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My Life As a Young Thug

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Tyson in training.  

“Give me my bird back,” I protested. Gary pulled the bird out from under his coat. “You want the bird? You want the fucking bird?” he said. Then he just twisted the bird’s head off and threw it at me, smearing the blood all over my face and shirt.

“Fight him, Mike,” one of my friends urged. “Don’t be afraid, just fight him.”

I had always been too scared to fight anyone before. But there used to be an older guy in the neighborhood named Wise who had been a Police Athletic League boxer. He used to smoke weed with us, and when he’d get high, he would start shadowboxing. I would watch him, and he would say, “Come on, let’s go,” but I would never even slapbox with him. But I remembered his style.

So I decided, “Fuck it.” My friends were shocked. I didn’t know what I was doing, but I threw some wild punches and one connected and Gary went down. Wise would skip while he was shadowboxing, so after I dropped Gary, my stupid ass started skipping. It just seemed like the fly thing to do. I had practically the whole block watching my gloryful moment. Everybody started whooping and applauding me. It was an incredible feeling even though my heart was beating out of my chest.

I started getting a whole new level of respect on the streets. Instead of “Can Mike play with us?” people would ask my mother, “Can Mike Tyson play with us?” Other guys would bring their guys around to fight me, and they’d bet money on the outcome. I would win a lot too. Even if I lost, the guys who beat me would say, “Fuck! You’re only 11?” That’s how everybody started knowing me in Brooklyn. I had a reputation that I would fight anyone—grown men, anybody. But we didn’t follow the Marquess of Queensberry rules in the street. If you kicked someone’s ass, it didn’t necessarily mean it was over. If he couldn’t beat you in the fight, he’d take another route, and sometimes he’d come back with some of his friends and they’d beat me up with bats.

I began to exact some revenge for the beatings I had taken from bullies. I’d be walking with some friends, and I might see one of the guys who beat me up and bullied me years earlier. He might have gone into a store shopping, and I would drag his ass out of the store and start pummeling him. I didn’t even tell my friends why, I’d just say, “I hate that motherfucker over there,” and they’d jump in too and rip his fucking clothes and beat his fucking ass. That guy who took my glasses and threw them away? I beat him in the streets like a fucking dog for humiliating me. He may have forgotten about it, but I never did.

I was in Times Square in 1977 just hanging out when I saw some guys from the old neighborhood in Bed-Stuy. We were talking, and the next thing I knew one of them snatched the purse of this prostitute. She was furious and threw a cup of hot coffee at my face. The cops started coming toward us, and my friend Bub and I took off. We ran into an XXX-rated theater to hide, but the hooker came in shortly after with the cops.

“That’s them,” she pointed to Bub and I.

“Me? I didn’t do shit,” I protested, but the cops paraded us out and put us in the backseat of their car.

They looked at my rap sheet, and I just had too many arrests, so I was going straight to Spofford.

Spofford was a juvenile-detention center located in the Hunts Point section of the Bronx. I had heard horror stories about Spofford. I was terrified. I had no idea what was going to go down in that place. But when I went to the cafeteria for breakfast, it was like a class reunion. “Chill,” I said to myself. “All your boys are here.”

After that first time, I was going in and out of Spofford like it was nothing. Spofford became like a time-share for me.

I never saw my mother happy with me or proud of me doing something. I never got a chance to talk to her or know her. Professionally, that would have no effect on me, but emotional and psychologically, it was crushing. I would be with my friends, and I’d see their mothers kiss them. I never had that. You’d think that if she let me sleep in her bed until I was 15, she would have liked me, but she was drunk all the time.


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