When Coss Marte doesn't return your phone calls or emails, don't take it personally--most likely, he's in jail. Being behind iron bars provides fertile ground for Marte, 30, who served six years for building a $2.5 million drug operation and burned off 70 pounds in the process. When he got out in 2013, he started what is now ConBody by using local parks to run crazy-hard workouts that he had developed in his prison cell. (He cleaned toilets for a hotel on the side.) Now he has a trendy Lower East Side studio in New York City with 1,000 clients coming through each month.
But jail is where Marte still spends much of his time. He and his trainers go to Rikers Island once a week to run more than 50 workouts for inmates awaiting sentencing. He's also recently started working with California City Correctional Facility to help long-term inmates transition back into society, and aims to do the same with more prisons over time. Ultimately, Marte's goal is to hire as many ex-cons as he can, getting them certified as personal trainers while behind bars and ready to join his team. "I know what it's like to come out and feel like there's no hope and the only thing to do is go back to what you know," says Marte, who was arrested and sent to jail 10 times between the ages of 13 and 23. According to 2014 Bureau of Justice Statistics research, 68 percent of prisoners released in 2005 were arrested for a new crime within three years and 77 percent were rearrested within five years.
Eight of the 11 employees at Marte's studio are ex-convicts, he says. He pays every trainer $50 per hour. To assuage any possible concerns his clients might have about ex-cons, Marte assures them that "our environment is all about working out with laughter, not screaming at clients." With a projected $300,000 in sales this year, he hopes to grow ConBody from one studio to five by next year, including an expansion to California, and to hire another 60 former inmates. To that end, he's raised more than $175,000 through a Kickstarter campaign and winning pitch competitions, including the Inc. + Toms Pitch for Good contest.
Marte will hire pretty much any former inmate, regardless of crime or length of sentence (though he won't take on sex offenders). "I really want to change how these guys are viewed," he says. "They're not locked-up, caged animals. You're not taking a risk on them any more than you are on someone off the street." And what about flabbier ones? No worries. "We have front-desk jobs if you're not in the best shape."