Actor Danny Trejo Shares the Deal He Made with God While Sitting Behind Bars
By Movieguide® Staff
Note: This story is part of our Faith in Hollywood series. For similar stories, click here.
“I made a deal with God,” actor Danny Trejo recalled. At the time, he was in solitary confinement and facing the death penalty.
“I asked Him to let me die with dignity. Then I promised to always say His name and help my fellow inmates.”
Trejo details the encounter in his new book, Trejo: My Life of Crime, Redemption, and Hollywood.
According to the book description:
On screen, Danny Trejo the actor is a baddie who has been killed at least a hundred times. He’s been shot, stabbed, hanged, chopped up, squished by an elevator, and once, was even melted into a bloody goo. Off screen, he’s a hero beloved by recovery communities and obsessed fans alike. But the real Danny Trejo is much more complicated than the legend.
Raised in an abusive home, Danny struggled with heroin addiction and stints in some of the country’s most notorious state prisons—including San Quentin and Folsom—from an early age, before starring in such modern classics as Heat, From Dusk till Dawn, and Machete. Now, in this funny, painful, and suspenseful memoir, Danny takes us through the incredible ups and downs of his life, including meeting one of the world’s most notorious serial killers in prison and working with legends like Charles Bronson and Robert De Niro.
An honest, unflinching, and “inspirational study in the definition of character” (Kevin Smith, director and actor), Trejo reveals how he managed the horrors of prison, rebuilt himself after finding sobriety and spirituality in solitary confinement, and draws inspiration from the adrenaline-fueled robbing heists of his past for the film roles that made him a household name. He also shares the painful contradictions in his personal life. Although he speaks everywhere from prison yards to NPR about his past to inspire countless others on their own road to recovery and redemption, he struggles to help his children with their personal battles with addiction, and to build relationships that last.
Redemptive and painful, poignant and real, Trejo is a portrait of a magnificent life and an unforgettable and exceptional journey.
That exception journey really turned around when he was in prison.
Trejo didn’t plan to walk free. He certainly didn’t plan to make it in Hollywood.
“I said inmate because I never thought I was getting out of prison,” Trejo said.
“In that cell God killed the old me, made a new Danny Trejo, and said, ‘Now let’s see what you do with him.’”
NBC News reports that the charges against Trejo were suddenly dropped, and Trejo found himself having to make good on that vow.
“By the grace of God, on August 23, 1969, they let me out. I kept my deal. I say His name 20 times a day, and I help wherever I can,” Trejo said.
In addition to acting, Trejo also threw himself into embracing a new kind of masculinity — community service.
“Masculine means you go to work, you support your family, you help out your neighbors — that’s masculine, that’s machismo. We got it screwed up, thinking we’re supposed to be warriors. No, we’re not, we’re supposed to be caretakers. That’s what masculinity means to me now,” Trejo said. “Everything good that has happened to me, has happened as a direct result of helping someone else,” he adds, “and that’s masculine — helping people.”
Los Angeles City Council even honored Trejo in 2020 to honor his acts of service.
“Today, Danny has become one of the best-known actors working in film and has continued to give back to the community, still working as a drug counselor for at-risk youth while headlining countless Hollywood films,” said Councilman Gilbert Cedillo. “(He) demonstrates what a commitment to sobriety does and brings to your life.”
For Trejo, though, that all comes back to Jesus.
“Jesus is everything,” Trejo said. “I’m always asked how I’ve accomplished what I’ve accomplished [considering] where I came from, and only an idiot would deny that it was an act of God that brought me … from on my way to a gas chamber to where I’m at now.”