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From Hustling Drugs to Bootcamp: Ex-cons Find a New Path

From Hustling Drugs to Bootcamp: Ex-cons Find a New Path 4:12

Imprisoned for dealing drugs, Coss Marte and Sultan Malik are back on the streets — this time using their skills to help make people healthier.

Instead of pushing drugs, these days Marte, 29, is hustling for clients for a unique fitness program he developed trying to keep his own body buff within the confines of a jail cell.

He launched his New York City fitness studio, Conbody, in 2014 and in the last year thousands of other customers have been drawn to the rigorous workouts, and partly, perhaps, to the thrill of being trained by an ex-con.

“Being a hustler is dedication and persistence, just showing up to deliver every day. Being an entrepreneur is doing the same thing, showing up and delivering every day."

For Marte, starting up a new company was simply a matter of using the same business skills he honed while dealing drugs.

“There’s not much of a difference,” he explains. “Being a hustler is dedication and persistence, just showing up to deliver every day. Being an entrepreneur is doing the same thing, showing up and delivering every day. I’m out there almost every day handing out my business cards the same way I did when I was hustling back on the street.”

In September, Marte launched a Kickstarter campaign to help raise $25,000 for renovations to a new training facility in Manhattan’s Lower East Side.

But his best advertisement is how he helped himself: “I lost 70 pounds in 6 months,” he tells prospective customers.

“Being a hustler is dedication and persistence, just showing up to deliver every day. Being an entrepreneur is doing the same thing, showing up and delivering every day," says Marte. Courtesy of Coss Marte

Customer Meghan Trainor (not the celebrity) calls the instructors "the coolest guys ever."

I’ve done a lot of classes through ClassPass,” Trainor says. “I’ve tried Spinning. I belong to a gym. But I just feel that this gets me to work out so much more. The instructors are awesome... At first when I heard they were ex-cons I was like, oh, what did they do?”

Before he got caught, Marte was at the top of his game.

“At one point, on this corner, I was making millions of dollars a year,” he remembers. “We had people on the rooftops looking out. It was pretty crazy at that time. They had the phones tapped. They had a year investigation. From there everything went down. I was charged with kingpin charges. I was facing 15 to life. Eventually I copped to a 7-12-year sentence.”

Malik’s new life is a long way from where he started.

“I was a stickup kid,” he says. “I robbed from drug dealers. If that even makes any sense. My principles were that people who were in the game or in that lifestyle, those were the people who I robbed.”

Sultan Malik helps a student in class. Courtesy of Coss Marte

Marte and Malik didn’t come out of prison with a plan to start a company. There just weren’t a lot of opportunities for an ex-con.

Their determination and success are even more remarkable considering the employment statistics for ex-cons in general. Up to 50 percent of newly-released prisoners remain unemployed for at least a year, according to a 2010 report from the Center For Economic and Policy Research.

Up to 50 percent of newly-released prisoners remain unemployed for at least a year, according to a 2010 report from the Center for Economic and Policy Research.

“When I was in prison I was super optimistic,” Marte says. “I thought I was gonna get a job and be fine, and I filled out so many applications. I even made a fake resume and they still didn’t hit me up. It was just so discouraging that nobody had faith in me just because I checked that felony box.”

That left little choice for a man who wanted to go straight.

Three of the ConBody trainers, from left: Raya Costa, Coss Marte and Sultan Malik. Courtesy of Coss Marte

“The only way I see it, and the only way Coss sees it, we have to be entrepreneurial keeping that same spirit prior to being legitimate,” Malik says. “Just taking a different approach to it and reaching those goals.”