Wahlberg should get fair hearing

Mark Walhberg: Earned his GED in 2013. Photo courtesy Mark Wahlberg Youth FoundationMark Walhberg: Earned his GED in 2013. Photo courtesy Mark Wahlberg Youth FoundationMark Wahlberg’s petition to win a pardon faces long odds— and that’s as it should be. Most pardon-seekers don’t even get called before the review board for a hearing, let alone have their appeals forwarded favorably along to the governor.

Wahlberg shouldn’t get singled out because of his celebrity or his wealth. But he should not be pressured to withdraw from the process for those reasons, either. He should get the same treatment afforded other petitioners and his case should be judged in that context: How does he stack up with others seeking the similar relief? That decision is best left to the board that has sat in judgment in all the other cases in 2014— a total of 10 so far out of some 70 applications.

Mark Wahlberg’s actions as a juvenile delinquent in the late 1980s in Dorchester were disgusting. I spent some later teen years working at, and using, the same Boys and Girls Club that he was bounced from for bad behavior. He wasn’t the only bad apple. The streets around the club were especially treacherous in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. Club staff were constantly weeding out gang members and the disruptive kids caught up in the violence outside.

Still, it’s a cop-out for Mark’s defenders to say he was purely a victim of his circumstances. Plenty of white kids from his neighborhood formed friendships with their black, Latino, and Asian peers and didn’t engage in rock-throwing, race-baiting and name-calling, let alone beat-downs. Like the kids he helps today, Mark had opportunities — especially through the Marr Club and through his own star-brother Donnie— to go a different route. It took a trip to the House of Correction — and the serious, life-changing injury to one of his victims— to push him to change his trajectory. Even then he had a lot of growing up to do.

But the redemptive point of Wahlberg’s story is that he finally did it.

I barely know Mark. I interviewed him once back in 1999. He was still carrying himself as kind of a punk, to be honest. He told me that he knew the Reporter because he used to stash his weed in the newspaper while eating at Venice Pizza. He panned his own brother Donnie’s movie “Southie” to a reporter – me – at the actual premeire party!

Still, there was also a wistfulness when he talked about his old neighborhood. “I want to get back and do some stuff at the boys club. That was the only place that I had to go to. I got kicked out. I hope they’re going to let me back,” he said to me then.

A year later, Wahlberg was there for the opening of the Paul R. McLaughlin Youth Center. His public visit to that big expansion of the club was the beginning of a new chapter in Mark’s life in Dorchester. He started coming back and giving back and he has not stopped doing so.

I’ve come to respect his work, especially on behalf of the club, because he did return early and often and with a consistency that suggests a genuine interest in our kids. And what’s more, he did it even though he was still wearing devil’s horns in the eyes of so many. It took courage for Mark to go back inside what we then called the Marr Club and seek out the same mentors who had shown him the door after one-too-many screw ups. It was still his sanctuary— and it remains so today.

Those are the men and women I trust in this matter, the people at the Boys and Girls Clubs who care for thousands of our kids every year who are, many of them, like Mark was – one bad day or encounter away from a courtroom. Mark has become an essential part of their success and that means he has been a key player in Dorchester’s progress in recent years.

But are his good works and remorsefulness enough to earn him an official pardon? As others have said, it would be nice to know that Mark has personally reached out to the victim and survivors whom he attacked. It’d be nice to hear him own up to the racism that was part of his transgressions and to not simply shift blame on the climate in 1980s Boston for his own bad decisions. Hopefully, that’s what this process will lead to in his testimony before the board, if it gets to that.

But Mark should know that whatever happens, his devotion to this neighborhood is understood and appreciated. Whether or not he gets his pardon, Wahlberg has earned our respect for making the effort to better himself — and for helping the kids of this neighborhood.