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Why Did Mark Wahlberg Go to Prison?

Mark Wahlberg, the famous actor known for films like Boogie Nights, The Departed, and Ted, had a troubled past before becoming a Hollywood star. As a teenager growing up in Boston in the late 1980s, Wahlberg was involved in multiple violent crimes and incidents that ultimately led to him serving time in prison.

Wahlberg’s Early Life in Boston

Wahlberg grew up in a working class neighborhood in Boston called Dorchester. He was the youngest of nine children in a Catholic family. As a teen, Wahlberg fell in with the wrong crowd and got involved with drugs, gangs, and petty crimes.

At age 15 in 1986, Wahlberg dropped out of school and joined a street gang called the Dorchester Gang. This gang was known to traffic drugs and get into violent confrontations with other rival gangs in Boston. Wahlberg has said that at the time he felt he needed to be part of a gang to protect himself on the dangerous streets.

Racially Motivated Assault of Two Vietnamese Men

In April 1988, a 16-year-old Wahlberg assaulted two Vietnamese men while trying to steal beer near his home. He approached Thanh Lam, a Vietnamese man carrying crates of beer, called him a racial slur, and hit him over the head with a wooden stick until Lam lost consciousness. Seeing this, Hoa Trinh, another Vietnamese man, tried to intervene but Wahlberg punched him in the eye. For this assault, Wahlberg was arrested and charged with attempted murder.

Wahlberg had made it clear this was a racially motivated attack. When police arrived at the scene, he was recorded saying, “Police coming, you Viet fing ss! I’ll f***ing kill you, you don’t belong here!” He also repeatedly used racial slurs when referring to his victims.

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Serving 45 Days in Prison for the Assault

In June 1988, Wahlberg was tried and convicted as an adult for the assault on Trinh and Lam. For the assault on Trinh, he was convicted of assault and battery with a dangerous weapon and sentenced to 2 years in jail, with 21 months suspended. This meant he had to serve 3 months.

For the assault on Lam, he was convicted of violating the Massachusetts Civil Rights Act, which prohibited violence or threats of violence based on race, color, religion or national origin. The judge sentenced him to 3 months for this charge, to be served concurrently with the previous sentence for a total of 3 months behind bars.

In the end, Wahlberg only served 45 days at the Deer Island House of Correction in Boston before being released.

Other Violent Incidents as a Youth

Unfortunately, the racially-fueled assault was not an isolated incident in Wahlberg’s young life. He had multiple other instances of violence and crimes as a teenager that further tarnished his record.

For example, at age 15 in 1986 he and some friends chased after some black school children and pelted them with rocks while yelling racial epithets.

Another time, he spotted a middle-aged Vietnamese man carrying crates and he snuck up behind the man and hit him so hard that he knocked him unconscious. There was no arrest made for either of these incidents.

In 1988, he fractured the jaw of a neighbor in an unprovoked attack. And in 1989, Wahlberg struck another Vietnamese man in the head with a stick when he tried to intervene in a fight Wahlberg had started with others.

So the racially-charged assault that landed him in prison was clearly part of a violent pattern the young Wahlberg had established.

Turning His Life Around After Prison

Serving time in jail at such a young age proved to be a major wake up call for Wahlberg. When he was released after just 45 days, he made the decision to turn his life around.

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In interviews since, Wahlberg has said he credits his parish priest for helping guide him in the right direction when he got out of jail. The priest helped him get a job and take steps to shed his violent ways.

Wahlberg started performing and modeling, and he became involved in music starting with his time as the lead singer in Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch. This kept him busy and focused on work rather than falling back into old habits with his gang connections.

Ultimately the violent past of his youth did not hold Wahlberg back from achieving phenomenal success as an entertainer and respected actor. But he is very aware that his racist crimes as a teenager are part of his story, and he discusses them openly today in interviews as moments he deeply regrets.

Crimes Committed by Mark Wahlberg As a Youth

Here is a summary timeline of some of the known crimes and incidents from Mark Wahlberg’s troubled youth:

1986 (age 15)Chased black schoolchildren and threw rocks at them while yelling racial slurs
1986 (age 15)Attacked middle-aged Vietnamese man, knocking him unconscious
April 1988 (age 16)Assaulted Thanh Lam, hitting him in the head with a stick and knocking him unconscious
April 1988 (age 16)Punched Hoa Trinh in the eye when he tried to intervene in the previous assault on Lam
June 1988Convicted of assault and battery for the attack on Trinh, sentenced to 3 months
June 1988Convicted of violating MA Civil Rights Act for the attack on Lam, sentenced to 3 months concurrent
Summer 1988Served 45 days in prison for the assaults before being released
1988Fractured neighbor’s jaw in an unprovoked attack
1989Attacked another Vietnamese man, hitting him in the head with a stick

Questions About Mark Wahlberg’s Time in Prison

Here are some common questions that come up regarding Mark Wahlberg’s troubled past and time spent in prison:

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How old was Mark Wahlberg when he went to prison?

Wahlberg was 16 years old when he was tried and convicted as an adult for the April 1988 assaults on the two Vietnamese men. He spent 45 days in prison during the summer of 1988 when he was still 16 prior to his release.

Why was Mark Wahlberg charged with attempted murder?

The April 1988 assault on Thanh Lam was particularly brutal. Wahlberg hit Lam over the head repeatedly with a large wooden stick, continuing his attack even after Lam was knocked unconscious. Police arriving on the scene found Lam with blood pouring from a head wound. Wahlberg was initially charged with attempted murder for this vicious attack before pleading to the lesser charge of assault.

What did Mark Wahlberg say about his crimes?

Wahlberg has been open about his past crimes and condemned his actions. In an interview with ABC News in 2014 he apologized for the assaults, saying he was “horrified and disgusted” by who he was at that age. He said there was no reason for his violence and no excuse for his despicable behavior.

Did Mark Wahlberg’s victims forgive him?

It’s unclear if the two Vietnamese men forgave Wahlberg, as they have not spoken publicly about the assaults. Wahlberg said he met with Lam and apologized to him privately, though Lam declined to talk to reporters about the incident afterward.

How was Mark Wahlberg able to become so successful after his conviction?

Wahlberg showed from a young age he was talented and charismatic, even given his troubled background. His success in music and then acting came down to perseverance, hard work, and perhaps some help from his Parish priest who guided the young Wahlberg after prison. Many believe in the power of redemption, and Wahlberg made the most of his second chance.


Mark Wahlberg’s violent past as a young ruffian on the streets of Boston could have doomed him to a life behind bars. But the racially-fueled assault that landed him in prison for 45 days at age 16 ended up being a wake-up call.

When released, Wahlberg turned his life around with the help of guidance from his priest. He ended up discovering talents in music and acting that allowed him to become the Hollywood star he is today.

Wahlberg acknowledges his crimes were reprehensible. He paid his debt to society by serving time and has since apologized to his victims. He uses his past as an example that troubled youths can choose to shed violence and change for the better. Ultimately, Wahlberg’s story highlights both the grim realities of youth gangs and racism, and the power behind redemption.

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We are dedicated to exploring the intricacies of prison life and justice reform through firsthand experiences and expert insights.

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Welcome to ‘Prison Inside,’ a blog dedicated to shedding light on the often hidden and misunderstood world within correctional facilities. Through firsthand accounts, personal narratives, and insightful reflections, we delve into the lives of those who find themselves behind bars, offering a unique perspective on the challenges, triumphs, and transformations that unfold within the confines of these walls.

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