"I went into the hole looking at three gas-chamber offences," says Trejo.
Considering where Danny Trejo is now, it's hard to believe that the gas-chamber, let alone the prison yard, was ever reality for the man.
Trejo was in and out of prison for much of his younger life, for a variety of offences. But it was a trip to "the hole" that changed his life forever. When he was looking at a possible death sentence for his role in a prison riot, he sat in the hole and prayed. "And I remember asking God, 'Let me die with dignity. Just let me say goodbye. And if you do, I will say your name every day, and I will do whatever I can for my fellow man.'"
Well he kept his word, and this past August he celebrated 49 years of sobriety. Now a famous Hollywood star, advocate, activist, and restaurateur, he got his big break in the boxing movie Runaway Train in 1985.
He had been working as a drug councilor and construction worker after leaving prison, and when one of his clients called him from the set of Runaway Train because he felt like he was going to relapse, Trejo went over to support his friend without hesitation.
Now, in prison, Trejo had been a championship boxer, knocking out everyone who stepped up to him in the ring. So when he arrived on set, the producer noticed his look and asked him if he wanted to be an extra in the movie, specifically for a prison scene. When Trejo took off his shirt, one of the movie producers (who had done time in prison as well) recognized Trejo's iconic tattoo, a Spanish woman splashed across the entirety of his chest, and knew that he had been a great boxer. Trejo was immediately offered a bigger role in the movie.
From 1985 - 2017, he has had a film or TV credit every year, with the exception of 1986. He has appeared in iconic films such as From Dusk till Dawn, Con Air, Reindeer Games, XXX, and virtually every Robert Rodriguez film, including his most well known work, Machete. Many of you will also recognize him from his role on the hit show Sons of Anarchy.
Regardless of his impressive list of film, television, and even music video credits, Trejo doesn't consider himself a Hollywood star.
"I don't think I am a big Hollywood star, I won't let myself. I can't, because I've seen too many actors with the feeling of entitlement, and I want to slap the sh*t out of them." said Trejo.
Trejo might not let himself feel like a huge movie star, but he does understand the extra added value that entertainment has brought into his life, specifically how recognizable he is.
"I help at-risk kids. I go to high schools. I do whatever I can," he says. "That's what I do. In many ways, that is my job. I am still a drug counselor. I will get their attention before you or a doctor or a nurse or a plumber or anybody. It helps me with what I love doing."
Everyone has their past, and everyone knows that there is nothing you can do to change it. What you can do is use past mistakes to move forward and change the world for the better, to leave it a bit better than how you found it. Mr. Trejo, keep doing what your doing.