Luis Centeno grew up in Little Village, an inner-city Chicago neighborhood. "I started off on the wrong foot and just continued with what was there," Luis says. "What was there" was trouble.
He started out messing around with drugs. Soon he progressed to drug dealing and carrying guns. The convictions started piling up.
When Luis was 28, he was arrested with nine kilos of cocaine and a gun. He was charged on three separate counts of drug possession, drug distribution, and possession of a firearm. He was sentenced to 120 months—a decade—behind bars. "I was like, 'Man, my life is done,'" he remembers.
To cope with the stress of prison life, Luis returned to an old hobby. "I used to love working out when I was in high school," he said. "When things just weren't going right, I would go in my room and work out."
Luis ended up serving eight and a half years. He was released on August 11, 2011.
FROM PRISONER TO ENTREPRENEUR
'I used to be known as somebody that couldn't be trusted ... But today I'm actually a father, I am a husband, and I'm also a business owner.'
A SERIES OF FALSE STARTS
While the stress of life on the inside was behind him, Luis now faced the pressures of reentry. "I didn't know how to do email—receive email, send email—anything to do with a computer," he says. "I had to learn how to use a smartphone. I had to relearn how to communicate with people. I had to learn everything from scratch."
He also learned that he couldn't open a bank account. "I walked into a bank and they refused to open up a bank account for me, [even though] it was my own money. And they said that they couldn't, regardless that I showed them a state ID of Illinois and an ID from the Department of Justice Bureau of Prisons. They refused to give me the opportunity to open up an account so I could start my life back up."
Next, Luis tried getting a place to live, but he couldn't get a loan or sign a lease because of his criminal conviction. And then there was the job hunt.
Luis tried securing a job in construction—a field he received continuing education in during his incarceration—but he learned he wasn't allowed to work on most job sites. Nothing was working.
So, Luis decided to turn his hobby of working out into a career. "I finally was forced into entrepreneurship and fitness because fitness is how I was able to continue on with my sentence, and that's what kept me sane," he says.
WORKING OUT THE DETAILS
Luis started hosting outdoor bootcamps in 2012 with a few clients. Five people became 10; 10 became 20. Luis had a full-blown business, which he named Fit Results.
"I was able to get me a very small apartment ... in the downtown area of Chicago, where I was making enough money just to pay the rent," Luis says. But "that didn't matter, because I was free, and I had a plan."
His plan was to start a family and get his own gym space. Luis met a woman and married her in December 2014. He was able to secure a spacious location for Fit Results in 2016. "We were doing good enough to be able to buy more equipment," he says. In 2017, Fit Results was rated one of the top personal training gyms in the country by Men's Fitness magazine.
Now he and his wife have two young children, and his gym has two Chicago locations. "I'm very excited to be able to see where I am," he says. And he's excited to help unlock second chances for others.
Fit Results is one of more than 380 organizations that has partnered with Prison Fellowship® through Second Chance® Month to raise awareness of the barriers faced by Americans with a criminal record. This April, Luis collaborated with Prison Fellowship to film and distribute a prison-style workout video to help spread the word about Second Chance Month and give people something productive to do while quarantined at home.
'I was making enough money just to pay the rent. [But] that didn't matter, because I was free, and I had a plan.'