018, he worked with his son, Gilbert, who was directing his first movie. “It felt like the completion of a long circle and a passing of an artistic torch from father to son,” Trejo writes.
This book has an unusual combination of elements, starting as it does from the author’s life as a criminal to life as a highly-recognized actor. Because of the language and subject matter, I would recommend it for adult readers who like inspirational books about second chances, overcoming addictions, or Hollywood biographies. The author has also included photos from his personal collection. The book is available to borrow at Carlsbad Public Library.
This article originally appeared on Carlsbad Current-Argus: 'Baddest of the bad' Danny Trejo goes from crime to Hollywood in autobiography