(Editor’s note: Correction News, a publication of what was then known as the Department of Corrections, published this story in February 1991, volume 4, number 8. David “Dutch” Van Dalsem, the former correctional officer who founded Rent-a-Gang, died in July 1992 of a heart attack at age 51. The ‘gang’ could be hired for bit parts in movies and TV shows. The organization disbanded following his death.)
By April Cleland
Correction News Reporter
“One day I was cleaning toilets and the next I was eating lunch with Clint Eastwood and Charlie Sheen,” said Eddie Sanchez, a former inmate who now does his time as an extra in movies.
Sanchez was at the point of committing suicide when his parole agent contacted David “Dutch” Van Dalsem, a former correctional officer. Van Dalsem, founder of “Rent-a-Gang,” put Sanchez to work as a movie extra.
Since that fateful day, Sanchez has been featured as a hard-core thug in “Lockup” with Sylvester Stallone and in “Rookie” with Clint Eastwood and Charlie Sheen.
“I’m bad, I’m tough. My record says it,” said Sanchez. “Yet, on the set, I’m given disrespect from the assistant director because I’m an extra. An extra is the lowest thing on the set.”
This is the first job Sanchez has had as a free man. Most of his life has been spent in prison. The pay-off can’t be measured in dollars alone. It has given him employment, confidence and purpose.
“I’m making it,” said Sanchez. “It’s like the bumble bee. Everybody says that by physics, it can’t fly because its body weight is too big and its wings are too short. The bumble bee doesn’t know it – he just does it.”
“Rent-a-Gang was created as a job,” said Van Dalsem. “One of the inmates at Soledad asked me what I was going to do when I left my job and I told him I was going to Hollywood to make movies. The inmate laughed and told me he and some of the other guys would come and do movies for me. Rent-a-Gang was born.”
Van Dalsem said the recidivism rate was low for those in the program.
“In 11 years, only two of the ‘ultra-heavies’ have gone back to prison,” he said. “I understand two things about the inmates: their perspective of pride and the self-respect they get from doing the work.”
Rent-a-Gang has been involved in over 2,000 movies, TV shows and commercials. Van Dalsem said 99 percent of the inmates who worked as extras have gone on to other occupations.
Movies and TV shows
Note: After Van Dalsem’s death at age 51, the Los Angeles Times wrote an article about his life.
Among the group’s films are “Cobra,” “Over the Top,” “Into the Night,” “Lost in America,” “Ruthless People” and “Doc Hollywood,” and the less successful “Hamburger, the Movie,” the Times reported. The Rent-a-Gang television credits include such series as “Cagney and Lacey,” “St. Elsewhere,” “Simon & Simon,” “Scarecrow and Mrs. King” and “L.A. Law.” The group also has appeared in several rock videos, such as Molly Hatchet’s “Satisfied Man.”