For most people, a life of crime is a gamble. You'll either go on breaking the shit out of the law forever, or you'll get caught and go to jail. For some, however, there is a third option, one lined with money.
These people not only managed to have successful careers as criminals, but also turned their nefarious ways into legitimate profit after being arrested.
Danny Trejo is everyone's favorite terrifying Hispanic man.
This is not a publicity still. This is Danny going to Walgreen's.
Early on, Danny made a career out of robbing convenience stores, and eventually got addicted to drugs. The cops showed up at his house so much that his mom eventually said she stopped being surprised when they came. Then again she could have just taken one look at her son and guessed at his future.
Danny eventually earned himself 15 years in prison, including a stint in San Quentin. Determined to learn a valuable skill in jail, but presumably not one for poetry, he practiced boxing. He also embarked on a 12-step program that broke him of his addiction to drugs and alcohol.
"Glaring at addiction" was presumably the 12th step.
How Did He Turn it Around?
After his release, Trejo kept tabs on his former 12-step partners to help them stay on the straight and narrow. And, in one of those twists that makes a person believe in karma, one of those friends happened to be a production assistant for a movie called Runaway Train. Trejo was approached by a member of the movie staff and asked if he could look like a convict, which, of course, he could. In fact we're pretty sure that these days casting just asks if you can "Look like a Trejo."
While working as an extra, he was recognized by another person working on the film who was also a former San Quentin guest, and wound up getting hired to teach Eric Roberts to box for $350 a day.
"I'll give you three hundred and fifty bones to punch me in the face."
And that was that. Trejo has been in a few movies since then, and by a few we mean 124. He's usually playing the scary Mexican criminal, officially making him the greatest method actor in the history of the world.
Georgia Durante was a model by age 12, and by 17 was the "Kodak Girl" with over 80,000 life sized cut outs of her in stores around the country. Nothing illegal about that.
Well, she wound up getting married to a guy named Joe Lamendola, a businessman who worked for the mob. His connections eventually landed Georgia in the driver's seat of getaway cars as a "wheel woman," where she performed ass-kicking driving stunts to evade the police and crush gender stereotypes at the same time.
As luck would have it, her husband turned out to be a tyrannical asshole, and she eventually decided to get a divorce and testify against the people from her former life, heroically sparing herself from spending a minute in jail.
How Did She Turn it Around?
Years of evading the police had taught Georgia how to drive like an action hero, so she formed Performance Two, a stunt and precision driving company and wrote a book about her life as a model and mafia wife. Her company has done stunts for over 100 movies and commercials, and she's personally doubled for both Cindy Crawford and Priscilla Presley.
In harrowing situations like this.
She also tours the country as a motivational speaker for women in abusive relationships, presumably while doing donuts in a high end sports car.
Hell, if running from the cops is such good training, you'd think you'd see a bunch of wheel men making it to NASCAR. Though now that we mention it...
Junior Johnson grew up in North Carolina in the 1940s, and lived a life suspiciously similar to one of the Duke boys in The Dukes of Hazzard. He made a name for himself in the area as a moonshine runner, delivering home-brewed (and illegal) alcohol in a car fast enough to outrun the cops.
He is credited as never having been caught while making a delivery, probably thanks to his ability to jump rivers by ramping off bales of hay.
Oh, and he invented the "bootleg turn," which is a move that has been used in every car chase in the history of ever.
Some people voted to call it the "twirling Johnson" but were overruled.
He would also deck his car with fake police lights and a siren, which he would turn on when approaching road blocks so the police would mistake him for one of their own and let him pass. He was eventually caught working on his father's moonshine still and arrested, serving 11 months of a two-year sentence.
How Did He Turn it Around?
Well, he could drive really, really fast, and he lived in the South. So of course he became a lawyer.
No, not really. Junior became a NASCAR driver and wound up becoming one of the first real superstars of the sport. He competed in 313 races over the course of 13 years, winning 50 of them and finishing in the top 10 of the rest, presumably imagining red and blue lights chasing him the whole time.
"Wait, I don't have to have 13 cases of liquor in the back?"
Junior retired and is currently the third winning-est NASCAR there is, with 139 victories to his name. So, smuggling booze earned him less than a year in jail, a profitable career as a race-car driver, an even more profitable career as an owner and a 278-acre estate. Please note these results are not typical for most celebrity drug smugglers.
For example, Dino Bravo was shot 17 times in the back of the head
for smuggling cigarettes into Canada.