Born to a heroin addict mother and a convicted murderer father, the "Hot Felon" described his amazing journey to becoming one of the world's most famous models.
His mugshot is extremely well known — but the story behind it is not.
Jeremy Meeks, the so-called Hot Felon, has opened up about everything from his harrowing upbringing, his addict mom and murderer dad, his time in prison, the weird circumstances that got him there — and the crazier circumstances that got him out.
Speaking to Chelsea Grayson on her video series "What's Your Water", he also discussed co-parenting with ex-wife Melissa Meeks and Topshop Heiress Chloe Green.
"So, my childhood was very, very dark," the 35-year-old began the lengthy interview.
"You know, my dad committed a murder when I was nine months old and killed my mom's best friend because he was looking for us and she was the only one who knew where we were at. And she wouldn't tell him and so he stabbed her to death, not knowing that we had rented the apartment right above her. So, he got a life sentence."
Meeks described life with a heroin addict mom. "I dealt with the whole...helping her kick, and the needles, and the abusive boyfriends kicking the shit out of us. So, we bounced around a lot, and my mom went to jail a bunch of times."
"Growing up in a heroin household is really hard. You have to grow up really fast, and fend for yourself, and bring something to the table so that everyone can eat."
He said his older sister, at 18, couldn't take any more and left to enlist in the military. But after completing bootcamp at 20 she immediately returned to legally adopt him and their brother.
"My birth certificate says my sister's name as the mother," he said. "And that was the best thing that could've ever happened to me."
But Meeks was always drawn to the darker paths.
"Honestly, from the youngest age, it was in my blood to make bad decisions," he said. "That's how I know genetics are real. Because I am so much like someone that I had never met before. It was honestly ridiculous."
"Another crazy thing? Every one of my friends had fathers growing up. I was the only one who didn't. But I always wanted to know what it felt like to go to prison, and I wanted to know what it felt like to do a couple other things, just to know what he went through."
"Even though it was someone I didn't like or didn't wanna know, for some reason there was something inside of me that wanted to know what that felt like," he admitted. "And that sounds crazy, but it was very true."
Growing up, he said, he "f--ked up a lot." A learning disability made it difficult at school. And when he moved from Washington to LA around sixth grade, he immediately got a crash course in gangs.
"Coming from Washington state, I had no idea about gangs, really," he said. "When I first go to the school, everyone's hitting me up, like, 'Hey, kid, where you from? 'Um, Washington?' 'Why you got that red shirt on?' 'Because my sister gave it to me, I don't know.'"
"Next you know I'm fighting and fighting and fighting and I had to learn really fast about colors, and gangs, and neighborhoods, and sets. At a really young age, I got put on to the hood and from there, I moved out of the house at 15 and was in the streets."
Fifteen was also the age he was first sent to juvenile hall. Within six days of getting out, he said he was shot five times, in the foot, legs and hip. Six days after that, he was beaten up by a gang of Northern Mexicans, with baseball bats.
"Messed up my kidneys, I pissed blood for about two weeks, it was really, really rough," he said. "And then I caught my case."
In total, Meeks would spend ten-and-a-half years behind bars.
Listing all the prisons he'd been too, he explained he'd get moved around for getting into fights; prisons frequently "flipped the yard" to dissipate tensions, or would completely redistribute prisoners across other facilities if violence ever got to riot level.
For light-skinned mixed race people like himself it was particularly hard; being ridiculously good-looking didn't help either.
"For most light-skinned people, you're not black enough and you're not white," he lamented. "Plus, I'm a pretty n---a, so in prison I had to make an example."
"If you say one wrong thing, [it's]'I'm f--king you up'," he recalled. "So I stayed in a lot a shit. It's not just to show anything, it's about respect. I don't have to prove anything."
"But if in any way you disrespect me, it's gonna go down because I'm gonna give you that same respect that I'm gonna demand. So if I respect you and you disrespect me, you leave me no choice."
It was while in California State Prison in Corcoran, while he was next-cell-neighbors with Charles Manson for 18 months — that he began to re-evaluate his life; he wondered if he'd given himself all his tattoos to purposely make himself unemployable.
"Why did you put all these tattoos on you? You just made it to where you can't work, like you can't do nothing really with your life," he said. "It hit me that I think I was afraid to fail."
"It's hard to do right. It's easy to f--k up. If I make it to where I can't work, I can't fail," he said, adding: "But I know the streets like the back of my hand."
The prison sentence that would change his life, was for grand theft and firearm possession while being a felon in 2014 — and he claimed the heat on him was much hotter because of a stupid mistake.
He said investigators believed he was a gang kingpin because of photos he had on his phone; after being arrested he asked if he could have his phone to call his boss (he was a forklift driver at the time) to let him know he wouldn't make it to work. Handing his phone back to the officer, he forgot to lock it — and they found some very incriminating-looking photographs.
"It was one of the dumbest things I've done," he said. Luckily for him, a law had passed 43 days earlier making such pictures inadmissible without a warrant. Nevertheless, it "put the bullseye" on his back, he said.
It was the mugshot from this arrest that would launch him to international stardom, his chiseled cheekbones, hotel pillow lips and piecing blue eyes capturing the internet's heart.
He said that while inside he began receiving up to 300 letters a day, while fans would put thousands of dollars on his books for him to spend in jail. And not only that; contracts were being sent looking for his signature, too.
"But I'd never even seen a contract before, it was like French to me," he said of his decision to hold off signing.
He was sentenced to 27 months. At the time, he worried his 15 minutes of fame would be over by the time he got out. In retrospect, he said he realized he should have been starting his Instagram following from inside, and sharing details of prison life.
While he was antsy at the time, he said he now appreciates the years he spent behind bars, as it gave him the time to prepare mentally for the life ahead of him, and not spend all the money on "guns, kilos," and making all his "homies ballin'".
"That's scary, because that was my mind frame," he recalled. "You gotta make wise decisions, or you're going to be that guy."
Meeks had the highest praise for his judge, who gave him an extremely lenient sentence specifically so he could take advantage of his viral fame.
Judge Troy Nunley, "the only black judge in the Eastern District" — ignored the Pre-sentence Investigation Report recommendation of a 63 month sentence, handing down the 27 months instead.
"'He has an opportunity that no-one has ever had before,'" Meeks quoted the judge. "'I want him to get out as soon as possible and take full advantage of this.'"
The judge also gave his parole officer free reign to let Meeks fly anywhere in the world — virtually impossible for convicted felons — correctly predicting his budding modeling career would pull him all over the globe.
"The only thing that saved me, which was such a blessing, was my judge," he said. "He helped me in so many ways."
Of course, it didn't just automatically go smoothly for Meeks. His very first international launch party in London ended for him before it began, when he was intercepted at Heathrow, interrogated for seven hours and then summarily and immediately banned from the UK for ten years.
While he was upset at the time, Meeks accepts now it was "all good press."
Despite being one of the most famous male models in the world, his old life still catches up with him sometimes.
He said he tried to hang out with some of his old homies, but it doesn't always work out.
"You can't bring everyone into this world," he said, recalling a time he took his friends to Catch but they just "embarrassed the shit out of me. I still love you, but I have to f--k with you from afar," he said.
His father, now out of prison after serving 33 years of his life sentence, is still a "piece of shit."
After being released, he was given $86 to get a train ticket, which Jeremy accepts is ridiculous; he said he sent his father "a couple of thousand here and there", but the calls kept coming demanding more money. "It just became too much," he said.
"Bullshit; he found them," Meeks said. He reminded his father it was illegal for the two felons to be in contact without their parole officer's permission.
"'They want to pay me for an interview, and I don't know what to do,'" Meeks recalled his father telling him. "Are you really f--king blackmailing me?"
He said at the time of the call, his dad had already done the interview anyway, telling the press lies such as "I talk to Jeremy every day, and I talk to Chloe, and I cant wait to see the baby."
His mom, he said, is doing really well, and has been clean for years - although she does smoke a "ton of weed."
Co-parenting, meanwhile, is "always difficult," but added he still has so much love for his ex-wife.
"I love my ex-wife to death, still love her, always will," he said. "We just grew apart. It was more me. She didn't want to divorce, but I didn't want to get to the point we hated each other and couldn't co-parent."
By the time he hooked up with Green he said, it was already over between him and Melissa. It was reported as a big scandal, but "it really wasn't."
He revealed he has full custody of his oldest son, who lived with him for a time in Monaco and even learned to speak French, but is now back living with his mother in Stockton.
Meeks is not done having kids either, and will need a third baby mama.
"I need a girl. I want a girl really bad," he said. "I have two boys that are momma's boys. I want a daddy's girl. I want a girl because I know she's gonna be beautiful. I just want to spoil the shit out of her."
As for his future career, Jeremy wants to move into music, but does not want to put out a message of guns and violence.
"I did a lot of dirt because of the music I was listening to," he said. "Like, it really changes your mood; I remember hearing songs and getting really angry about people who owed me money, it made me want to go out and do stuff. I know how music affects kids. I don't ever want to promote gangs or violence or drugs."
"All these rappers now made it popular to be a drug addict. In our day, you only sold drugs. You weren't a drug addict. Now the thing to do is pop Xanies and do everything."
He added: "When I do music I want to make sure it's a positive message, but still street, without the killing and the drugs and the bad message. It's kind of hard to find the balance."