Before Mark Wahlberg was an actor – before he was the pop star known as Marky Mark, even – the Bostonian bad boy looked like he was headed for a lifetime spent in and out of jail.
This week, he’s appealed to the Massachusetts governor’s office to pardon him from one part of his shady past, the assault of two Vietnamese men when he was just 16.
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Explaining that he’s now been forgiven by those he assaulted, the father-of-four told Associated Press: “I’ve been working very hard to correct a lot of the mistakes that I made since the day that I woke up and realized that I needed to be a leader instead of a follower.
“And that was a long time ago and I continue to do that and I will continue to do that whether a pardon is granted or not. It wasn’t for one specific reason other than every day I wake up trying to be the best person that I can be.
“In no way, shape, or form was I trying to use my celebrity or success to say, ‘Well I feel entitled to get this because of the fame and fortune that I’ve earned through hard work’.
“I’ve worked really hard to be a positive influence for kids growing up in communities like mine who don’t really have a chance, to try to provide them an opportunity to be successful and so that’s why I’m doing it.”
Despite that, he’s come under heavy criticism for the request. And it’s not as if that’s the only blemish on his record either.
Growing up one of nine children in the tough neighbourhood of Dorchester, South Boston, Wahlberg had clocked up 25 run-ins with the police in his youth, and was freebasing cocaine aged 13.
“My parents cared, but we were left to our own devices, so we got into trouble,” he told Forbes.
Aged 15, he was involved in two incidents of racial abuse, throwing rocks and shouting slurs at a group of African-American children.
But it was the incident a year later which ended up defining him.
After attempting to rob a Vietnamese man who was carrying a case of beer from his car, he beat him with a stick, knocking him unconscious while shouting further racial abuse.
Later the same evening, he attacked another another Vietnamese man, punching him in the face. Wahlberg believed at the time that he’d blinded the man, but it transpired that he’d actually lost his eye in the Vietnam war.
Unrepentant, when police arrested him and took him back to the scene, he reportedly said: “You don’t have to let him identify me, I’ll tell you now that’s the mother-f***er whose head I split open.”
Wrap sheets obtained since the incidents show that he continued to spout racist abuse even when the police had him in custody.
Wahlberg was charged with attempted murder, but pleaded guilty to assault and was sentenced to two years. He served 45 days.
But those were enough to turn him around from the brink.
“As soon as I began that life of crime, there was always a voice in my head telling me I was going to end up in jail,” he said.
“Three of my brothers had done time. My sister went to prison so many times I lost count. Finally I was there, locked up with the kind of guys I’d always wanted to be like. Now I’d earned my stripes and I was just like them, and I realized it wasn’t what I wanted at all. I’d ended up in the worst place I could possibly imagine and I never wanted to go back.”
He told the Daily Mail in 2009: “I’ve made a lot of mistakes in my life and I’ve done bad things, but I never blamed my upbringing for that. I never behaved like a victim so that I would have a convenient reason for victimizing others. Everything I did wrong was my own fault. I was taught the difference between right and wrong at an early age. I take full responsibility.”
After his spell in prison, he turned to music. At 13, he’d been one of the original members of New Kids on the Block with his brother Donnie, but went on to form Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch, recording the hit ‘Good Vibrations’, which went to number one in the Billboard chart.
His film career took off soon after, notably in ‘The Basketball Diaries’, with Leonardo DiCaprio in 1995.
As for Johnny Trinh, the man he assaulted all those years ago, he believes he should get his pardon.
“He paid for his crime when he went to prison,” said Trinh, now 59.
“I am not saying that it did not hurt when he punched me in the face, but it was a long time ago. He has grown up now. I am sure he has his own family and is a responsible man.
“I would like to see him get a pardon. He was young and reckless, but I forgive him now. Everyone deserves another chance.”
Image credits: PA/WireImage/Getty/Rex
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