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By Ree Hines

He's an actor and producer who started his career as a rapper. But before all of that, Mark Wahlberg was a young man facing major troubles.

In 1988, after a series of serious brushes with the law, 16-year-old Wahlberg was charged as an adult following an attack on two Vietnamese-American men. He pleaded guilty to assault and served 45 days in prison.

Now, 26 years and a whole new life later, the star wants to put the past behind him — and he's petitioned for a pardon to do just that.

"Of course everyone has an opinion — is entitled to it — on whether I'm deserving of it or not," Wahlberg said during a Friday morning visit to TODAY. "But you know, from the day I woke up in prison realizing the mistakes that I had made and the pain that I caused people, I committed to turning my life around."

According to the actor, that was no small feat given that he'd broken away from gang life and had to navigate prison and his release alone.

"Going back into the community, still living in the neighborhood, and having to go to the train station every day and pass those guys was a tough thing to do," he explained.


A lot has changed for Wahlberg since those days decades ago, including his current work with at-risk kids, and he's hoping all of that will be considered in his request.

"If I'm not granted the pardon, it will not change my commitment to working in the communities," he insisted.

And if he does get the pardon, he wants to be clear that it's not about getting any of the rumored perks he'd have access to without that felony conviction (such as being able to get a liquor license for his restaurants or sign up as a reserve police officer). Nor, he says, is it an effort to pretend his crimes never happened.

"People have said because of my celebrity, my success, that I'm basically waving that magic wand," Walberg said on TODAY. "It's not about that. It's never been about that. … I've always been completely open about my past. … I've been talking about it for over 25 years, since I've been in the public eye."

Wahlberg, who'll soon be back on the big screen in the crime drama "The Gambler," explained that he's not proud of what he's done. "I'm just committed to making sure that I've paid for my mistakes and … hopefully help kids avoid making those mistakes."

"The Gambler" opens in theaters nationwide on Christmas Day.

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