In an essay for New York Magazine, Mike Tyson talks about his childhood in late '70s Brooklyn. As part of a "burglary team" called the Cats, he and his crew spent much time "beefing" with a group, the Puma Boys. Tyson grew up remembering that "you never knew what you’d find when you broke into people’s houses."
Tyson recalls his family's hometown of Brownsville, Brooklyn was a "horrific, tough, and gruesome kind of place" with "guns always going off, people getting stabbed, [and] windows being broken." He recounts watching men on the street shooting at each other and knowing his own mother had to "sleep with someone she didn't really care for" just to "keep a roof over [their] heads."
Things weren't much better at school, where Tyson was aggressively bullied, constantly having his money and food stolen. Once, a classmate stole his glasses and put them down the gas tank of a nearby truck. Unable to handle the constant harassment, Tyson soon dropped out. "I was seven years old," he says, "And I just never went back to class."
It wasn't until he met his burglary team that Tyson really felt safe. Assisting with robberies, Tyson eventually became part of a crew and was able to find his place in what was an extremely dangerous environment.
It just so happens the very setting that led Tyson to choose stealing over school, also led him to his first fight. After that initial adrenaline rush, he gained confidence and quite a reputation. Tyson was finally able "to exact some revenge for the beatings [he] had taken from bullies."
Of course, we know where Tyson's punching practice eventually led. And at this point in his life, he is at peace with many of the choices he made back in Brownsville:
"Some people might read some of the things I’m talking about and judge me as an adult, call me a criminal, but I did these things over 35 years ago I was a little kid looking for love and acceptance, and the streets were where I found it. It was the only education I had, and these guys were my teachers."
As he tweeted shortly before the piece was published:
Just because you were dealt a bad hand doesn’t mean you will lose the game...
— Mike Tyson (@MikeTyson) October 16, 2013
Read Mike Tyson's full essay from New York Magazine here.