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From Drug Lord to Elder Fitness Guru

Once upon a time, a young drug dealer was riding high. Before he was 25 years old, he had amassed

”...18 properties, including a five-bedroom, five-bathroom retreat in the affluent Long Island community of Dix Hills; 18 luxury cars, including two Rolls-Royces, two Mercedes-Benzes, a Ferrari and a Lamborghini; and a 38-foot Bayline yacht kept near a condominium Mr. Mickens owned in California.”

According to detectives, Thomas Mickens employed more than 50 people to sell drugs for him on the streets. He used some of his profits to open legitimate businesses (or launder money depending, I suppose, on your point of view) in the area where he operated in Queens, New York – a sporting goods store, a deli and two dry cleaners.

He was, in a sense, a young man on the go, a successful entrepreneur - and then it all came to an end:

”In 1989, Mr. Mickens, then 25, was convicted of conspiracy to distribute cocaine, money laundering and tax evasion. He was fined $1 million and sentenced to 35 years in federal prison.”

The sentence might have been even worse except that Mr. Mickens's drug operation was not associated with violence. There were never any killings.

After 20 years in prison, in 2008, Mr. Mickens was paroled. Jump to six years later, sometime in February 2014:

”Thomas Mickens bounded into the Rochdale Village Senior Center in Jamaica, Queens. He was 15 minutes early to teach his 8:30AM aerobics class, and his boisterous entrance was met by friendly jabs and laughter from about three dozen enthusiastic older people.

“The group ranged in age from 60 to 89 years old, most on the younger side of old age; none relied on walkers and only two had canes.”

Now, Mickens is on his way again, a 50-year-old entrepreneur this time with what appears likely to become as big an empire as the drug business that sent him to prison.

And that's where Mickens found his new calling, in prison, where two events pointed the way: he was deeply affected by his mother's health condition which he, locked away, could do nothing to help and by the time he spent helping disabled prisoners build their upper body strength.

Although today he and the team of trainers he employs may be bouncing around among 79 senior centers and nursing homes in New Jersey, Long Island and New York teaching fitness classes to elders, Mickens has bigger plans as president and CEO of the Tommy Experience.

But I shouldn't spoil it for you. This is one of the most remarkable, oddly funny and unexpectedly inspiring true stories I've read in a long time.

Go read the article for yourself at The New York Times. You're gonna love it and I predict we old folks will be hearing a lot more from Tommy Mickens before long.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Marc Leavitt: Australia Dreaming


Yes, he's inspiring.

What a knockout story!

My favourite thing about teaching was helping a student turn his or her life around.

We could use a healthy dose of happy these icy days.

Can't wait to see the ass end of winter leave the building.

We need an army of Thomas Mickens to inspire young people and convince them that they can be successful by being honest.

I liked the fact that he did not become bitter and took responsibility for his past actions and that he used his prison sentence to turn his own life around

Few make it out of our prison system, especially black men, and make something out of themselves. That's a failure of our penal institutions' lack of sound rehabilitation programs with recidivism rates as high as 90% in some areas.

So its always a great story to see someone like Thomas Mickens not get caught up in that revolving door.

What a wonderful life story - and it is not over yet.

Thank you, Ronni, for sharing this great story. I had a dear friend who lived a sad last 10 years of her life due to bad eating and no exercise. It is critical for us to eat healthy foods and keep moving.

Terrific story - we need all the feel good we can get - and fun to see senior exercise that looks like a lot of fun.

Wouldn't it be great if more of us were (legal) entrepreneurial types? I've probably had my share of ideas over 77 years, but being an introvert, I never tried bringing any to fruition. I'll never know if I might have had "The Next Big Thing" (but probably not). I wish Tommy Mickens all the best. He's overcome a lot of adversity.

I loved this story. It filled me with hope for all of us.

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