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Why Did Danny Trejo Go To Prison?

Danny Trejo is an American actor who has appeared in numerous Hollywood films playing “tough guy” roles. He is perhaps best known for his performances in movies like Machete, Spy Kids, From Dusk Till Dawn, and Heat. However, before becoming a successful actor, Trejo lived a troubled life filled with drug addiction and criminal activities that landed him in prison multiple times. This article will explore Trejo’s difficult early years and what crimes led to his incarcerations.

Trejo’s Early Life and Introduction to Drugs

Danny Trejo was born in Los Angeles, California in 1944. His childhood was difficult as his parents were Mexican immigrants who struggled to make ends meet. Trejo grew up in the tough neighborhoods of LA’s San Fernando Valley where street crime and drugs were rampant. As a young boy, Trejo was introduced to marijuana and heroin, substances that helped him cope with his impoverished upbringing. By the time he reached adolescence, Trejo had developed full-blown addictions to both drugs.

Escalation into Heroin Addiction and Criminal Activities

As Trejo descended deeper into substance abuse in his teens, his activities became increasingly criminal. He started stealing car parts and tools to support his heroin habit. By 1963 at age 19, Trejo was in and out of jail frequently as he engaged in crimes like armed robbery to get money for drugs. His heroin addiction had spiraled out of control. Trejo has said he was so desperate for heroin that he even robbed his own family members’ houses to fund his next fix.

First Major Incarceration: Soledad Prison

In the mid 1960s, Trejo was caught selling drugs and sentenced to prison. He served time at the California State Prison in Soledad where he became further entrenched in the criminal lifestyle. While incarcerated, Trejo became involved with the Mexican Mafia, also known as La Eme, an infamous prison gang. He has said that he was forced to engage in violence as a member of La Eme, including attacking other inmates. Prison stints became a recurring part of life for Trejo throughout the 60s as he got trapped in a cycle of drugs, crimes, and time behind bars.

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Notable Crimes and Incarcerations from 1960s to 1970s

Here is a summary of some of Trejo’s major crimes and subsequent incarcerations during the 60s and 70s:

  • 1965 – Arrested for heroin possession and armed robbery. Sent to Soledad Prison for 3 years.
  • 1968 – Paroled from Soledad. Arrested again within 6 months for robbery and sent to San Quentin Prison.
  • 1969 – Paroled from San Quentin. Immediately violated parole by robbing a store and got sent back to San Quentin.
  • 1972 – Paroled again. Committed armed robbery of a drug dealer’s house. Sentenced to 5 years at Folsom Prison.
  • 1977 – Paroled from Folsom. Arrested for suspicion of armed robbery and sent back to prison for violating parole.

This table summarizes the frequent cycles in and out of prison that Trejo experienced as he struggled with addiction and engaged in criminal activities. His time behind bars totaled 11 years by one estimate from the 1960s through late 1970s.

Final Incarceration and Turnaround

Trejo’s final stint in prison came in 1978 when he was sentenced to 5 years for drug-related charges and a parole violation. While at San Quentin, he was part of a prison riot where he attacked and seriously injured a guard. As punishment, he spent 71 days in solitary confinement. This ended up being a turning point in Trejo’s life.

The weeks alone made Trejo reflect on where his life had ended up. He made a conscious decision to turn things around and never return to prison again. While incarcerated, Trejo entered a 12-step addiction recovery program that helped him get clean. He also picked up boxing as a prison hobby. After being released on parole in 1983, Trejo dedicated himself to staying sober and building an honest life.

Acting Career Takes Off After Prison

Trejo leveraged his tough prison look to pick up work as an extra in Hollywood movies. His big break came when he was training Eric Roberts for a boxing scene and the director asked if Trejo would appear in the movie Runaway Train. Trejo’s acting career took off in the 1990s as he appeared in major films like Blood In, Blood Out, Heat, Anaconda, and more “bad guy” roles.

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Trejo’s unique background and heavily tattooed, weathered visage made him perfectly suited to play sinister or hardcore characters. He went on to star in the Spy Kids franchise, the cult hits Machete and Machete Kills, and brought his talents to television shows like Breaking Bad, Sons of Anarchy, and King of the Hill.

Despite his criminal past, Trejo’s tenacity and work ethic made him a highly successful Hollywood actor. He has turned his life around to become an inspiration to many as someone who overcame addiction and rebuilt an acting career after paying his debts to society.

Table of Major Crimes and Incarcerations

Here is a table summarizing some of Danny Trejo’s notable crimes and subsequent periods of incarceration from the 1960s through 1980s:

| Date | Crime | Sentence | Prison | |-|-|-|-|-|
| 1965 | Heroin Possession, Armed Robbery | 3 Years | Soledad Prison | | 1968 | Robbery | Short Sentence | San Quentin Prison | | 1969 | Parole Violation, Robbery | 2 Years | San Quentin Prison | | 1972 | Armed Robbery | 5 Years | Folsom State Prison | | 1977 | Parole Violation | Short Sentence | Unknown Prison | | 1978 | Drug Charges, Parole Violation | 5 Years | San Quentin Prison |

How many times was Danny Trejo incarcerated?

By most accounts, Trejo was in and out of prison at least half a dozen times during the 1960s through 1970s for crimes like robbery, drug offenses, and parole violations related to his heroin addiction. He spent 11 years total behind bars by one estimate. His final stint in San Quentin from 1978-1983 led to his decision to turn his life around.

What major crimes led to Trejo’s incarcerations?

The majority of Trejo’s convictions were tied to armed robbery, drug possession/trafficking offenses, and parole violations. His need to fund his heroin addiction in his early life drove him to rob stores, houses, and even family members. He also spent time in notoriously tough prisons like San Quentin and Folsom for his crimes.

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Did Trejo commit murder?

There is no evidence that Trejo was ever convicted of murder. However, he has suggested in interviews that he engaged in acts of violence, including stabbings, while incarcerated as part of prison gang activities. But he does not appear to have prison time for homicide on his record.

What happened in Trejo’s final prison sentence that changed him?

During his final 5-year sentence at San Quentin which started in 1978, Trejo violated rules and attacked a guard, leading to 71 days in solitary confinement. Being alone in prison made him reflect and decide to pursue a new path in life. This stint behind bars motivated him to get clean and start his acting career after leaving prison in 1983.

How long has Trejo been sober now?

By the time of his final release from prison in the early 1980s, Trejo had completed a 12-step rehab program while incarcerated. He has reportedly been completely sober from drugs and alcohol since December 13, 1969 – over 53 years as of 2022. His new lifestyle and acting work kept him out of prison permanently after 1983.


In summary, Danny Trejo’s repeated stints in notable California prisons like San Quentin and Folsom were tied to crimes committed while battling long-term heroin addiction. His involvement with the Mexican Mafia prison gang also led him into violence and criminal activities during his periods of incarceration. After nearly a dozen years in the prison system, Trejo experienced a desire for change following time in solitary confinement at San Quentin in the late 1970s.

Kicking his drug habits via a 12-step program and discovering his talent for acting post-release allowed Trejo to turn his life around permanently. His unique look facilitated a career portraying “tough guys” and villains on the big screen. Now sober for over 5 decades, Trejo overcame his dark past to rebuild himself as a successful actor. His difficult path serves as an inspiration for former inmates struggling down the road to redemption.

Prison Inside Team

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We are dedicated to exploring the intricacies of prison life and justice reform through firsthand experiences and expert insights.

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Welcome to ‘Prison Inside,’ a blog dedicated to shedding light on the often hidden and misunderstood world within correctional facilities. Through firsthand accounts, personal narratives, and insightful reflections, we delve into the lives of those who find themselves behind bars, offering a unique perspective on the challenges, triumphs, and transformations that unfold within the confines of these walls.

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