MEET CONBODY: COSS MARTE'S
prison-style bootcamp and beacon for second chances
“Lexie, did you die over there? That’s not even what I got locked up for.”
But it was possible. And that’s a theme within the four walls of CONBODY's home in the Lower East Side of New York—to push yourself to accomplish more than you believed possible. To do just one more set of 10 burpees. One round of push-ups that aren’t on your knees. To support the reintegration of formerly incarcerated individuals into society, just by working out. Seems too good to be true? Welcome to CONBODY.
WHAT IS CONBODY?
CONBODY is a workout method developed in a prison cell by founder Coss Marte (we’ll get to his story). The workouts are calisthenics-focused, meaning the exercises involve solely your bodyweight. Your CONBODY coach will remind you often that this class will have no flashing lights, no bikes that don’t move anywhere (definitely no shade there), no mirrors that talk to you…just you. And your best friend Burpee.
The simplicity of the workout intimidated me at first. I’ve grown accustomed to all the bells and whistles that distract me from the actual workout part of workout classes. With CONBODY, I'm present. There is oddly a level of focus, body awareness, and pride in my efforts that I don't typically find elsewhere. And it doesn’t hurt that the playlists are always on-point.
Each coach is a former convict, so in each class you are pushed and motivated by someone whom you may have overlooked or judged in the past. Having the opportunity to openly interact with people who have left the prison system and turned their lives around is rare. Even more rare? CONBODY has a zero recidivism rate, meaning not a single employee, out of the over one hundred formerly incarcerated individuals CONBODY has worked with, has returned to the prison system.
COSS ("The Boss") MARTE
Coss has lived many lives in one. When you meet him now, a good-natured, devoted, and passionate CEO and father of two, it’s hard to imagine Coss as a former leader of a multi-million dollar cocaine operation. But understanding Coss’s story of redemption is vital to understanding CONBODY's larger significance as a beacon of second chances.
Childhood Side Hustles to Drug Deals
Money was Coss’s biggest motivator growing up. Finances were tight when his mother had moved from the Dominican Republic to New York City, six-months pregnant with him. Finances grew even tighter when Coss’s father and siblings eventually immigrated to New York as well. Growing up in the LES in the 80’s, Coss was surrounded by drugs, crime, and poverty.
"What do you want to be when you grow up?" Coss was often asked as a child. "Rich," was always his response. One of Coss's earliest side hustles involved collecting and exchanging tin cans for nickels at his local convenience store. That soon shifted: at 11 years old, Coss began smoking marijuana and at 13, he sold an ounce of the drug for a $200 profit. He became the "weed guy" at school. Selling marijuana quickly spiraled into selling cocaine and at 19 years old, Coss was making over 2 million dollars.
7 year sentence, 5 years to live
At 23, Coss was caught by federal agents, charged as a kingpin, and sentenced to seven years in prison. For the years leading up to his arrest, Coss had spent every waking moment ready for the next customer to approach his street corner, unwilling to miss a single opportunity. He had grown overweight with his sedentary life and it was in prison that a physician delivered the grim prognosis: Coss’s blood pressure and cholesterol levels were so high, he could die in the next five years if a change wasn’t made. So he made a change.
Running in the the courtyard (while shrugging off anyone who made “Fat Forrest” taunts) and doing body-weight exercises within his 9x6 cell, Coss lost the weight and helped other inmates do the same. For the first time in a long while, Coss was using his skills to help others.
The Defining Moment
Coss had months before his release when he had an altercation based in a misunderstanding with an officer that led to an extended sentence and solitary confinement. Coss had a young son at home, expecting his father to return soon. From solitary confinement Coss began writing his family and son, explaining why he couldn't be home when he promised and how much he missed them. Ten pages later, he realized that he did not have a stamp.
For three weeks, Coss sat in silence with his thoughts and unsent letter. Then, Coss received a letter from his sister guiding him to read Psalm 91 of the Bible. Coss had no interest. He was frustrated and demoralized, but days later, with nothing left to do, he opened the Bible. From between its pages, a forgotten stamp fell out. He was finally able to write to his family.
So Coss read Psalm 91, the passage regarding God’s promise of protection: “He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty…” The words touched a chord in Coss. For the first time, he read the Bible front to back, and a heavy feeling weighed on his chest: remorse. For the last ten years, Coss had been in and out of prison, promising time and again to change while obsessing over fine-tuning his drug operation. But now, Coss deeply felt the damage he caused the thousands of lives he affected while drug dealing. He prayed. Then his mission became clear: when he regained his freedom, Coss was going to make a positive impact on his community. Much like the one he was already making while training his inmates.
So, Coss made a business plan. And after his release, working every job he could find, swallowing rejections and judgement for his past crimes, and nonstop hustling, the CONBODY fitness studio became a reality. Became a home and second chance to others coming out of prison searching for opportunities to build a better life.
Do the time
Walking into CONBODY feels like walking into a family. It's not cult-y, it's not a fad. Lives have been changed within those walls. There is always another coach or two in the studio even if they aren’t teaching a class. Coss’s family are frequent visitors: I worked out with his wife, who was many months pregnant at the time. Coss’s mom, almost 70 years old, goes to class four times a week. Cholito and Sushi, the condogs, are usually waiting patiently at the front desk for our session to end. And after my first class, Coss invited everyone to his brother’s block party.
There is anecdote after anecdote showing how CONBODY feels like more than a workout. It’s a family for all, a second chance for so many, and a reminder to every person of the magic of compassion, open-mindedness, dialogue, and redemption.
Some favorite memories: from my first class to Sow Good sampling, birthday workout, and more!
Ready to do the time? Then sign up for a CONBODY class in person or online.