“As a young man born in Los Angeles, Trejo didn’t spend his days rushing from acting audition to acting audition like other wannabe thespians. Instead, the future star was in and out of prison systems for crimes such as assault and battery and robbery; at California’s San Quentin Prison, he became a champion boxer in the lightweight and welterweight divisions.
It was during time spent in solitary confinement (for assault against a guard) while serving a five-year sentence that Trejo decided to change the course of his life. “In 1968, [during] Cinco de Mayo, I dedicated my life to helping other people,” he said.
The actor entered a twelve-step program, left prison and became a drug counselor. He attributes much of the change in his life to faith. “I thank God every day,” said Trejo.
His first acting role came about by accident; he had a role in 1985’s Oscar-nominated “Runaway Train,” starring Jon Voight and Eric Roberts. One of the film’s writers, novelist Edward Bunker, had served time with Trejo and asked him to coach Roberts in boxing. The director of the film got one look at Trejo and something clicked — he put him in the movie…”