Warning: This post contains language and descriptions of violence some may find offensive.
Dorchester, Mass., 1988: A 16-year-old boy lurks outside a package store in one of Boston’s most dangerous neighborhoods. He is high. He is trying to steal two cases of beer.
But the worst-laid schemes of mice and men often go awry. Going for the beer, carried by an Asian man, the boy calls him “Vietnam f–king s–t.” He hits him with a wooden stick and, while fleeing police, hits another Asian man in the face. One of these men will be left blind in one eye.
When the police catch up with him, the boy doesn’t deny his crime. “You don’t have to let him identify me,” he says. “I’ll tell you now that’s the motherf–ker whose head I split open.” Once under arrest, the boy offers unsolicited commentary about “gooks.”
This boy is future Academy Award nominee Mark Wahlberg — before “The Departed,” before “Boogie Nights,” before “Planet of the Apes,” and before even his stint as rapper Marky Mark. Decades ago, Wahlberg was not known for his Calvin Klein underwear or acting ability. He was known to police for assaulting people.
Now Wahlberg, 43, wants redemption — and has asked the state of Massachusetts for a pardon for his 1988 assault conviction, for which he served about 45 days behind bars.
“I am deeply sorry for the actions that I took on the night of April 8, 1988, as well as for any lasting damage that I may have caused the victims,” Wahlberg wrote in his pardon application, as New England Cable News reported. “Since that time, I have dedicated myself to becoming a better person and citizen so that I can be a role model to my children and others.”
This has been a long journey.
“When I was 13, 14, 15, I had a pretty serious cocaine problem,” Wahlberg told Vanity Fair in 2001. “I was sniffing and freebasing, but I never tried heroin — never saw it, thank god. If the cool guys in my neighborhood were doing it, I would have. Being the youngest and the smallest and the most eager, I was always trying to impress the older guys. And I wasn’t scared of much at all.”
This wasn’t just a phase. As Marky Mark, milquetoast rapper, Wahlberg was behaving badly in public just a few years after his assault conviction.
“I was an absolute trainwreck,” Wahlberg told Jay Leno earlier this year when confronted with video evidence of his past crimes against hip-hop.
Marky Mark: “I’ve had lipstick stains in my underwear.”
Though music made Wahlberg famous, it turns out it wasn’t good for him. He was, for example, accused of breaking a man’s jaw in a civil suit in 1993.
“Music always kind of promoted this attitude of doing whatever I wanted,” Wahlberg said in 2013. “I show up late. I don’t show up at all.”
This attitude continued into his early acting career — and inspired HBO’s raunchy “Entourage,” a show based on his life that he executive produced. George Clooney, who worked with Wahlberg on “Three Kings” (1999), said the actor was known for getting into bar brawls.
“It wasn’t always my fault,” Wahlberg told Men’s Health last year. “We were in a little random hotel in the middle of nowhere and there were all these skydiving conferences, so there was one bar/restaurant to hang out in. These dudes would come in, drink too much, and start looking for a fight.”
Something had to give. Wahlberg got married in 2009 and settled down — with, eventually, four kids. He gave up drugs.
“I had to stop smoking marijuana because I have children,” he said.
He gave up tattoos — including one of Bob Marley.
“It’s the most excruciating thing I’ve ever experienced,” Wahlberg, who said he took his kids to tattoo removal sessions to teach them a lesson, told David Letterman in 2012. “It’s like someone flicking hot bacon grease on you over and over and over again.”
He got religion.
“Being a Catholic is the most important aspect of my life,” Wahlberg told the Catholic Herald in 2010. “The first thing I do when I start my day is, I get down on my hands and knees and give thanks to God.”
And he got his high-school diploma — last year, at age 42.
“I never made it past the ninth grade,” he wrote in the Huffington Post. “My circumstances were not unlike millions of other teens today, who live in tough working class neighborhoods surrounded by drugs, violence and crime, and who struggle to stay on the right path without positive influences.”
Indeed, Wahlberg has tried to be a positive influence, reaching out to troubled youth through philanthropy. Among his efforts: the Mark Wahlberg Youth Foundation and the Dorchester Boys and Girls Club.
But he says he’s not just looking for brownie points.
“I have not engaged in philanthropic efforts in order to make people forget about my past,” Wahlberg said in his pardon application. “To the contrary, I want people to remember my past so that I can serve as an example of how lives can be turned around and how people can be redeemed.”
Though Wahlberg’s requested a pardon, there’s no guarantee one will be granted. The Massachusetts Board of Pardons must investigate, then recommend the pardon to the governor — by that time, likely Massachusetts Governor-elect Charlie Baker (R). If Baker approves, so must the state’s Governor’s Council.
And it’s not just forgiveness Wahlberg wants. In his application, as Boston.com reported, he wrote that his criminal record limits his ability to get a concessionaire’s license — a problem for a guy with a restaurant. The conviction also is problematic in his work with at-risk youth, he said.
But even for an A-lister, a clean slate means something.
“Receiving a pardon would be a formal recognition that I am not the same person that I was on the night of April 8, 1988,” Wahlberg wrote. “It would be formal recognition that someone like me can receive official public redemption if he devotes himself to personal improvement and a life of good works.”