What Mike Tyson's Life In Prison Was Really Like

This article contains mention of sexual assault and drug use.

Mike Tyson's rise to fame and fall from grace is an epic tale of an athlete who fought his way to the top of the world, made hundreds of millions of dollars, then spectacularly self-destructed and lost everything. It's easy to focus on the shady side of Tyson. The manic grandiose swagger, the infamous Evander Holyfield ear-biting, his long-running battle with substance abuse and addiction, the rape and domestic violence, assaults, road rage incidents, arrests, and incarceration.

However, there's also Tyson's tragic real-life story. He was a high school dropout raised by an abusive single mom in the-then deprived and drug-ravaged Brownsville, Brooklyn. Tyson suffered a dysfunctional and violent childhood. Savage beatings from and on his mother shaped his problematic perspective of relationships and women. Tyson recalled screaming and crying with his sister when he was 7 as they watched a man punch their mom so hard she lost a tooth. "But my mother's real slick. She puts on a pot of boiling water. The next thing I know, she's pouring boiling water over Eddie," Tyson told The Guardian.

Per Biography, growing up, street fighting and petty crime were part of everyday life, and by the age of 13, Tyson had been arrested over 30 times. After being badly bullied as a child, Tyson developed his ferocious fighting skills, ultimately resulting in him becoming the world heavyweight champion at just 20. So what was life like for Tyson when he was locked up in prison for rape six years later?

Prison was a safe home away from home

In November 1986, Mike Tyson became the world's youngest heavyweight champion after he knocked out Trevor Berbick in two rounds. ESPN lists Tyson as one of the 50 greatest boxers of all time, citing his 44 KOs in 50 fights. "Intimidating demeanor and devastating two-fisted knockout power cowed many opponents into submission before the first bell," they wrote.

However, in 1992 Tyson was out of the ring and behind bars. Indianapolis Monthly reports he was convicted of one count of rape, one count of criminal confinement, and two counts of criminal deviate conduct after sexually assaulting Desiree Washington, a college student and beauty queen, in his hotel room. Tyson was sentenced to 10 years, suspended after four.

Given his street smarts and formidable fighting skills, it's no surprise Tyson didn't struggle with doing time. "Prison was pretty interesting to me," he told Vlad TV. Tyson said he'd been institutionalized throughout his teens, so he was used to being banged up. "[Prison life] is just part of my barometer," he explained. Tyson said he had "no bad experiences, only beautiful experiences. I felt very safe there." He admitted to getting thrown in solitary for being "a brat" and fighting with staff but said, "They became my best friends eventually." Tyson even dated a prison counselor after failing his GED. "I started giving her money and doing some nasty stuff to her, and she let me pass," he claimed.

If you or anyone you know has been a victim of sexual assault, help is available. Visit the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network website or contact RAINN's National Helpline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).

Mike Tyson had steamy trysts with visiting female fans

Mike Tyson said his celebrity status played in his favor in prison. He received stacks of letters from adoring women who'd come and visit him. Tyson explained during an interview with Opie and Anthony how he'd manage to get frisky with the female fans despite being banged up behind bars. "I always got in trouble [with the guards] because I touched and kissed too much," Tyson said. He shared that another prisoner eventually gave him the lowdown on how to get down inside. It involved wearing summer dresses backward and crotchless panties — without going into further detail.

However, in an interview with Larry King while Tyson was still incarcerated, he was serious and philosophical. "Prison is designed to have you adjust to being an animal," he explained. "It doesn't rehabilitate you more as de-habilitates you, because I find myself doing things I never dreamed I'd be capable of doing."

Tyson talked about the dehumanization process, saying the worst thing is that prisoners get to the stage where they lose their identity and sense of self. "I never do that, though. I always have to rebel," he claimed. "I only do that to keep my state of mind." Per The U.S. Sun, Tyson was released on good behavior after serving nearly three years. He was placed on probation, ordered to pay a $30,000 fine, and forced to register permanently as a sex offender.

Mike Tyson's demons consumed him post-prison

Mike Tyson has always denied raping Desiree Washington, even blaming her for his imprisonment. "She knows [I'm innocent], God knows it, and the consequences of her actions are something that she's got to live with for the rest of her life," he wrote in his memoir, "Undisputed Truth."

So, it's no surprise Tyson's repeatedly landed back in hot water, given his lack of remorse and accountability. He returned to the ring, but rage consumed him, resulting in one of the most horrifying incidents in boxing history. Tyson bit off part of Evander Holyfield's right ear during the 1997 WBA world heavyweight championship fight. "I bit him because I wanted to kill him," Tyson told Fox News' Jim Gray, admitting he'd probably do the same again. In 1998, he was back in the slammer following a road rage assault on two men. Per The Baltimore Sun, Tyson punched one of them in the face and kicked the other in the crotch.

ESPN reported he was busted again in 2006 for DUI and drug possession. "All I once knew [was how] to hurt people," Tyson told The Guardian. "I surrendered to a higher power. I said: 'Help me. I can't do nothing no more. Guide me. God, whoever. I don't know what to do.'" Tyson told Brendan Schaub in 2021 that he had finally stopped drinking and taking cocaine.

If you or anyone you know is struggling with addiction issues, help is available. Visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website or contact SAMHSA's National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).