- When Coss Marte was 23, he was sentenced to seven years in prison for dealing drugs.
- Prison doctors told Marte he’d die within five years if he didn’t get into better shape.
- Marte started training other inmates and created a business plan for the fitness studio he runs today.
When Coss Marte was growing up on New York’s Lower East Side, his childhood revolved around sports.
Together with his nearly 30 cousins, Marte played everything from soccer in the apartment hallway to stickball on the streets. But when he reached middle school, he realized sports weren’t a reliable career option. He needed money, and the best option looked to be selling drugs.
Marte was just 13 years old the first time he was arrested for dealing.
“I grew up all around drugs and I got into that world at a very early age,” Marte said. “I just kept selling drugs and trying to be better at it.” At the height of his career, 19-year-old Marte was making $2 million a year, he said.
When he was 23, his operation was shut down by federal agents, and he was sentenced to seven years in prison. After serving six years, Marte was released. When he reentered society, he pursued an entrepreneurial effort: opening a fitness studio, called ConBody, that hires formerly incarcerated individuals. Last year, ConBody booked six figures in revenue, according to documents verified by Insider.
Marte spoke with Insider about the difficulties that came with opening a business after serving time and how he’s growing a company based on creating opportunities for others. The interview has been slightly edited for length and clarity.
Finding a passion from bad news
When I was 23, I went to prison. It was there that doctors told me about the severity of my health issues. I was told if I didn’t start eating correctly and exercising, I was probably going to die within five years. That news really shocked me — the timeline was even shorter than my sentence.
I remember returning to my prison cell and trying to do push-ups, dips, and jumping jacks.
The next day, I ran and did
with my own body weight, which are the same exercises I implement into my studio’s programming today. Within the first six months of seriously focusing on my fitness, I lost 70 pounds. Other inmates noticed what I was doing and asked if I’d coach them.
It wasn’t until I was put into solitary confinement that I contemplated carrying this outside of prison. Sitting there alone, with only my thoughts and goals, I created a business plan to follow when I was released.
Tell your story to promote your business
I spent the two years following my release renting my mom’s couch, working multiple jobs, and doing what I could to prove my work ethic and save money.
I started coaching clients in the parks each morning. I’d talk to random people I met and tell them my story, make announcements in the subway station, and hand out flyers to strangers. Once people connected with me and my story, I eventually built up a clientele.
Even though I had a group of regular training clients, I still didn’t have a location besides outdoor parks.
I reached out to YMCAs and tried to work with a broker, but I was constantly rejected to rent. Two years later, I was accepted to rent out space underneath a Buddhist temple. In order to pay the rent, I sold most of my most precious belongings, like Jordan sneakers. I also won a business-plan competition and used everything I made from odd jobs and training over the past two years.
ConBody officially launched in 2016.
Creating opportunities for others
We quickly outgrew the Buddhist temple and moved to a studio on the exact same corner I used to sell drugs — it’s really a full-circle moment for me.
In total, I’ve hired more than 50 formerly incarcerated employees into the studio since 2016, with a zero percent recidivism rate. We currently have 13 employees and everyone but our COO has been incarcerated. After going through so much trouble myself, I made it my mission to also help anyone else struggling to find a job after serving time.
I used to have some regrets about ending up in prison. But I wouldn’t be where I am today without those experiences.
Now, I’m a business owner and giving people opportunities that otherwise wouldn’t have them. This is family, not just work.