TEXARKANA, Ark. — In moments of victory, Tommy "The Duke" Morrison used to stand in the ring with his big red boxing gloves raised triumphantly over his head.
Now he stands with his hands clasped behind his back, the humble posture required when an inmate leaves his room at the Southwest Arkansas Community Punishment Center.
The man who once was No. 1 is now inmate No. 610788.
Morrison, whose boxing career came to a sudden halt when he tested positive for the AIDS virus, is now serving a two-year prison sentence for drug and weapon charges.
Morrison overcame a dysfunctional childhood--abused and abandoned by his father and used as an enforcer in a crime ring--to star in a movie alongside Sylvester Stallone, compile a 46-3-1 professional boxing record and beat George Foreman for the World Boxing Organization's heavyweight title.
Now he's back where he started --mixed up with crime, bitter about his circumstances and longing to be in the spotlight.
From a window in his 20-by-10-foot prison room on the fourth floor of a converted hospital, Morrison can see a pole with an American flag. He once wore boxing shorts sporting the stars and stripes, back when he draped a huge WBO title belt over his shoulder for photographers.
At 6 feet 2 and 218 pounds, Morrison is still around his fighting weight. But his blond hair, once cropped short, has formed waves while in prison, and his smile now is capped with a mustache.
To talk to a reporter, he is led hands behind his back to an interior room on the first floor. He has been there before, when questioned by prison officials about what they describe vaguely as some troubles.
Morrison, speaking softly, insists he is innocent of the drug crimes that brought him here. He says he lied when he pleaded guilty because he thought it was the easiest solution.
Morrison was suspended from boxing after he tested positive for the human immunodeficiency virus shortly before a scheduled fight against Arthur Weathers in February 1996. At the time, Morrison said he likely contracted the disease through a promiscuous sex life.
In prison, the 31-year-old Morrison now brags about his wild past, comparing his sex with an "astronomical number" of women to lifting weights and running.
"Sex became a part of my conditioning program. I'm serious," Morrison says. "It was just all the time . . . three different women a day for seven or eight years."
Morrison has changed his story about how he believes he contracted HIV, now connecting it to steroid injections. But he says he never shared needles and never used dirty ones.
"I didn't get it sexually," he insists. "HIV is just a dead piece of skin, that's all it is. Every time you pierce yourself with a needle, you are putting the microbes in your body, these little pieces of dry skin. . . . That's exactly how I got it."
Doctors say Morrison's dead-skin theory is nonsense, and some think he is in denial about the way he contracted HIV.
Morrison says his first sexual encounter came at age 13 with a 17-year-old baby-sitter. That was about the same time he dropped out of school for a year in Jay, Okla., and went to live with his father, who had separated from his mother.
He got into tough-man contests --brutal fights with few rules--worked construction and for his father and associates, forcibly collecting money for what Morrison describes as Irish gangsters.
"There was a time I used to think that being a faction of an organized crime situation was cool," Morrison says. "You say, 'Here's the deal, you owe this much money, and what do you plan on doing? Get on top of that behavior there, son, and if you don't, I'm not responsible for what's going to happen to you.' I didn't necessarily always have to be the one to do it, just inform them of where they live, where they hang out, who their friends are, where their kids are."
Work was the best relationship he had with his dad. At home, Morrison says, his father would beat him with a chair, lamp, ashtray or whatever was nearby when he became angry.
The Morrison family moved between small towns in Arkansas and Oklahoma, often living in a trailer, three children in one bedroom. His parents were frequently apart.
Diana Morrison ended up rearing Tommy and his two siblings largely alone. Tommy was a "bright child" but a "sneaky one," she says, and she warned him to beware of the big-city limelight when he left to become a professional boxer in Kansas City, Mo.
"It was a mother's gut feeling," she says from her home in Jay. "I kind of had a feeling what was going to happen, and that's why I ragged at him so much, all this partying and such."
Morrison fathered two sons by different women whom he never married. Both sons are now 10 years old. He sees one son occasionally, the other seldom. He doesn't talk with his father anymore. His mother still visits. His older brother is in prison in Missouri for rape.