Former NY drug lord turns life around by helping seniors

Mike Krumboltz
The Upbeat

"One day if we blessed, we all gonna get old." So says Tommy Mickens. Decades ago, Mickens was one of the top drug lords in Queens, where he ran a multimillion-dollar cocaine enterprise. These days, after serving 20 years in prison, he's doing his best to give back and do something positive by helping seniors to exercise.

"I always loved older people," he told Yahoo News. "I learned from older people, I wanted to find a way to help them. Help those who couldn't help themselves and bring it back to my community."

Mary Mickens, Tommy's mother, died in 1993 following a stroke from which she never recovered. Back then, Tommy Mickens was on the wrong side of the law. "For the first month and a half [after her stroke] she begged me, like 'Get me out the nursing home.' I finally got her out. I moved her out of Queens, bought her a house down in Florida. In the nursing home, they didn't care about old people. They let them color, draw and watch TV, and just deteriorate."

That image apparently stuck with Mickens. Decades later, he's doing his best to inspire and motivate seniors to get exercise. It's an unusual career change. The man was once so infamous that 50 Cent rapped about his lifestyle in "Ghetto Qu’ran." "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."

Tommy Mickens helps seniors to exercise (photo courtesy Tommy Mickens)
Tommy Mickens helps seniors to exercise (photo courtesy Tommy Mickens)

In 1988, Mickens was indicted and charged with tax evasion, money laundering, conspiracy to distribute cocaine, and distributing cocaine. His listed assets included homes, businesses, a Ferrari, two Mercedes-Benz cars and a Rolls-Royce. He also owned a yacht and had diamonds and emeralds embedded in his teeth, according to the New York Times.

But Tommy says that version of himself—the one with a fleet of fancy cars and stacks of cash—is gone. He's been replaced by a person who is no less ambitious, but seeking to do good. "I was a role model before, but the wrong way. I left a bad impression. I gotta change that. I have a daughter. I want her to know that her father was a great man. He didn't start the game right, but he finished it right. He changed lives."

Tommy Mickens as a young man (photo courtesy Tommy Mickens)
Tommy Mickens as a young man (photo courtesy Tommy Mickens)

The changed lives include his own. "I bump into people I used to be around. They go, 'Yo Tommy, what you doing now?' I say, 'What I'm doing, I know you have no interest in it. What you doing, I have no interest in it, so we never have a conflict.' I tell them I wish them the best. And I hope that you feel the same for me. And that's a beautiful thing to walk away from a situation like that."

Mickens was known as Tony Montana (the name of Al Pacino's character in "Scarface") before he went to prison. Now he jokes that seniors call him "chico bueno" or "good boy." "I came up with this plan when I was away. I'm gonna create a company that nobody has done before. Going to find a way to motivate seniors, to inspire them. That's what I do. I'm unorthodox. I'm creative."

According to an article from the New York Post, which served as motivation for this blog entry, Mickens's clients love him. "He’s our pride and joy," 73-year-old Daphne Avery told the Post. "We love him regardless of what he’s done—his past is his past. This is the present."

So what's a workout like with Tommy Mickens? "I work from the bottom up," he says. "I work with sciatica. Problems like cramps and muscle spasms. Work on fingers and hands and arthritis. And I do it all in 30 minutes, and it's fun for them."

"Seniors are like kids," he says. "They can sense when somebody's not real. And they can sense the love I have for my mom and for them. That's why they're so willing to work with me and they get better as time goes on. And I'm proud of them."