Actor Richard Cabral talks transition from life of crime to 'American Crime'

NEW YORK (WABC) -- In a business where most actors who play tough are not tough for real, Richard Cabral stands out as a man who has actually done time for an "American Crime" he committed on the streets of Los Angeles.

As a teenager, Cabral spent time behind bars, and as a young man, he went back to jail for shooting someone. Now, he's the Emmy-nominated star of an ABC show.

He's a former gang member, with the tattoos to prove it, so how did this man go from a life of crime to "American Crime"?

"Art saved my life," he said. "It literally saved my life to be able to tell stories, to be able to take the pain and destruction and turn it into something beautiful."

Today, he gives credit to Homeboys Industries, a local community in Los Angeles where young people are given an alternative to gang life.

Viewers of "American Crime" may not even be aware that he was a gang member at 13, addicted to crack and selling drugs at 15, and in prison by 20, charged with a violent assault with a deadly weapon.

His release after three years brought about a profound change in his life.

"To be in the energy space of a man that has been incarcerated for 15 to 20 years and is never going to see the daylight again is one of the most powerful things that I've ever experienced," he said. "I came home, and I believe in God or the spirits. They were talking to me, and if I didn't listen to what He was trying to tell me, I would have been dead or doing life."

Instead, he was nominated for an Emmy Award after bringing true authenticity to his role as a drug dealer in the first season of "American Crime."

The Emmy nod (the award went to Bill Murray) was especially meaningful for his mom, a woman who visited him behind bars a decade earlier.

"To come from that, to seeing her son in a prison cell to then seeing her son on television, possibly even holding an Emmy, I don't think you could even write a story as good as that," he said.

A great story indeed.
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