Half of all kids in the United States have a parent with a record, and every day, our team talks to dozens of dads who are parents and fathers to those kids. Today, we are delighted to introduce you to Coss Marte, CEO and Founder of CONBODY.
Our founder first met Coss in September 2022 as part of Rasa’s participation in a justice tech accelerator program run by Village Capital. This program featured ten justice tech companies on a mission to use technology to improve outcomes for justice-involved people. Below is his story.
On any given morning, New Yorkers across Manhattan are rushing to CONBODY to attend one of their highly revered bootcamp-inspired workout classes. Offering classes that cater to all bodies, ability, and strength levels, CONBODY is known for their impassioned trainers and rigorous exercises. But there is something that sets CONBODY apart from any other fitness class. That being, their mission to “de-stigmatize the formerly incarcerated community, ease their integration back into society, and change the systemic inequity of the criminal justice system.”
The concept of CONBODY came to founder and CEO, Coss Marte, at a low point in his life. Coss grew up in the Lower East Side of New York –– not far from where CONBODY is now located. But his neighborhood has changed drastically from what it once was. Coss recalls growing up in one of the “poorest and most overpoliced communities in New York City.” He was exposed to drugs, crime, and addiction at a young age. To make money, he started selling marijuana –– then cocaine –– to his classmates at 13 years old.
Coss spent his adolescence in and out of jail. During his final stint in the criminal justice system, Coss served 4 years in prison for a drug-related offense. In fact, it was while he was stuck in a 6×9 solitary confinement cell, that he reflected on the life he wanted to create for himself that he came up with the idea for CONBODY.
Entering prison in 2009, Coss was clinically obese. At only 24 years old, he was told that unless he began to prioritize his health and wellness, he was at high risk of a potentially fatal heart attack. As a result, Coss found fitness, and shed over 70 pounds in 6 months. People started to notice, and soon enough, Coss was leading workouts in the prison yard. During his incarceration, he helped 20 inmates to lose a collective 1,000 pounds.
Upon release, Coss faced the same barriers other justice-involved people experience: difficulty finding stable housing, being turned away from prospective job opportunities, and the feeling of stigma and judgment based on his past mistakes. While it was an uphill battle for Coss, he knew based on his experience, that he had something to offer: a chance to get healthy, a good paying job, and a community of support. Coss continues to emphasize his commitment to hiring formerly incarcerated individuals –– giving them the second chance they deserve. Since opening in 2016, CONBODY has employed over 100 justice involved people as trainers – and not one of them has reoffended.
Today, Coss is a husband, and a proud father of two – a 15-year-old son and 1-year-old daughter. Being an entrepreneur and a parent of a young child isn’t easy, but Coss is proud of what he is building and he wants to provide a better future for his daughter. The CONBODY community has been extremely supportive of Coss’ desire to be a good dad to his daughter. She even has her own Instagram page. Because its hard to balance work and parenthood, Coss sometimes brings his baby to class, and lifts her up (instead of normal weights) during his workouts.
In the future, Coss hopes to expand his business to other states, and he’s already begun that journey. In addition to having a physical location in Manhattan, CONBODY does workouts in prison, and offers online classes that people from all over the world can complete at home.
Finding fitness in prison truly changed Coss’ life, and upon release, Coss turned those learnings into a successful business venture. To learn more visit the CONBODY website or follow him @conbody on social media.
This story is part of our #1in3 campaign, a project to end the stigma and raise awareness of how common it is to have a criminal record.
1 in 3 Americans has a criminal record, which is a lot more common than people think. No one expects to be involved in the justice system, but it can happen to anyone. People of all ages, backgrounds, genders, and income-levels are involved in the justice system. Their pathways vary, but the barriers of a record affect them all. Our hope is that by sharing their portraits and telling their stories, we can change the way people think about people with records and appreciate them for all they have overcome.