“Donde hay vida, hay esperanza. Where there’s life, there’s hope.”
When you hear the name Danny Trejo, many of us think of the actor with over 300 credits to his name who has been killed on screen 65 times. Then there are his multiple locations of Trejo’s Tacos and Trejo’s Coffee & Donuts and Trejo’s Tacos: Recipes and Stories: From L.A: A Cookbook. But what about before that? What about when he spent time in the most notorious institutions looking at life or even death row?
In his memoir Trejo: My Life of Crime, Redemption, and Hollywood, which was co-written with his long-time friend Donal Logue, Danny Trejo takes us back to his childhood and paints a vivid picture of troubled home life, drugs, addiction, crime, life behind bars, health scares, to sobriety, and helping those fighting the same demons he has, including his children. This book tells of a world that both some have seen or been a part of, and one that some have only seen in the movies. It ultimately shows that Danny Trejo has lived many lives.
Born on May 16, 1944, Trejo’s home life was anything but peaceful. He had a rocky relationship with his dad, his birth mom, and his step-mom led a secret double life. His closest family relationship was with his uncle Gilbert, his father’s brother. As his son Gilbert mentions in the book, it was an upbringing filled with toxic masculinity and where emotions were hardened and buried deep instead of expressed. He was not the first person in the Trejo family to fight with addictions and jail time either. When Trejo was seven, he went on an errand with his uncle Gilbert that turned out to be a drug deal. At age 12, he tried heroin for the first time; shortly after that, other substances getting him high. A lot of Trejo’s stories in childhood leading to adult life are surrounded by his uncle Gilbert. He was Trejo’s role model, protector, father figure, and teacher.
Trejo spent 11 years of his life in and out of jail doing time at some of the most notorious institutes. To doing time at Folsom State Prison, Soledad State Prison (Correctional Training Facility), California Institution for Men (Chino), San Quentin State Prison, Vacaville State Prison. He trained and fought fires at Conservation Camps in Jamestown, Magalid, and Konocti. While he was in San Quentin, he trained in boxing and rose to be the top prison boxer. But it wasn’t until after some friends and himself were in the “hole” possibly looking at the death penalty that he prayed and started to put his trust in God.
“Everything good that’s ever happened in my life has come as the direct result of helping someone else and not expecting anything in return.”
Before reading this memoir, I knew that Trejo spoke to at-risk youth and others about overcoming addictions and prison. But it wasn’t until now that I found out just how much of an impact he has and continues to have in helping people overcome addictions. He opened multiple clinics with others and assisted people in finding their loved ones to bring to rehab. It was a full-time commitment for him. Trejo has also been on both sides of addiction, going through it and then watching two of his children fight their demons of addiction and work hard to overcome them. He continues to work helping others overcome addiction and has been sober for over 52 years.
I cannot recommend this book enough. I read it in two sittings. The perspective and clarity captured in the words of his story will hit home with many. It reminds you that we never know the whole story of someone’s life, and what we may have today is not necessarily going to be there the next. While it feels like you are reading a script to a movie, it is just sections of one man’s life still being written. One thing is for sure, Danny Trejo has lived many lives.
Thank you to Netgalley for the advanced reader’s copy. Trejo: My Life of Crime, Redemption, and Hollywood is out now in English and Spanish from Simon & Schuster’s imprint Atria Books. You can get your copy here. And remember, “we all know Machete don’t text.”