x-criminals like Frank William Abagnale — the man who inspired ‘Catch Me If You Can‘ — prove that it is possible for anyone to turn their lives around, even after decades in prison.
We’ve compiled a list of 11 people — including a former Mafia member and a former target on FBI’s Most Wanted list — with amazing stories.
Some are well known, but most are not.
1. FORMER HACKER KEVIN MITNICK WAS ON THE FBI’S MOST WANTED LIST BEFORE LAUNCHING HIS OWN SECURITY FIRM
When Mitnick was 16, he hacked the computer system Digital Equipment Corporation and stole their software, reports Gerry Smith at The Huffington Post.
He was a fugitive for nearly three years before being arrested in 1995 and released in 2002. His new company, Mitnick Security, helps other companies discover security lapses in their systems.
2. GEORGIA DURANTE WAS A GETAWAY DRIVER FOR THE MAFIA BEFORE STARTING A STUNT-DRIVING COMPANY
At one time, she was known as the Kodak Summer Girl, but eventually, the former model married into the Mafia and became a getaway driver.
Since then, she’s turned her life around by starting her own stunt driving company Performance Two that’s created scenes for more than 100 movies. She’s also published an autobiography, “The Company She Keeps.”
3. FRANK WILLIAM ABAGNALE WAS A WORLD-FAMOUS CON MAN BY AGE 21. NOW HE RUNS A FRAUD CONSULTING COMPANY.
Between the ages of 16 and 21, Abagnale wrote $2.5 million in fraudulent checks and successfully posed as an airline pilot, doctor, lawyer and college professor. He was later apprehended by the French police and served five years in prison.
Abagnale was released early under the conditions that he’d work with the U.S. government.
According to his firm’s Website, he works with consulting financial institutions, corporations, and law enforcement agencies on fraud and security. To date, he has serviced more than 14,000 companies.
His story was made into the film “Catch Me If You Can,” which was directed by Steven Spielberg and starred Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hanks.
4. KWEISI MFUME HAD SEVERAL STINTS IN JAIL BEFORE BECOMING A CONGRESSMAN AND SERVING AS PRESIDENT OF THE NAACP
When Mfume was 16, his mother died from cancer and that made things “[spin] out of control.”
“Not only did I run with all the worst people, I became the leader,” Mfume told U.S. News and World Report.”I was locked up a couple of times on suspicion of theft because I happened to be black and happened to be young.”
He dropped out of high school and fathered five children while he was still a teenager himself.
At some point, he decided to change his life around and enrolled in college. Mfume would go on to get his graduate degree from John Hopkins University, elected to the Baltimore City Council, Congress, and become president of the NAACP.
5. JUNIOR JOHNSON WENT TO JAIL FOR SMUGGLING ALCOHOL BEFORE BECOMING A NASCAR DRIVER
In the 1940s and ’50s, Johnson learned how to drive fast transporting illegal alcohol in North Carolina.
For his post-Prohibition crimes, he spent less than a year in jail, but later decided to use his motor skills for NASCAR.
The Winston-Salem Journal reports that Johnson competed in 313 races, won 50 of them and finished in the top 10 in the rest.
There is a stretch of highway in his hometown named after him.
6. FORMER NIXON AIDE CHARLES COLSON SPENT A YEAR IN FEDERAL PRISON FOR HIS INVOLVEMENT IN THE WATERGATE SCANDAL AND THEN STARTED PRISON FELLOWSHIP
After pleading guilty to obstruction of justice and serving time in prison, Colson started Prison Fellowship, currently the world’s largest prison outreach organization. According to its site, the fellowship was founded because Colson “could not forget those he had left behind prison walls.”
Colson recently passed away on March 31, 2012.
7. LARRY JAY LEVINE WAS SENTENCED TO 10 YEARS IN PRISON AND LATER USED HIS EXPERIENCE TO START HIS COMPANY, ‘WALL STREET PRISON CONSULTANTS’
According to Wall Street Prison Consultants, their founder served some time behind bars for conspiracy charges related to narcotics, securities fraud, obstruction of justice, and possession of automatic weapons.
When Levine was released, he used his experience and knowledge to become a federal prison consultant, providing “prison survival education courses” and legal services to lawyers and offenders.
8. JUDGE GREG MATHIS WAS IN A GANG AND SERVED TIME BEFORE LAUNCHING HIS OWN TV SHOW
When Mathis was a teenager in Detroit, he joined a gang and went to jail for some time. Then at the age of 17, his mother was diagnosed with colon cancer and Mathis turned his life around.
Sima Ballinger at the Examiner reports that Mathis got his G.E.D., attended Eastern Michigan University then went to law school.
His television legal reality show has been on the air since 1999.
9. ACTOR DANNY TREJO SPENT 12 YEARS ROBBING STORES, BUT NOW HE ONLY PLAYS ‘THE BAD GUY’ IN MOVIES
Trejo has been in nearly 200 films playing “tough guy” characters, but earlier in his life he spent some time behind bars for drugs and robbery.
According to Nate Jones at Time Magazine, Hollywood came calling when a director asked if Trejo could play a convict, which he replied, “I’ll give it a shot.”
“I’ve been in every penitentiary in the state of California. And so when they say, ‘Can you do a robbery?’ I go, ‘Hell, done a few of those,’ ” he said.
10. STEPHEN RICHARDS SPENT NINE YEARS IN PRISON FOR SELLING MARIJUANA BEFORE BECOMING A PROFESSOR OF CRIMINAL JUSTICE
During his nine-year stint in prison, Richards had a tough wake-up call after witnessing suicides, beatings, and shootings.
According to Warren St. John at The NYT, he received his bachelor’s degree while incarcerated and got his graduate degree from University of Wisconsin and Ph.D. from Iowa State University.
He went on to become a professor of criminal justice at University of Wisconsin – Oshkosh and published several books on criminology.
“There’s been some very successful businessmen who had a previous life as a criminal behind bars, and you know, our hats are off to those individuals who managed to, you know, engage in the American dream through that process,” Richards told NPR News.
11. QUARTERBACK MICHAEL VICK WENT TO PRISON FOR 18 MONTHS FOR RUNNING A DOG-FIGHTING RING BEFORE GETTING SIGNED BY THE EAGLES IN 2009
In 2007, Vick was quarterback for the Atlanta Falcons when he was charged with federal felony crimes for running a large dog ring that trained pit bulls to fight against one another.
The Global Animal reports that more than 70 dogs were seized from his property by authorities and Vick later pled guilty to conspiracy charges and served 18 months in prison.
Upon release, he was signed by the Philadelphia Eagles in 2009, and currently has his own show called The Michael Vick Project, which airs on Black Entertainment Television (BET).
Information from: Business Insider