Orwell Award Announcement SusanOhanian.Org Home

My Life As a Young Thug

Ohanian Comment: If I thought there was any hope for understanding--and willingness to work for economic justice--I'd say that our corporate politicos should read this.

by Mike Tyson

. . . I often say that I was the bad seed in the family, but when I think about it, I was really a meek kid for most of my childhood. My first neighborhood was Bed-Stuy in Brooklyn. It was a decent working-class neighborhood then. Everybody knew one another. Things were pretty normal, but they werenât calm. Every Friday and Saturday, it was like Vegas in the house. My mom would have a card party and invite all her girlfriends, many of whom were in the vice business. She would send her boyfriend Eddie to buy a case of liquor, and theyâd water it down and sell shots. My mom would cook some wings. My brother remembers that besides the hookers, thereâd be gangsters, detectives. The whole gamut was there.

When I was just 7 years old, our world got turned upside down. There was a recession and my mom lost her job and we got evicted out of our nice apartment in Bed-Stuy. They came and took all our furniture and put it outside on the sidewalk. The three of us had to sit down on it and protect it so that nobody took it while my mother went to find a spot for us to stay.

We wound up in Brownsville. You could totally feel the difference. It was a very horrific, tough, and gruesome kind of place. Cops were always driving by with their sirens on; ambulances always coming to pick up somebody; guns always going off, people getting stabbed, windows being broken. We used to watch these guys shooting it out with one another. It was like something out of an old Edward G. Robinson movie. We would watch and say, âWow, this is happening in real life.â

My mother would do whatever she had to do to keep a roof over our heads. That often meant sleeping with someone that she really didnât care for. That was just the way it was.

By then, I was going to public school and that was a nightmare. I was a pudgy kid, very shy, almost effeminate-shy, and I spoke with a lisp. Sometimes my mother would be passed out from drinking the night before and wouldnât walk me to school. It was then that the kids would always hit me and kick me. We would go to school and these people would pick on us, then we would go home and theyâd pull out guns and rob us for whatever little change we had. That was hard-core, young kids robbing us right in our own apartment building.

Having to wear glasses in the first grade was a real turning point in my life. My mother had me tested, and it turned out I was nearsighted, so she made me get glasses. They were so bad. One day I was leaving school at lunchtime to go home and I had some meatballs from the cafeteria wrapped up in aluminum to keep them hot. This guy came up to me and said, âHey, you got any money?â I said, âNo.â He started picking my pockets and searching me, and he tried to take my fucking meatballs. I was resisting, going, âNo, no, no!â I would let the bullies take my money, but I never let them take my food. I was hunched over like a human shield, protecting my meatballs. So he started hitting me in the head and then took my glasses and put them down the gas tank of a truck. I ran home, but he didnât get my meatballs. I still feel like a coward to this day because of that bullying. Thatâs a wild feeling, being that helpless. You never ever forget that feeling. That was the last day I went to school. I was 7 years old, and I just never went back to class.

— Mike Tyson
New York Magazine





This site contains copyrighted material the use of which has not always been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. We are making such material available in our efforts to advance understanding of education issues vital to a democracy. We believe this constitutes a 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. For more information click here. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.