CHICAGO — Sammy Horowitz said every day in the boxing ring — and outside of prison for that matter — is a blessing.
The Norwood Park fighter has been out of prison since Oct. 19, 2010 — after a stay of eight years, seven months and 15 days for an armed robbery charge. The 31-year-old has been sober since Sept. 17, 2012, after regularly abusing alcohol and drugs — first ecstasy and cocaine, and then heroin — since his high school years.
Horowitz gives credit for his saving to boxing, hard work — he also has been a professional stunt man in television shows such as "Empire" and "Chicago Fire" since 2014 — and a rabbi, Binyomin Scheiman, whom he first met behind bars.
"I should have been dead 100 times," said Horowitz, who takes a 3-1 record against Israel Echevarria into a light heavyweight bout Saturday night at Horseshoe Casino in Hammond, Ind. "There's a million ways I could have died, been killed or killed myself over the years. It's a miracle I made it this far."
Justin Breen says religion is a big part of Horowitz' life now:
Horowitz said he grew up in a normal Jewish household with two parents and two sisters.
When he was a teenager, he got involved with drugs and the "wrong crowd." In 2012, as an 18-year-old in west suburban Aurora, he was arrested for armed robbery and given a 10-year sentence. He served time in Shawnee, Stateville, Menard, Pontiac and Western correctional centers in Illinois. He said he was consistently getting into fights while institutionalized.
"Prison is hard," Horowitz said. "You're either somebody that gets pushed around and fall into line, or you're somebody who stands up for yourself. I was very defensive and I would fight at a moment's notice. I never truly believed I would have another life other than prison. If anybody messed with me, I was going to fight.
"If I would have been able to go back and do it all over again, I would have minded my own f------ business and just stayed away from everybody."
He first met Scheiman, the Jewish chaplain for Illinois prisons, about two months into his sentence. The pair would meet regularly and their friendship continues.
"As a Chabad Rabbi, my Rebbe teaches that every person is redeemable and everyone has a diamond inside. I drive home this point to all my clients," said Scheiman, of Des Plaines.
Horowitz said he didn't start to feel that mindset until after he was released from prison and started boxing. He first was an amateur and Golden Gloves fighter, then turned professional Sept. 19, 2014. All three of his victories have come via knockout.
"Sammy's a very determined guy," said Sam Colonna, one of his trainers. "He's so determined and so willing to work hard, it makes up for the time — the years — he lost. He'll get in there with anybody and give them hell. He's like 'Rocky.' He's the underdog, but he's going to fight until the end."
"Boxing is a sport, you just can't half-ass it," Horowitz said. "You can't do the whole party thing on the weekend. You have to be 100 percent into it."
The boxer has the same mentality toward acting. He stumbled into the profession last year when a friend recommended he try out for the TV series "Mind Games." He earned a role as the double for Eddie McClintock, and the two remain pals today. Horowitz, who has a Screen Actors Guild card, also has appeared as a stunt man on "Empire," "Chicago P.D." and "Chicago Fire."
Scheiman said Horowitz's success in the ring and on TV has given him immense satisfaction.
"On a scale from 1 to 10, I am a 36 in being proud of Sam," Scheiman said. "He is a Mensch. ... I hold him up as one of my success stories. I give the same to all, but not all take it and use it like Sam has. No matter what he does in the ring, by me he is a champ in life."
Horowitz is pumped for Saturday and the chance for another K.O. But Horowitz said he's also overjoyed for an opportunity to live a real life.
"I've been able to accomplish more in three years than I had in all of my previous years on earth," he said.
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