On April 8, 1988, when he was 16 and long before he became a model, rapper and actor, Mark Wahlberg — high on drugs and alcohol — assaulted a man while trying to steal two cases of alcohol and then punched another man in the face as he attempted to avoid the police.
He was arrested, sentenced and tried as an adult, and he served 45 days in prison.
Today, at 43, Wahlberg is a much different person — a father of four, a successful movie star, a philanthropist who works with at-risk youth — but says he’s still legally affected by his convictions. In a petition submitted Monday (PDF), he’s asking for a pardon.
“I am deeply sorry for the actions that I took on the night of April 8, 1988, as well as for any lasting damage I may have caused the victims,” he writes in the petition. “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.”
Wahlberg says his record “can potentially be the bases to deny me a concessionaire’s license in California and elsewhere,” something important to him because of his interest in Wahlburgers, a restaurant he hopes to expand.
Moreover, he says, “given my prior record, Massachusetts and California law prohibit me from actually obtaining positions in law enforcement,” which he says prevents him from becoming “more active in law enforcement activities.”
Wahlberg has frequently acknowledged his troubled past. In July, he told CBS News that he draws on his experiences in his acting.
“I have a lot of real life experience that I can draw on,” Wahlberg said. “And I think that shows in the characters that I play because I’m always trying to find somebody — or find characters to play that I can identify with on a personal level or relate to. And I think it makes for a little bit more of an honest portrayal.”
He added, “Once I got a second chance, I was never going to do anything to mess it up.”
In the petition, Wahlberg notes that in 2001 he started the Mark Wahlberg Youth Foundation, which has donated $7 million to various youth causes, and he’s very active in the Boys & Girls Club.
News reports have noted that Wahlberg left some details out of his pardon. As his sentencing memorandum states, he made a racial slur to the first man he hit and continued with such speech after he was arrested. One victim was left blind in one eye, according to an ABC News report.
Wahlberg admits that his reasons for asking for a pardon go beyond just having certain legal rights smoothed out.
“The more complex answer is that receiving a pardon would be a formal recognition that I am not the same person that I was the night of April 8, 1988,” he writes. “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.”
The pardon would also be a message for troubled youths that “they too can turn their lives around and be formally accepted back into society,” he adds.
Some observers have been skeptical of the request.
“Even if Wahlberg is not the same person anymore, he was that person at one point, and if he’s seeking a pardon the full version of how he acted is what should be judged,” wrote the Boston Globe’s Austin Tedesco.
Commenters on Boston’s WBZ’s “Daily Talker” were harsher.
“Why him and not numerous others who have turned their lives around? Has he made amends to the victim?” wrote jockstevens.
“Ah, no. It wouldn’t be fair to others in the same situation,” wrote the flip side.
Wahlberg’s case will be reviewed by the parole board, which will pass its recommendation to Gov. Deval Patrick, who will make the final decision pending approval by the eight-person Governor’s Council.