ConBody Bootcamp’s fitness philosophy comes from Marte’s personal experience of working out while incarcerated. At a young age, Marte became involved with drug dealing on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. By the age of nineteen, he was fully engaged in a complex and illegal drug operation. He was arrested and served a six-year sentence in an upstate facility.
While in prison, a doctor diagnosed Marte as being overweight and having high cholesterol. Without a significant lifestyle change, Marte was told, he could die from a heart attack within as little as five years. Immediately, he resolved to make a change and adopted a healthier lifestyle. Marte started exercising everyday and lost 70 pounds in a few months’ time. Other men at the prison noticed his workouts and transformation and wanted to train with Marte. Helping others to lose weight planted the seed within Marte that he could make a difference in the lives of others. Upon his release, he started to train people who he came across in parks and other places for sport and recreation. Later he would open his own brick-and-mortar facility on the Lower East Side (his childhood neighborhood) with the help of a non-profit called Defy Ventures, whose mission is to support formerly incarcerated individuals in achieving their entrepreneurial aspirations. At the foundation of ConBody’s fitness philosophy is still the program which Marte developed while in prison, within the confines of a six-by-nine cell.
Marte supports other formerly incarcerated men in finding success after prison as an employer — ConBody is unique because the fitness company hires men who have been involved in the criminal justice system, as was Marte. “I want to hire as many formerly incarcerated individuals as possible, because I know what it feels like to get out and come home, and have a door slammed in your face, and only get under-the-table jobs,” Marte says. His hiring practices at ConBody are helping to decrease the stigma surrounding incarceration and those who have a criminal record. At the ConBody gym, barriers come down, as clients and employees of different races, ethnicities, class and religion come together, in an encouraging and judgment-free environment, to achieve their shared goals of personal improvement.
On 116th Street, meeting with GOSO clients, Marte left a big impression. “He is such an ambitious guy. He started from nothing, and now he’s just so successful,” said one of the guys. Marte’s story offers hope to others and showcases the real, tangible and positive impacts mentoring and giving-back can have on the community of formerly incarcerated individuals. To GOSO guys, Marte is someone who has really “made it”, and someone who shows them that it’s possible to achieve their goals.
Marte made our guys feel like they each offer something unique to the world, and that they already have the skills and knowledge that they need, even if they don’t know it yet. They are like him in that their background includes justice involvement, but that does not have to define them, and they can find success if they put their minds – and bodies – to work. “Everybody here has a talent,” says Marte, “and I want you to use that talent”.