Top10 Ex-Criminals Who Became Successful

Script written by Michael Wynands.

There are some ex-criminals who ended up successful. Whether it’s someone like Daniel Manville, who became a lawyer and prison reform advocate after serving jail time for manslaughter, famed NASCAR driver Junior Johnson, who was arrested when he was a moonshine runner, or Georgia Durante, who was a getaway driver for the mafia and ended up a successful stunt driver, these convicted criminals all made exemplary turnarounds in their lives. WatchMojo counts down all the successful ex-cons who transformed their lives.

Special thanks to our user Kris A for suggesting this idea! Check out the voting page at WatchMojo.comsuggest/Top%2010%20Convicts%20Who%20Turned%20Their%20Lives%20Around


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Script written by Michael Wynands.

Top 10 Convicts Who Turned Their Lives Around

As these one-time criminals prove, it’s never too late to change your ways. Welcome to, and today we’re counting down our picks for the top 10 convicts who turned their lives around.

For this list, we’re looking at figures who turned away from a life of crime to make something of themselves. To be considered, the convicts in question need to have committed relatively serious criminal transgressions. They also need to have stayed out of trouble since turning over that new leaf. We’ll turn a blind eye to parking tickets though. Cause, you know… no one’s perfect.

#10: Georgia Durante

Explored in detail in her memoirs “The Company She Keeps,” the road travelled by Georgia Durante to her current profession has been filled with unexpected twists and turns. As a young woman, her interest in danger made her a regular at a mafia-owned club in NYC. After a shooting, Durante was ordered to take the victim to the hospital, proving herself to be an excellent driver in the process. Before she knew it, this unlikely speed demon was a mafia getaway driver and married to a Mafioso. She eventually escaped the life and made a name for herself in the stunt-driving world, becoming one of top industry’s drivers.

#9: Paul Karsten Fauteck

For Paul Fauteck, a stay in the federal pen was a pretty serious wakeup call. Having started his criminal career at the tender age of 13, he had a diverse resume that included counterfeiting, burglary, car theft and illegally smuggling his Mexican wife into the United States. Upon his release, he began visiting a therapist, who not only helped him to better comprehend his own criminal inclinations, but also to discover his future career - psychology. Starting with a GED, he entered a Masters program, eventually earning his doctorate and a Presidential Pardon, and ultimately publishing a psychology book aimed at helping convicts straighten out their lives.

#8: Daniel E. Manville

Manslaughter is a crime that can be incredibly hard to move past but Daniel Manville did more than just reform and reintegrate into society. With his second chance, Manville became one of the last things anyone expected: a lawyer. It wasn’t easy - his application for a legal license was initially denied, before being overturned in appeal. While some reformed convicts are just looking to forget their stint upstate, Daniel Manville became a serious advocate for prison system reform, and now fights for prisoners’ rights. He’s also been the director of the Civil Rights Clinic at the Michigan State University College of Law since the early 2010s.

#7: Eugene Brown

For Eugene Brown, a failed bank robbery at the age of 20 earned him an 18-year prison sentence. For many individuals, that might as well be a life sentence... dashing any hope of a real future. But not for Brown. In prison, he mastered the game of chess, and came out a truly changed man. He founded the Big Chair Chess Club, a youth program that teaches kids and teens to always “think before you move.” His inspiring story of redemption and community spirit was even adapted into a film, “Life of a King” starring Cuba Gooding Jr.

#6: Jeff Henderson

The only thing he used to cut was cocaine… but now this ex-con is an award-winning chef and motivational speaker. Jeff Henderson, who was since named Las Vegas Chef of the year in 2001, may have never found his true calling had he not done hard time. After being arrested for dealing narcotics, he spent 10 years in prison, where he honed his cooking skills working kitchen duty. Upon his release, he worked his way up the cutthroat world of professional cooking. He’s since married, had kids, written a bestselling memoir entitled “Cooked”, and starred in multiple television shows.

#5: Junior Johnson

This NASCAR legend won a staggering 50 races during his time on the circuit in the ‘50s and ‘60s. Johnson’s start as a driver, however, is vintage NASCAR. A moonshine runner for his family’s whiskey operation, Junior was eventually nabbed for having an illegal still, and served a year in prison. Upon his release, he turned his attention to professional racing, winning 5 races in his first season. He proved to be not only a talented racer, but also an innovative one. A super-speedway basic today, in 1960 Junior Johnson discovered “drafting” during a test run and subsequently used the technique to clinch the Daytona 500. And in 1986, he received an even bigger prize: a Presidential Pardon.

#4: Eugène François Vidocq

Few criminals have gone on to greater, or more ironic careers than this legend. Vidocq spent his youth committing petty crimes, forging documents, escaping prison and dueling. Whatever he did, he did with a sense of style, flourish and self-assuredness. His exploits eventually made him too famous for a life of crime, and therefore, he casually switched sides. His work as a police informant inspired him to form the Sûreté Nationale, which would go on to inspire numerous similar agencies around the world. In many ways, he shaped modern police work, popularizing ballistics, crime scene investigation, detailed descriptions of criminals, plaster casts and more. Unsurprisingly, he inspired the works of numerous detective writers in the process.

#3: Mark ‘Chopper’ Read

Name a common crime unrelated to sex, and he was likely convicted of it... or claimed to have committed it. The number often changed over the years, but by Mark ‘Chopper’ Read’s own estimates, he killed or was involved in the murder of anywhere between 4-19 people. It’s unsurprising then that, over an 18-year period, he only spent 13 months as a free man. Following his final release in 1998, he went on to write crime novels and even a children’s book. He also recorded rap, painted, and dabbled in comedy, while his insane life inspired the 2000 film “Chopper.” Read’s unbelievable life story, however, came to a rather ordinary end in 2013, when he died of liver cancer.

#2: Danny Trejo

While the instantly recognizable actor is essentially a household name these days, he got into the acting business relatively late. Born in 1944, Trejo only got his first part in 1985. Before that, he did multiple stints in prison for armed robbery and drug charges. While in San Quentin he learned how to box, a skill that would take him unexpected places. A recovered drug addict himself, his work as a youth drug counselor brought Trejo to the set of the film “Runaway Train.” This proved to be his break, as he was soon offered a role as an extra and boxing coach for Eric Roberts. From there, the roles just kept on coming for this criminal-turned-actor and activist.

Before we unveil our top pick, here are a few honorable mentions.
- Larry Lawton
Jewel Thief Turned Honorary Police Officer

- Mukhtar Gusengadzhiev
Petty Criminal Turned Contortionist

- Uchendi Nwani
Drug Dealer Turned Barber / Public Speaker

#1: Frank Abagnale

Etched into our memories thanks to 2002’s “Catch Me If You Can,” Frank William Abagnale, Jr. led a life that few could keep up with. Before his capture at the age of 21, he’d already assumed the identity of a lawyer, airline pilot, a physician, and even an US law enforcement agent. Despite being sentenced to 12 years in prison, he was released after just four. Why? The FBI wanted his help investigating other forgers, scam artists, frauds and con men like himself. Apparently first-hand experience is invaluable, regardless of how it’s gained. With his criminal past behind him, Abagnale has since found a career as a legitimate private fraud consultant.

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