Growing up as a first-generation American on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, I was exposed to poverty and drug use at a young age. As a child, I dodged junkies shooting up heroin in the cramped hallways of buildings in my neighborhood and watched iced-out dealers run the corners on my block before I even started school. There were six of us living in a tiny apartment, barely scraping by.
Even as a child, my goal was to break out of poverty. My role models were the guys with the freshest clothes and the biggest chains, the dealers on my corner. At 13, I purchased my first ounce of marijuana and took it to school, where I made my first sale. Not too long after, I joined the local guys on my corner, where I began to pitch other drugs. The other dealers respected my hustle and I eventually became the leader of a cocaine-distribution ring in New York City. Before I was 20, I was making $2 million a year.
In 2009, at the age of 23, after being in and out of prison for half my life, I was arrested for the last time and wound up serving a total of five years. When I got to prison, I was incredibly overweight and was plagued by high cholesterol and high blood pressure. A physician told me I could die in jail because of my health issues. Here’s how I turned my life around in prison and found my calling:
1. I started working out in my cell.
I used exercises I learned from ex-Marines, correctional officers, and fellow inmates. They were all body-weight exercises that I could do in my 9-by-6 prison cell. I started working out each morning for 30 minutes and then built up my stamina to two hours a day. My approach to fitness is basic but brutal. I take simple moves like jumping jacks and squats, and tweak them using variations on speed, repetition, and form.
2. My workouts were so simple — anyone could do them, anywhere, anytime.
My approach worked, and I started losing weight. It was exciting when I could reach down and tie my shoe without propping my foot against something to tie it. I realized it doesn’t take a polished bag of tricks to get you sweating buckets — no splashy boutique fitness tools, no music chosen by BPM to match the speed of your mountain climbers.
I pushed myself to do more than I thought my body could ever accomplish. You don’t need the latest shiny workout toys to motivate you to transform your life; it’s the sweat and pain you feel while overcoming an obstacle that will get you where you need to be.
3. I started eating healthier.
Believe it or not, you can eat healthy in prison. You're allowed a 35-pound food package per month, which allowed me to receive fresh fruits and veggies. I ordered a package every month and increased my protein intake while decreasing how many carbs I was eating.
4. Fitness gave me a purpose during my time in prison.
I realized my new calling in life was to give back to people instead of destroying individuals around me. I shared my workout routines, and after losing 70 pounds in six months, I helped 20 other inmates collectively lose more than 1,000 pounds. I started a different culture in prison and developed a following among the inmates.
5. After I was released in 2013, I wanted to motivate more people and created a fitness class, ConBody.
I started to hold free workouts in the park and quickly moved on to attracting a loyal following and monetizing my workout. Once again, I was on the path to successful entrepreneurship, but with better risk assessment. After two years and a lot of sweat and determination, ConBody was born.
Today, we teach 30 classes a week and employ five dedicated trainers who are committed to helping our clients transform their lives by achieving their fitness and wellness goals. Our trainers are formerly incarcerated individuals who are now dedicated to being law-abiding citizens and giving back to their communities. ConBody gives the trainers a second chance while changing people's perspectives on people who have been in prison.
I’m dedicated to helping people live a healthy lifestyle, and I love the personal relationships I develop with every boot-camp participant. I’ve truly found my calling in life and can’t wait to see where it takes me next.