The Truth About Mark Wahlberg's Criminal Past

From The Perfect Storm to The Fighter, actor Mark Wahlberg has had an exceptional career over the past three decades. However, before Wahlberg was the world's highest-paid actor, he was far from the model citizen he's come to be. As the youngest of nine children, Wahlberg grew up surrounded by poverty in Boston, but, as Wahlberg told The Guardian in March 2020, at home, he was bullied by his older brothers and "when [he] walked out [his] door — violence is also all that was there."

"I was always in trouble, and I was kind of little," Wahlberg said. "In the circumstances where I was being preyed upon, at times, I had to protect and defend myself." While Wahlberg had an opportunity to join his brother Donnie's boy band, New Kids on the Block, at age 13 and possibly turn his life around, he quit after only months on the job because he was in trouble with the authorities and addicted to illegal substances, including cocaine. 

Wahlberg ultimately found success in the music industry with Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch, but his run-in with the law in the late '80s helped launch the hip-hop star's acting career. "I do think the one thing I have to my advantage is that I have all this real life experience that I can apply to my work," he told The Guardian. "I think audiences can definitely sense authenticity. But that came with a real price."

And what exactly was that "price"? An arrest. 

When and why did Mark Wahlberg get arrested?

Although Boogie Nights star Mark Wahlberg has turned his life around in the decades since he spent some time behind bars, he has not forgotten how the experience shaped his future. According to The Guardian, Wahlberg was taken into custody in 1988 after he assaulted a Vietnamese shopkeeper and hurled racial slurs at the victim while high on PCP — he was 16. Although the shopkeeper has since forgiven Wahlberg, he was charged with attempted murder and tried as an adult. 

Ultimately, Wahlberg "pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of assault and was given a two year jail sentence" per the Daily Mail. However, he only served 45 days of his sentence. Despite his early release, Wahlberg learned his lesson and, afterwards, he quickly corrected his course.

"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," said, according to biographer Matt Green in The Amazing Life of Mark Wahlberg and Matt Damon. "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." 

He continued,"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. First of all, I had to learn to stay on the straight and narrow."

Mark Wahlberg thinks everyone deserves a 'second chance'

During his interview with The Guardian in March 2020, Mark Wahlberg revealed that his experiences inspired him to pay it forward. "He just did 16 years in prison. OK? He got out and I put him in the movie," Wahlberg said about an actor in the Netflix film Spenser Confidential. "That could have easily been my life. Being in a situation like that and having nothing else — certainly I made a lot of terrible mistakes and I paid for those mistakes dearly."

That's why Wahlberg "took it upon myself to own up to my mistakes and go against the grain and not be a part of the gang any more — to say that I was going to go and do my own thing." While Wahlberg notes that altering his ways made life more difficult in the moment, he's proud of his vulnerability and he thinks everyone deserves a second chance at success.

"I also prided myself on doing the right thing and turning my life around," Wahlberg explained. "Whether I found myself venturing off into Hollywood and a music career, or working a 9-to-5 job as a construction worker, whatever path I was going to take, I was going to do the right thing... judging a person on what he's doing and where he's coming from and all those things... I would hope that people would be able to get a second chance in life."

Mark Wahlberg's children aren't impressed by his "street stories"

Mark Wahlberg might have grown up below the poverty line in the poorest neighborhoods in Boston, but his four kids — Ella, Grace, Brendan and Michael— have lived their entire lives among the Beverly Hills elite. So does Wahlberg think his children could hold their own in a fight at school? "I don't think any of my kids has ever been in a real fight. Other than with each other," he told The Guardian.

"My son was into boxing for a while, and I was perfectly fine with that because there are disciplines to learn, and I think it's one of the most difficult but most effective forms of exercise. But no, I didn't think, like, 'Oh my God, if something happens at school you can protect yourself '— it's not that kind of school."

In fact, when Wahlberg and his brothers reminisce about their rough and tough childhood, his children "make fun of it, like, 'oh God here we go, Dad and his street stories, whatever Dad.' They're not impressed. Well, they don't act impressed, that's for sure." But that's probably because the "Dad" they know is "so out of the loop with Hollywood." Wahlberg said, "I live in Beverly Hills, but it could easily be the English countryside, because I don't see anyone and I don't do anything." That actually sounds like a good deal to us!