Drug Kingpin Remakes Himself As Aerobics Instructor To Seniors

Thomas MickensBy the time that he was 24, Thomas Mickens had at least 20 luxury cars, 20 properties, a 38-foot yacht, a series of businesses, and 50 employees. By the time he was 26, he was sentenced to 35 years in prison.

Mickens was released five years ago, with an entrepreneurial spark just as bright. No longer the kingpin of an extensive cocaine cartel in New York City's borough of Queens, this time Mickens is the owner of The Tommy Experience. For a living, he is an aerobics instructor to senior citizens.

The skills that turned Mickens into the drug lord of Queens have lent themselves well to his new profession, Mickens told AOL Jobs. "I always had a good personality. I was good at communicating," he said.

In his first ever interview, Mickens told The New York Post one of the most striking turnaround stories since President Nixon's hatchet man became the handyman of God. Mickens was so infamous in the 1980s that rapper 50 Cent paid tribute to him in his song "Ghetto Qu'ran."

More: Ex-Con Larry Lawton Finds Redemption In Rescuing At-Risk Youth

"Lord knows, Tommy had Laurelton sold / Helicopters, Rolls Royces with Louis Vuitton interior / Might sound like I'm fantasizing, but son I'm dead serious."

Mickens ultimately served 20 years in prison for drug dealing, money laundering and tax evasion. By the time he got out, in 2008, he says that he was utterly broke -- whatever wasn't forfeited to the government, friends and family mismanaged into thin air. After working in construction for a few months, Mickens decided that he wanted to do something bigger, something "to make up for all the communities I hurt."

'It Makes Me Feel So Good'
Catching up with AOL Jobs on his way to an aerobics session at a senior center on Tuesday, Mickens explains how he felt that running fitness classes for seniors was the best way to give back. "When someone tells me they went to the doctor and their blood pressure is down, their cholesterol is down, it makes me feel so good," he said.

Mickens says his mother died of a stroke while he was was behind bars, and that he feels as if every class somehow makes up for the fact that he wasn't there. "Every person in that class is my mother," he says. "My [step] dad."

While he's abandoned the extravagant lifestyle that his prosecutor claimed was his downfall, Mickens isn't doing too shabbily. He claims that he earns six figures, a monthly haul between $8,000 and $10,000, and is hoping to expand The Tommy Experience coast-to-coast.

More: Ex-Convinct Goes Job Hunting: The Hardest Career Turnaround

Mickens always had a talent for business. Even the undercover detective who bought cocaine from Mickens in 1982 remembered him as a charming, well-groomed guy, telling The New York Times: "He didn't really smell of the streets."

By all accounts, Mickens was a clever kid. He managed to hide his drug profits behind the cover of legitimate businesses -- Montana Dry Cleaners, Montana Grocery -- all branded with his street name Tommy Montana, an homage to Al Pacino's character in "Scarface." An Internal Revenue Service investigator told The New York Times that they were only able to trace and seize a fraction of Mickens' assets.

Went Into Drug-Dealing To Support His Family, He Claims
Mickens said he built his drug empire because it allowed him to support his family, but that he stopped when he realized "I was harming more than I helped." According to the New York Post, that was two years before Mickens was busted. But it was really the trial that changed his heart.

He recalls the prosecutor urging the court to give him a life sentence, because "he's a role model in the community, and he's a bad role model."

"That's when I realized, if I'm going to be a role model, I want to be a good one," Mickens said. And now, as the father of a 4-year-old, that mission has more weight than ever.

"I don't want to be remembered as a street legend. I don't want to be remembered as Tony Montana," Mickens said. "I want to be remembered as someone who had a positive impact."

Thomas Mickens can be reached at tommymickens2020@gmail.com.
Mistakes to Avoid When Changing Careers

Don't Miss: Companies Hiring Now

Related Stories

Looking for a job? Click here to get started.

Add a Comment

*0 / 3000 Character Maximum

12 Comments

Filter by:
Angela J Shirley

A very nice outcome and he needs to get involved in programs that teach the young people about the lifestyle he use to have. And I hope his past does not come after him as you never know with enemies or people you wronged what they will do. I wonder if he "donates" any of his time to seniors that cannot "afford" his services? http://rockportinstitute.com/

December 12 2013 at 6:30 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
ANGELOCOOL

YOU GO BROTHER ,,,

April 13 2013 at 6:41 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
n45

Another skilled businessperson getting rich. Years ago another drug lord went from prison to a well paying job because of his expertise and work ethic. And a very good resume aimed at an industry who need his skills. To bad we do not have a system of co-opting from criminal business to legitimate business. and skip prison altogether.

April 11 2013 at 5:35 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
brenhatestwinkie

see. some people can change. good for him

April 10 2013 at 2:44 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
ANGIE

hey!

April 10 2013 at 2:44 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
chiyina

@jmci77777 Your the Pathetic one!!! Sometimes people need to get off of the high horses that they are on! Just because this is a forum of expressing yourself does not make you God!! The only ones that have the right to judge people, are the courts and God, in which i am certain you are neither!!! People are not perfect and mistakes are made for various reasons in peoples lives. I cant judge you because your and idiot!!! So therefore I just hope that you do not have a child, or husband or wife that ever makes a bad decision in life because they surely will not be able to count on you for anykind of forgiveness!!!!

April 10 2013 at 1:55 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
paumanok2

God Bless This Dude!!!!, AMEN

April 10 2013 at 1:11 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
RJM

You did right, Thomas Mickens. You used the time spent in prison to realize your mistakes and turn your life around, which is what "rehabilitation" is all about. Now you're using your innate talents to atone for your previous misdeeds by helping seniors as well as yourself. Good for you and God bless you.

April 10 2013 at 12:21 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
mspkdennis

I'm glad he is sharing his story because it is important that other people released from prison don't fall into the trap of thinking a life of crime is the best they can do upon release. This is also important for young people to see because a lot of them never think further than they can see when making life decisions. He could have gotten life, then he would not have been able to turn his life around.

April 10 2013 at 12:17 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
jaroslaw99

60 minutes did an interesting report on an almost all White city in the South that hired a Jewish and Black police chief. He said something in the interview I never forgot. Men for some reason, don't understand their own mortality until they hit 40 or so. So efforts at rehabilitation largely fail (not all of course) on men younger than that. Perhaps that happened here or perhaps it was just spending 28 years in prison gave him time to think. Or both. In any event, this is a great turn of events.

April 10 2013 at 12:13 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply

Search Articles

Top Companies Hiring

Week of Oct 12 - 19
View All

Picks From the Web