6 Celebrities Who Spent Time in Prison Before They Were Famous

Originally Published February 3rd, 2020

Time and again, we hear about celebrities getting arrested for bad behavior. DUIs and drug charges are quite the norm in Hollywood. One proof that fame and fortune just don’t sit well with everybody.

But for some celebrities, being wealthy and famous have got nothing to do with their jail stint. In fact, they probably never thought they’d one day be famous while slugging it out inside.

Through luck and determination, they managed to turn their lives around. Now, they are some of the biggest names in the industry walking on red carpets around the world.

Let’s look back at what these celebs did that landed them behind bars before they even set foot in Hollywood:


Now a successful actor, songwriter, and businessman, Wahlberg had troublesome teenage years.

At 17, he was arrested for assaulting two Vietnamese men in his hometown in Boston. Wahlberg reportedly beat up the first Vietnamese man with a large wooden stick till he fell unconscious. On the same day, he punched another Vietnamese man in the eye which almost made him blind. He was also heard to have called them “Vietnam fucking shits” and other unsolicited racist remarks. He pleaded guilty to the assault and was handed a two-year sentence but ended up serving only 45 days.

This isn’t his first racist action though. Two years earlier, he and a group of white friends threw rocks at three black children. They were yelling “Kill the nigger, kill the nigger”. The next day, they were joined by other white boys to yell racist slurs at other black children.

Years after his stint in jail, a 21-year old Wahlberg would fracture the jaw of a neighbor in an unprovoked attack.

A controversy erupted when Wahlberg tried to file for a full and unconditional pardon for his crimes. One of his victims remarked that “a racist will always be a racist”. His application was closed two years later when he failed to answer the pardon board’s letter asking him if he still wants to keep it open.

Speaking to the media, Wahlberg confirmed that he’d already met with and apologized to one of the Vietnamese men he assaulted.


Born as Curtis James Jackson III, rapper and songwriter 50 Cent’s mother was a drug-dealer. It’s no surprise then that he turned out to be one himself at such a young age.

When his mother died, 50 Cent was taken in by his grandmother. He started selling narcotics behind her back when he was just 12. He would also bring guns and drug money to school.

In 1994, he got busted after selling cocaine to an undercover police officer. A search of his home 3 weeks later yielded cocaine, heroin and a handgun. He was originally sentenced three to nine years in prison but ended up serving only 6 months in a boot camp.

Despite this, 50 Cent vehemently denies that he did cocaine nor drank alcohol due to previous bad experience with the substance.


Before he became a household name, Tim Allen had already spent more than two years of his life in federal prison.

He was apprehended in a Michigan airport for possession of more than 650 grams of cocaine. Pleading guilty to the drug trafficking charges, Allen requested a lower sentence in exchange for the names of his cohorts. Instead of lifetime imprisonment, he managed to bring his sentence down to a maximum of seven years. (Related: How to Reduce a Prison Sentence)

He got out on parole after only two years and four months. He went on to play for cable comedy shows until he got the part in ABC’s Home Improvement which launched his career.

A celebrity getting arrested.


On screen, Danny Trejo commands a menacing presence. He makes it appear like the thug life is not new to him. That’s because it isn’t.

Before he landed a role as a film extra, Trejo has been in and out of jail. His longest stint was in the 1960s when he tried to pass off sugar as cocaine to an undercover federal agent. He spent 11 years in San Quentin prison.

After landing himself in solitary confinement for causing a riot, Trejo decided to turn his life around. He completed a 12-step rehab program and became a drug counselor. Little did he know that this would be his ticket to stardom. (Related: Deadliest Prison Riots in History)

One of the drug addicts he was mentoring was working as a movie crew. When Trejo visited him on set, he was immediately noticed by the casting agent because of his scars and tattoos. He was offered a job as an extra and thanks to his intimidating visage, he got more movie offers for a villain role.

He still volunteers as a drug counselor in his local intervention center.


As a beloved English actor and comedian, you probably never expected Stephen Fry to end up on this list. That’s because his jail stint happened when he was just a strapping young lad in Norfolk.

Fry was arrested for stealing a family friend’s credit card. For this, he got to spend three months in Pucklechurch prison. While inside, his mother would give him crossword cut-outs which he claims had been a big help for him to get through the ordeal. (Related: How to Survive Prison: Survival Tips From Former Inmates)

When he was eventually released, Fry continued his studies and passed his exams with flying colors.


Not a lot of people know that Charles “Roc” Dutton spent years in prison for killing someone along with various other crimes.

Raised in a troubled community just south of a Maryland prison, Dutton had always expected to go inside it one day. After all, most of the men in his neighborhood and the boys he went to school with did their time.

He got convicted of manslaughter and went to jail at only 17 years old. Dutton claims that the man attacked and stabbed him eight times. Being a trained boxer, he retaliated and killed him in the process. He got out on parole in less than two years.

While on parole, he got sent back for possession of illegal weapons. His original sentence of three years was extended to eleven when he assaulted a police officer.

Looking back at his experience, Dutton says that prison saved his life. When he was in solitary confinement, his only companion was a book on plays written by African-American playwrights. He came out of that cell a renewed man who knows what he wants to do in life. He went on to earn a master’s degree from Yale School of Drama.


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Judy Ponio an author for GlobalTel


Judy Ponio is a firm believer in the power of sharing knowledge. Having extensive experience in the prison industry, she wants to share what she knows with the world. Judy also loves to write about political and legal topics.