Portrait

6x8 Portrait is a research project that will explore the impact of mass incarceration on families in the New York City metropolitan area in a way that aims to trigger a national conversation on the topic. 

Coss Marte Part 4: Building the Business, Getting Success and Reconnecting with Family

Coss Marte Part 4: Building the Business, Getting Success and Reconnecting with Family

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On Hiring the ConBody Staff

“It’s not your normal process. I start a conversation and just sit down and feel them out. I just try to keep it as real as possible and not like a sit-down interview. I don’t say, ‘So, tell me something about yourself.’ I don’t really fucking care about your résumé. Like, if you’re a genuine and nice person and you show up on time, you know, that’s what matters.

I get fan jail mail, where people are writing me letters from inside prison and telling me, ‘I got five years left. Save me a spot.’ And I’m like, I hope this...let’s just keep working on it, and let’s see if we could provide more jobs and opportunities. And then I also partner up with other nonprofits, like Defy Ventures. I hired a guy from Defy Ventures. I hired my first guy from my internship at Goodwill. Hour Children. Back on My Feet. I’ve partnered up with a few nonprofits.”

On Participating in the Defy Ventures Business Competition Himself

“When I came home in March 2013, I was out for about two months when I heard about Defy. I was [involved with] another non-profit, Career Gear, that helps men who need suits and interview clothes to go on an interview.

I reached out to [Career Gear], because I needed a business suit. And all the clothes I had...I went from, like, a size 40 to a size 30. I had all my clothes in storage, and I gave them away to Bowery Mission. And I went over [to Career Gear], and they gave me, like, a thousand-dollar Theory suit. And I was like, what? I’m getting this for free? And they were like, you can get more stuff if you join our program. So, I joined it and was going to their workshops and one day, Defy Ventures, this guy named Ryan José, spoke about the program and explained everything about it.

And they was like, if you want to start your business, we give up to a 100,000 dollars in microloans. And I was like, what? I wanna do this ASAP. So I signed up for it and got involved and stayed in the program for a little over a year. It was an extremely hard program and intense and a lot of work, but it paid off.”

On His Relationship with His Son

“So my relationship with my son going in, I don’t know...He was not really talking and communicating that much. So [what I told him] was just basically that I’m going away. And his mom would bring him to the visit rooms when I was on Riker’s Island very often, probably like once a week.

She did a good job of raising him...But, yeah, I mean, I taught my son how to say the ABCs over the phone and stuff like that.

My kid’s going to kindergarten, you know, and having him speak on the phone, I was just like, I’ve seen the whole transition—from him not being able to speak to him writing me little cards with messed up handwriting…

[Now,] I see him once a week mostly. Our relationship is great. He sees me and brags about me at school in class, and he’s like, ‘My daddy’s stronger than your daddy,’ you know...He’s very proud.”

On His Siblings and How They Dealt with His Incarceration

“I have two sisters and a younger brother. I say that my family, not gave up on me—they were there, and they were supportive—but they didn’t really believe that I was coming home and doing the right thing when I came home. It took a little while...not until I joined the Defy program and they seen the dedication I had.

Sometimes, my siblings even said that they wouldn’t mention that they had another brother.

Both my sisters grew up in the Dominican Republic and came [to New York City] when they were 13 or 12 years old in the early 90s. They just grew up in a different lifestyle.

My sisters became very successful. My sister was the first Hispanic woman to reach executive director at Goldman Sachs. My other sister is at an insurance company as an underwriter. My brother is now running for city council for the downtown district, which he’s most likely going to win. We all took different routes. I just made more money than them in a different way [through selling drugs]. I was crazy.

On “Broome and Eldridge” (ConBody’s Slogan)

“I grew up around Broome and Eldridge, and my mom is two blocks away from Broome and Eldridge and Rivington Street. But Broome and Eldridge was, like, the block where I was allowed to sell drugs at, because somebody already had the corner on Rivington. So, every block was like a different drug corner. And then Broome and Eldridge, I was like, basically I had a mentor—a drug mentor—and followed his footsteps and worked for him. And that was the corner where I started really selling drugs at.

Now we have the gym on that corner. Broome and Eldridge is something we’re trying to brand—how it’s more than just, like, the name of the street. It’s how things can turn around and come back full circle in a positive way.”

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On How ConBody Ended Up in Saks Fifth Avenue

It’s crazy. So, I’ve been doing a lot of speaking engagements, and I had the opportunity to speak at FounderMade, which is a huge wellness conference. It happens once a year in February. And I was the keynote speaker there, alongside, like, the founder of CRX and these huge fitness CEOs. And I spoke there, and everybody just felt my story because it was just so real. There were so many other wellness companies that are boojie—you know, pilates and spinning classes and shit. I just kept it real, and a lot of people approached me afterwards. And this lady came up to me—and I didn’t know who she was—and was like, ‘I wanna help you; I wanna help you.’ And I was like, alright, okay.

She was like, let me get your card. And I was like, I don’t use cards. I send out e-mails. So I sent her an e-mail right away, and we communicated. And then she responded with: ‘Saks Opportunity.’ And I’m like, ‘Saks opportunity,’ what the hell is this? So, we hop on the phone, and she tells me about the wellness space [the Wellery].

This is just three months ago. And she was like, ‘Are you down?’ And I was like, fuck yeah! And we quickly moved and made things happen ASAP.

On the ConBody Clientele

“I say primarily females. About 75/25 percent split between female and male. Young professionals, 25 to 35. A lot of millennials who believe that, you know, investing in a social-movement company is the right thing to do…They come and want to hang out with us, and we really break down the stereotype between formerly incarcerated individuals and young professionals.”

On Reintegrating Formerly Incarcerated Men and Women Back into Society

“I think people need to realize that everybody is human, and everybody commits mistakes. I feel like everybody’s probably gotten in a car with somebody who’s, like, drinking or somebody has smoked weed or some little crime that could probably lead you in the same situations that we were in. And we just need to realize we were young or grew up in different neighborhoods where, you know, authorities targeted us more than other places. That we’re just human beings...real people who want to be accepted and just move forward.”

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On How You Can Get Involved with ConBody

“Sign up for ConBody.com. $5 a month. You can virtually work out with your favorite formerly incarcerated individual. Come support us. Follow us on Instagram @conbody.”

Year 1 by Takia Parham

Year 1 by Takia Parham

Takia “Judah” Parham Part 3: Family, Reconnecting and Moving Past Shame

Takia “Judah” Parham Part 3: Family, Reconnecting and Moving Past Shame