Coss Marte is a fitness trainer, author, and founder of ConBody, the prison style fitness bootcamp.
Betting on myself … I feel like what I’ve done is born out of desperation. I think maybe my DNA is built a certain way, my mom is a hustler too. I saw her coming up from nothing and coming to America and giving us an opportunity here, you know, my brothers and my sister, to explore a better life. And we really took advantage of that, seeing that great role model in her.” – Coss Marte
We discussed Coss’ tough life growing up, his early entrepreneurial efforts and the money it brought him, his time in prison, the moment that changed his life, and his work to help those currently and recently incarcerated.
Coss is one of the most inspiring people I’ve ever met. He made bad choices in his youth, paid the price for those choices, and came out the other side as a disciplined, powerful man of faith that has dedicated his life to helping others.
In this episode we talked about:
- What betting on yourself means to him
- His entry into the world of drug dealing
- Making $2,000,000/yr. At 19 years old
- His delusions about what he was doing
- The six years spent in prison
- The untapped talent pool coming out of prison
- The moment in solitary confinement that changed his life
- The chapter from Holy Scripture that got him through
- How he realized his calling in life
- The struggle to find work after prison
- The birth of the ConBody brand
- The difficulties of doing business in the pandemic
- His advice for those who have lost hope
- The advice he’d give his sixteen year old self
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Coss Marte: We just don't stop. I think it's like you either make it or not. It's always that desperation on just like, keep going. The only person that could give up and fail is yourself if you quit and you stop. If you don't stop moving, you're going to make it.
Michael Redd: Hey, everybody. This is Michael Redd. Welcome to the Betting On Yourself podcast, where I interview successful entrepreneurs, athletes, and other top performers who rose to the top, took success into their own hands, and bet on themselves. Today I'm talking with Coss Marte, fitness trainer, author, and founder of ConBody, the prison style fitness bootcamp. In this episode, we talk about Coss' tough life growing up, his early entrepreneurial efforts, and the money it brought him. His time in prison and the moment that changed his life. And his work to help those currently and recently incarcerated.
Michael Redd: Coss is one of the most inspiring people I've ever met. He made bad choices in his youth, paid the price for those choices, and came out the other side as a disciplined, powerful man of faith that has dedicated his life to helping others. If you're facing seemingly impossible situations in your life, if you've lost hope, please listen to this episode. Here's my incredible conversation with Coss Marte. Coss, what can I say, man? I'm honored to have you on the podcast. It's been a long time coming for us to connect like this.
Coss Marte: No, I appreciate it. Thanks for having me. It's an honor to be on this, to get to speak to you and share my experiences with you.
Michael Redd: It's my honor, man. You're really an inspiration to a lot of people around the world now at this point, and particularly to me, knowing your story and knowing about you for the last couple years.
Coss Marte: Thank you.
Michael Redd: I was introduced to you from a dear friend of ours, Mike [Sue 00:01:58].
Coss Marte: Yeah, Mike is, I mean, he's a call from God, man. I call him... he's my angel for real.
Michael Redd: He's phenomenal, man. When he mentioned ConBody and what you were doing, more than anything he was mentioning you the person. He's that guy. He's been on the show before. It's a pleasure, man. Let's just jump right on in, man. I think for me, knowing your story, knowing your triumphs, it's really so inspirational. It embodies the show. As you know, the show is about betting on yourself.
Coss Marte: Yep.
Michael Redd: I want to, before we get to your journey in a sense, talk about what that has meant to you specifically. Betting on yourself throughout the journey of your life.
Coss Marte: I think betting on myself, I feel like what I've done is born out of desperation. But I don't know, I think maybe my DNA is built a certain way, because my mom is a hustler too. I saw her coming up from nothing and coming to America, and giving us an opportunity here, my brothers and my sister, to explore a better life. We really took advantage of that. I think we saw that great role model of her better than us. We just don't stop. I think it's like you either make it or not. There's always that desperation on just like, keep going. The only person that could give up and fail is yourself if you quit and you stop. If you don't stop moving, you're going to make it.
Michael Redd: One of the things for this particular show for me, not to be too spiritual, is the power of prayer. We'll get to that significance a little bit. But for those who don't know you and our listeners, your story is incredible. Our backgrounds are similar in the sense of how we grew up. Tough neighborhood, tough growing up situation. But you had an entrepreneurial spirit and gift, but it was used in different ways as even a teenager. Talk about that journey of becoming somewhat of an entrepreneur in the businesses that you were doing before you were doing what you are doing now.
Coss Marte: Absolutely. I mean, I got caught up in the world of drugs at a very early age. My cousins, I had family members out there on the street. As a kid, just having my mom work nonstop. We basically slept on the couch together at my aunt's house. I remember asking my mom, "I want this." Or I'd see the other kids with things that I wanted. She would tell me, "I can't. I can't afford it." I think that used to really frustrate me at the fact that everybody around me had something, even though we all grew up poor. But you saw kids around you with the new Jordans and you had better gear than other kids, or somebody had the Atari or the Nintendo and stuff like that. You're like, "Damn, I can't get it." It was embarrassing to be the poorest of the poor. I think out of desperation, I was just angry at that fact. I was like, "I'm going to get it how I get it."
Coss Marte: I started hanging out with my cousins, who were standing on the corner. Some of them had chains hanging out with different types of people with cars. That's the game I alluded to. I was listening to Biggie and all this stuff. You think you want to be that Tony Montana type of person as a kid, you know what I mean? I just wanted to be rich. I remember going to school and everybody in class, they ask, "What do you want to be when you grow up?" I always said, "I want to be rich." The world of drugs was the first step for me. I started dealing at 13. I remember selling ounces of weed when I was in middle school. From there, it started escalating to getting right into coke and crack.
Coss Marte: I started sitting on a milk crate on the corner just hustling. That became my life. Then it just blew up. At 19, I was making over $2 million a year. It was a crazy journey. To think about that from now, the time that I've lived and the journey that I've taken where I've traveled all around the world. I was just like, "How the hell did this happen to me?" Because I was only living in this box in the hood and I didn't see anything else. But now that I've been able to move around, meet people, explore, travel, it's opened up my mind to anything is possible. There's definitely a million and a half ways to better your life.
Michael Redd: It's interesting, man. When you were the multimillionaire at 18, 19, 20 years old man, did you ever think, is this going to end at some point? Because I know what I'm doing is not legal, but is it going to end? I'll never get caught? What was your mindset during that period?
Coss Marte: Yeah, I got caught for minor things as a teenager. I got locked up a couple bags, but I always thought I was outsmarting the cops. I thought, hey, if I'm just carrying this certain amount, I can just say it's personal use. I'm going to get a slap on the wrist or whatever it is. I got away and I thought I was slicker than everybody else. I was cutting corners and all that stuff, and it caught up to me.
Coss Marte: I didn't think I was going to get caught as a bigger type of case. I thought I was going to outsmart them and just get a smaller thing or whatever. A little slap on the wrist won't hurt nobody, and I'll just keep moving. I mean, the system is funny. I got caught in a loop. Very early, I got caught on probation for weed. Then it just started escalating to harder drugs and stuff like that. But now, I don't know if you heard, but New York state just granted the opportunity for people to smoke weed anywhere. It's now legalized. It's just crazy to think when I was growing up that that was like the biggest sentence, you know?
Michael Redd: Right.
Coss Marte: You had to hide and roll a blunt on the corner and stuff like that. It was just the worst thing in the world. Now it's just so crazy that everybody is doing it, and it's just so open.
Michael Redd: It's amazing because I've been to prisons to spend time and mentor men, young women. I've done that. What's fascinating to me about prison is that the most talented people in the world are incarcerated.
Coss Marte: Absolutely.
Michael Redd: Geniuses, man. You can talk about that to a degree, can't you?
Coss Marte: Absolutely. I mean, I served a total of six years in prison. The smartest people I've ever met in my life have been in the system. I feel like these are real untapped talent. That's what I wanted to create my team around, is these individuals that are hired today, 95% of my staff is formerly incarcerated. It's incredible to see the ingenuity, the skill, the hunger. It's just insane that we're really overlooked. It's sad to see that the system has placed a stamp on us like we're no good, we're uneducated. That's my goal. That's my mission, is to really change that whole perception for real.
Michael Redd: I'm so proud of you, man, of your efforts in changing that narrative. Because you're absolutely right. The stigmas are just unfair and wrong. I was blown away at all the gifted people and geniuses that are incarcerated. You find yourself incarcerated, like you said, six years. I'm sure the anxiety and the stress of being incarcerated, and the environment itself. You have a moment though. You can talk about the story about being in solitary confinement, and Psalms 91, right?
Coss Marte: Yep.
Michael Redd: That moment. Talk about how that even happened. You were on the brink, I think on the brink, of getting out in two months. And this situation happens in prison.
Coss Marte: Yeah, absolutely. It was a crazy experience. It really changed my whole perception of life. It changed my whole mindset on what I thought my goal was in life, you know what I mean? In terms of making money. I was always this money hungry kid, like I'm going to get it no matter what. It was this experience that, towards the end of my incarceration, I had about two months left. I got called down to the medical unit. In prison, we call it the bubble. It's the front desk where the officer is on the south block. They called me up to the officer. He's like, "Hey, get ready for medical. You have to go down to the medical unit." I'm thinking I'm going to the medical unit for a dental appointment because in prison, to see a dentist, sometimes it takes two or three years. I've been waiting on the list for three years. I'm like, "Why?"
Michael Redd: Wow.
Coss Marte: I'm getting my teeth fixed before I come home. I was coming home on the early release program. I'm excited. I go brush my teeth. I get dressed and I go down there. I remember the officer in front of the medical unit was like, "Hey, this is a drug test." I'm like, "All right, whatever. I'm not using." I was clean. They search you before taking the drug test. He puts me on a wall and he starts really searching me aggressively. As he was getting in between my legs, I felt uncomfortable. I twisted my body a little bit, and he punched me behind my head. He said, "Today is not my day. Don't fuck with me. Don't move around." When he punched me behind my head, he knocked me down on the ground. I quickly got up.
Coss Marte: I was seeing stars a little bit. I turned around on him not to hit him, but I was trying to just avoid another hit. I turned around on him, and as soon as I turned around and stepped back, he pressed the button on his walkie talkie. They call it a pin. As soon as that button is pressed in the prison unit, the whole alarm for the whole prison goes off. Any inmate that's in the situation there has to face down on the ground, hands on the head. I remember telling him, "Damn, why did you have to do that? I'm not doing anything wrong." He was like, "Get the hell down, inmate." He hit me, and about a half of dozen officers come. They start kicking me. They beat me up and they throw me in cuffs. Then they take me down to solitary confinement where they beat me down again in this small room. Then they threw me in the cell. In the cell, I was just like... I don't know. I was devastated, man. I felt hopeless. I felt stressed, I felt mad.
Coss Marte: I was also blaming the system for putting me in this situation. All I could do in that cell was basically pace back and forth and walk. I'm in 24 hour lockdown. I remember a couple of hours in there, an officer comes up to my door and he opens up the slot where they feed you the food from. He passes me paper, pen, and an envelope. I quickly grab that. I started writing a huge letter out to my family letting them know I'm not coming home. I told them exactly what happened in the situation, that I needed a lawyer, I needed to get out of this place. I was frustrated. Then I realized when I put the letter in the envelope, I was like, "Shit." Excuse my language.
Michael Redd: No, no.
Coss Marte: "I don't have a stamp to send out this letter with." Then I was sitting down just thinking. I remember just banging my head on the wall because I had no help. This little small hope of sending this message to my family trying to get legal assistance and get me out of this situation. It was not my first time in solitary, but it was the fact that I had two months left. My son just came and visited me. I remember my family was telling me they were going to do a whole bunch of stuff when I came home, and cook for me, and all this stuff. It didn't happen.
Coss Marte: I'm in this cell sitting there for like another three or four days. They brought mail to me. I was excited. I was like, "What is this?" My sister wrote me a letter. My sister, I call her Mother Theresa's child, but she's a super religious person. She gave me a Bible early on in my incarceration that I never picked up. I had it. I used it as an address book, which I still have the Bible and I still have all the address of people coming home and getting those numbers. It was just a book. That's what everybody pretty much used the Bible for in prison, was to just take notes and write your boys' numbers. Because that's the only thing they can't take away is your religious side.
Michael Redd: Wow.
Coss Marte: Whether it's a Quran or a Bible. What followed me in that prison cell was this Bible that she gave me. She told me, "Hey, we found out you're in solitary. Everything is going to be okay. Don't worry about it. All I want you to do is read Psalm 91 from the Bible." In my head I'm like, "What? Fuck all that. I need a lawyer. I need to get out of this situation." I took that letter and I threw it in the corner of my cell, and I laid back in my bed. A day went by, and all I had was the Bible. Out of boredom I was like, "Let me just open it up." I turned to Psalm 91 which states, "He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the Lord, 'He is my shelter and my fortress, my God in whom I trust.'" As soon as I was reading that phrase, a stamp fell out of my Bible.
Michael Redd: Wow.
Coss Marte: It was the stamp that I needed to send this message to my family, to let them know the whole situation. I felt chills.
Michael Redd: Wow.
Coss Marte: I felt chills run down my body. I don't know, it was crazy. I felt like it was like those movie scenes, like a ray of light is coming between the sky and is hitting you. I just felt like there was something bigger than myself for that certain moment. I read the whole Bible from front to back. I just started really understanding what I was doing was wrong. My whole life, I thought drugs was a way out to make money and get it, and the system was against me. For the first time in my life, I was just like, "Damn. I'm not only damaging my son and my family's life." But I'm like, "I sell drugs to all these people that their families had to deal with their situation." I got people involved in these situations that I created this whole web of destruction. I wanted to give back. I felt a lot of regret. I prayed in that cell. I actually keeled down. I was like, "God, forgive me, but I want to repay back what I've done in my life and do something better with myself."
Coss Marte: Right away, what clicked to me was working out. I started this whole community of people working out in the prison system. I helped over 20 inmates lose over 1000 pounds combined. I took that as a sign of how I could give back. That's where ConBody was born, in that cell where I started writing my whole... I wrote my book. I have a book that's available on Amazon right now. It's called ConBody. It's basically my whole workout routine, what I was eating, a little bit about my story. I wrote all that stuff out. I was like, "This is what I want to do. I want to start a fitness bootcamp." I called it a prison style bootcamp. I wrote it all down, and I ended up doing an extra year in prison behind that situation. But I came home and I just started doing it. I did what I wrote.
Michael Redd: Wow, man. That's incredible. It's a miracle what happened in that moment. The scripture says, "Hope deferred makes the heart sick." In that environment, in that moment, did that reinvigorate vision within you, man? Because in essence, ConBody was birthed out of that moment.
Coss Marte: Absolutely, absolutely. It saved my life. It saved my life for sure.
Michael Redd: So, you're looking at your body. You're getting ready to come home and you're like, "Yo, I've got to change my body. I've got to change." There's an internal work that's happening in you that now is manifesting outward.
Coss Marte: Well, I started working out in the beginning of my prison sentence. This was towards my end.
Michael Redd: Okay.
Coss Marte: Yeah, so I already lost all the weight. I already helped people workout. I started working out because I had the time. But also, the doctors in prison put me on a medication. I had this high cholesterol level. They said if I didn't start working out or eating correctly that I could probably die of a heart attack within five years. I was really overweight. That's what motivated me to workout. That's when it clicked, the workout click, towards the end of my incarceration. It was, damn, this is what I really want to do. I've been doing this in the yard with other inmates for a long time. I just felt a comradery and a team, and a positive community around it. I came home with the idea.
Michael Redd: It's a powerful, powerful moment, man. The mental toughness, the grit, the resiliency in that environment pushed you to now use your entrepreneurship skills into your second business. Share about ConBody and the business.
Coss Marte: Yeah, so what we do is hire people coming out of the prison system to teach fitness classes, do one on one training, and do also virtual training now. I mean, it's been a blessing. It's been a rollercoaster. It's a journey, but I don't know. I really trust the process. I felt like this is my dream. I'm going to do it no matter what, way how. I came home and I started doing it in local parks, renting out studios, opening up my first facility. And just expanding that way really organically. It was hard. It was extremely hard. Having a background, not having any money, I was trying to find a job. Every time I tried to find a 9:00 to 5:00 job, and I filled out maybe over 100 applications, and none of them called me back or they basically discriminated against me because of my background.
Coss Marte: There was just a lot of incidents where I would go to like Times Square to fill out an application. I remember going to H&M and handing over my application. After it says, "First name, last name." The second line, "Have you ever been convicted of a felony?" It's just so crazy that that was the second question on the application. When you hand that over to that manager, you just see their body language looking at that line. They're telling me they're going to call me back, but I know they're quickly just going to throw this in the garbage. They're just going to ban me from this employment. It was frustrating, it was hard. I went back to nothing. I lost everything, but I had an idea. I had a dream, and I just kept making my dream a reality for sure.
Michael Redd: At this point now of the business man, which is staggering, you've trained over 50,000 people at this point.
Coss Marte: Over 50,000 people across the world.
Michael Redd: Wow.
Coss Marte: It's been crazy. I don't know, it was crazy because I was in solitary confinement. I don't know, this might sound crazy, but I never really told anybody this. I had dreams and I had thoughts about traveling the world and impacting the world in some crazy way. When I came home, I was like, "I'm on parole for a long time. I can't travel," blah blah blah. But I've been blessed to do two laps around the world and go from like Africa to Europe to Asia to Australia, to all the continents, and spread the message. I think most importantly, share my testimonial and train people. Now we have this virtual platform where we have people across everywhere doing the time with us.
Michael Redd: And you've had no recidivism with your trainers.
Coss Marte: Yeah.
Michael Redd: That's powerful, man.
Coss Marte: Yep.
Michael Redd: Wow.
Coss Marte: Yeah, I think what really made that a success and is still making it a success is that we've created a community of formerly incarcerated people that understand that I went through the struggle with them. They understand that it's a team that's holding each other accountable and talking to each other. They become friends outside my box. If anything happens, they're contacted. It's crazy to build a community of people coming out of the system that rely on each other and are a support network. It's been successful. Two weeks ago, I hired my 50th person. We have a zero recidivism rate. That means no one has gone back into the prison system, compared to the national recidivism rate at 76%. Three out of four people that are released will go back, which is sad, man. We've been able to stop that.
Michael Redd: Well done, my brother. Just well done. I continue to be inspired the more I hear about your story. How does that make you feel? Seeing what you've been able to accomplish. I know there's more and more and more to accomplish. Even with the COVID, right? You've had to pivot, I'm sure, from a brick and mortar style with your training to now the digital. You probably saw that coming even before COVID probably a little bit.
Coss Marte: Yeah. I think the last time we spoke, I was trying to raise money to do a virtual offering. We raised a little small round, like a bridge round. We built this online platform. It came on a perfect time where we were just doing this on the side. The gym was open. As soon as COVID hit, everybody was like, "Yo, the videos are there. We're going to have to be able to do this." I remember the first day Governor Cuomo and Bill de Blasio was like, "Every gym has to shut down. Every fitness studio has to shut down." I had a class scheduled for that night where I was going to teach.
Coss Marte: I was like, "Hey, I'm sorry to tell you this, but we just got the message that you guys can't come in. But I'm going to send you a Google link, a Google Hangout link so you guys can do it at home and just hangout with me." We did that, then we quickly switched to a Zoom offering. It was the best decision I made. I mean, it literally was like a 15-minute decision. It's just been crazy. Now we have a 4K camera Zooming in, in all the classes, so people can Zoom and livestream with us. Now we're doing company workouts.
Coss Marte: There's companies that are connected with us now that have their employees, basically playing for their employees to be part of our [inaudible 00:29:31] model, to be on our platform. They get to livestream three times a day if they want. But it just expanded the amount of people we can host. It's unlimited. I've done classes, private classes now, with 800 people, which is crazy to impact. The opportunity is endless. Now I can really expand and see the trajectory. COVID, even though it was a horrible time, it was a blessing. I think in hard times, you find these blessings for sure.
Michael Redd: For those who are listening who have lost hope because of COVID, because of what we've gone through in the last year and a half, unemployment, valley moments in their lives, what advice do you have for those listening?
Coss Marte: I don't know, it's hard. I just actually had COVID. I came out of COVID quarantine about a week and a half ago. I got my vaccine and all that stuff. I've never felt like that. When people describe that sickness, it was just like my body was out. I couldn't move out of bed. I was sleeping 20 hours. I understand family members being lost. I know people that lost their lives because of it, but we've got to keep pushing forward and I guess keep betting on yourself. I had to get up. I had to get up, I had to walk, I had to crawl. I had to get out of it and think outside the box. This is all temporary. This is all temporary. Everything in life is temporary. I think that's how I live my life. Just thinking this shall pass as well. We will get over this and we will move on.
Michael Redd: If you had to give your 16-year-old self any amount of advice, what would you tell your 16-year-old self?
Coss Marte: I wish I would have had somebody that would have told me, "Hey, come check this out." And take me out of this four block radius. Take me out of these corners and think about, there's so many opportunities to there. I felt like I wish I would have had somebody that would have told me that, and brought me, and showed me. I do that a lot today where I tell these kids... I'm going back into the juvenile system, talking to them and working out with them and all that stuff. I tell them, "Yo, I'm making this amount of money. I'm living a good life. I'm living a great life, and I don't have to hide. I don't have to hurt anybody. I feel true freedom with what I do. There's other ways." I always tell them, "Hey, look. What do you want to do?" They say, "Hey, I want to sell my own clothing brand." "So, let's do it. Here you go, these are the tips. This is what you do. This is how I started."
Coss Marte: I remember selling T-shirts on the side. This place was renting out space to screen print. I remember I did like 120 T-shirts. I brought them super cheap and they were all blue. You know how New York City has the city bikes now? I came out with shitty bikes with the same type of logo. I was just always riding around on a city bike and people would laugh at me. I would be like, "Hey, I'm selling these T-shirts." They would be like, "Oh, how much?" I would be like, "$20." I remember selling all the shirts. I was just doing it. Getting out there, and having an idea, and just moving forward with it.
Michael Redd: Well, brother, listen. You are a role model and an inspiration to so many people around the world.
Coss Marte: Thank you.
Michael Redd: I'm proud to know you and have done this podcast with you, brother.
Coss Marte: No, I appreciate you having me. Thank you, Mike.
Michael Redd: Absolutely, buddy. As you heard it, you're always going to be the secret to your success. Thank you. Coss has tasted the best of what the world has to offer, as well as the absolute worst of it. Now, he runs ConBody program. He's trained over 50,000 people around the world, and none of his formerly incarcerated ConBody trainers have gone back to prison. He's inspired many, many more. Thank you so much for coming on the show, Coss. You can follow him on Instagram @CossMarte. Thanks for listening. Until next time, I'm Michael Redd. Remember, betting on yourself is the secret to your success.
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