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'Trejo' (both the actor and the memoir) is a treasure

His honesty about his past makes for a unique, engaging summer read.

Bookworm — Terri Schlichenmeyer column sig

Just hold on.

Wait it out, don't quit, they say. Hang on, don't let go. Better times are coming. Just hold on — or, as in the new memoir, "Trejo: My Life of Crime, Redemption, and Hollywood" by Danny Trejo with Donal Logue, sometimes, you have to just let go.

The first time he went to jail, Danny Trejo was 10 years old.

Within two years, he "was a regular at juvenile hall"; by the time he was in his early 20s, he'd spent time in several hardcore facilities — Soledad, Folsom, Alcatraz. He'd been "locked up, in and out but mostly in, since 1956," and he figured he'd die in prison.

Born at the tail end of World War II, Trejo was taken from his birth mother as a toddler because his father thought she was neglecting the boy. Trejo's father taught him to be stoic, to stand up for himself, and to step up when someone needed to; his beloved Uncle Gilbert showed him how to survive the streets, and prison.

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Gilbert also taught him to box, which allowed Trejo to gain respect behind bars.

Trejo knew Charles Manson. He worked as an inmate firefighter. Because he often ensured that vulnerable inmates weren't subject to violence or predation, guards came to appreciate him, and that led Trejo to better prison jobs. One of the last had placed him near where contraband entered the prison, and soon he "ran the heroin bag..."

You needed something? He could get it.

Then he lost that job in a fight that almost put him on death row. Heroin, pills, alcohol, weed, machismo ... he couldn't do it anymore, and he says he began to talk to God, promising to help others if He saved him.

Once released, that's what Trejo did. He gave up alcohol and drugs, and began counseling other addicts and those on their way to prison.

And one of them mentioned that he was making money as a movie extra ...

As big Hollywood memoirs go, "Trejo" is a very pleasant surprise, starting with the fact that most of it isn't about Hollywood.

Indeed, author Danny Trejo (with Donal Logue) places nearly the entire first half of his book in prison, among hardened criminals, gang members, killers and addicts, while partly weaving his early life into his tales behind bars. Trejo doesn't hide anything in his time of crime, nor does he minimize any of the impacts his family had on it, honesty that allows for a curious trust between reader and writers.

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But this is not a true-crime story. Trejo and Logue switch their tale at the point where Trejo almost accidentally becomes a Hollywood extra, and the tone quickly changes — darkness lifts from the narrative, and it's almost ... happy. By then, readers will be ready for that; add the lack of attention-grabbing name-dropping, and you'll be happy, too.

This may be the most unique and gracious memoir you'll read this summer, so check it out. "Trejo" is a treasure, one you'll hold on to.

Book notes

"Trejo: My Life of Crime, Redemption, and Hollywood" by Danny Trejo with Donal Logue is available at Barnes & Noble at Apache Mall, the Rochester Public Library, and through online booksellers.

Terri Schlichenmeyer has been reading since she was 3 years old, and she never goes anywhere without a book. She lives on the prairie in Wisconsin with one man, two dogs and 16,000 books. Look for her at bookwormsez.com or bookwormsez on Twitter.

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