There's a street corner in lower Manhattan where Coss Marte, then a teenager, launched his career selling drugs—before the law and some serious health issues caught up with him. By 23, he was in prison. He was out of shape, and if something didn't change, he would likely die of a heart attack before his seven-year sentence was up.
"That was a real wake-up call," says Marte. He remembers running laps around the prison yard and exercising in his 9-by-6 cell, with nothing but the walls and floor for equipment. He lost 70 pounds in six months. Before his release, he helped at least 20 fellow prisoners lose more than 1,000 pounds total.
Example of a prison cell at Folsom State Prison
After being released from prison, Marte launched ConBody, a prison-style workout program led entirely by formerly incarcerated people. The first studio opened in 2015 on the same corner where Marte used to sell drugs. Today, ConBody also offers a variety of online workout videos with several different trainers. Marte hopes incarcerated men and women can participate in prisons where computer tablets are available.
As much as Marte loves helping people build a better body, he's even more excited about building better futures. On the outside, many of his clients have never met someone who has been in prison. But, Marte says, "As soon as they meet us, it changes their whole perspective."
As communities welcome returning prisoners, Marte is doing his part to bridge the gap between the community and the formerly incarcerated, and to spread awareness for second chances. He encourages those behind bars to do what they can to stay motivated and grow stronger—working out, taking classes, getting counseling, and learning a skill.
"You're going to come out struggling," says Marte. "It's going to be difficult, and you're going to be judged. But work hard. Build your character. You're going to survive, and that's real success."
CONBODY'S CELL WORKOUT
In the Winter 2019 edition of Inside Journal™—the Prison Fellowship® quarterly newspaper, written specifically for incarcerated men and women and distributed to correctional facilities across the country—we shared the following four Marte-approved core exercises. These exercises can be accomplished anywhere, whether you're in your living room or in a prison cell. (Just make sure to drink plenty of water!)
Lie on your back and bring your knees up to form a 90-degree angle. Keep your hands by your temples, crunch up, and twist across the body while kicking your legs in a bicycle motion. (For example, if you crunch up and to the right, you should draw your right knee in.)
Lie on your back with your arms by your sides and the palms of your hands down. Extend your legs completely out, with knees slightly bent. Lift your heels about six inches off the floor. Make small, rapid, up-and-down scissor-like motions with your legs.
HELLO DOLLY/SCISSOR KICK
Lie back and keep your legs together. Extend your legs out and point your toes toward the ceiling. Slide your hands, palms down, under your tailbone. Keep your head back and your chin tucked. Using your core strength, lift your feet six inches off the floor. Separate your legs horizontally as far as you can, and begin a horizontal scissor kick, back and forth.
CRAB TOE TOUCH
Sit on the floor with knees bent and feet together. Place your hands behind you. Lift your hips off the floor, kick your right leg up, and touch your right foot with your left hand. Then place your right foot on the floor, kick your left leg up, and touch your left foot with your right hand. Keep alternating legs quickly, keeping your core engaged and your neck relaxed.
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