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 1: The Lower East Side, The Drug Trade and His Mom

Coss Marte Part 1: The Lower East Side, The Drug Trade and His Mom

Growing up on the Lower East Side, Coss Marte wanted one thing: to be rich. At the age of 19, he had achieved his dream. He was making over $2 million a year selling cocaine and marijuana on the corner of Broome and Eldridge. As a drug kingpin, he was driving fancy cars and could buy anything he wanted—until he got caught at the age of 23 and was sentenced to seven years in prison. 

At his physical examination in prison, the doctor told him that his cholesterol levels were so high—because of the sedentary life he had lived as a drug dealer—that he would likely die within five years. Marte was in such bad health that he could not even run two laps around the prison yard.

But with a two-year-old son on the outside, Marte was determined not to die in prison. He started doing pushups in his small cell and within six months lost 70 pounds. He started teaching his workout to fellow inmates and learned that he liked teaching and that his workout routine had a similar effect on others. While in solitary confinement, Marte hatched a plan to open his own studio when he got out. 

After serving four years of his sentence, Marte was released. He came back to the Lower East Side and started a boot-camp-style workout company, Coss Athletics, often teaching classes in Sara D. Roosevelt Park. He later rebranded the company to ConBody, wanting to be up-front about the fact that all of his trainers are all formerly incarcerated men and women. ConBody now has two studios that offer multiple classes each week day—one on the Lower East Side, close to the corner where Marte used to sell drugs, and one in the Wellery, a floor at Saks Fifth Avenue that is dedicated to health, beauty, and fitness. One of the studios is designed to look like a prison cell, the other a prison yard. ConBody’s slogan is “Do the time.” Marte has had incredible success and is committed to giving his clients a better workout and his employees a second chance.  

On Growing up on the Lower East Side and Getting Involved in the Drug Trade

“I was born and raised in the city, and the Lower East Side was where I was raised at. The Lower East Side, back in the day, was more of a community but more dangerous. I say now it’s less of a community but safer, so it’s like a give or take. Growing up, I seen drugs in my neighborhood at a very early age—people shooting up heroin in the staircases. It was just crazy, hearing gun shots and seeing gang members and stuff like that and having family members go down that line themselves. I was exposed to a lot of that stuff as a kid.”

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On His Relationship with His Mom

“My relationship with my mom was pretty close [growing up]. But growing up in a Hispanic family is pretty different, where you don’t, like, hug or say ‘I love you’ or stuff like that. It’s more of a tough love situation. My mom worked in a sewing factory on Bleecker St. She didn’t really have childcare for me, so she used to bring me and sneak me under the sewing machine, and I would watch her work. She had to sew these little t-shirts for, like, babies. And for every item she sewed, there was a like a commission of ten cents or a few cents. And she was making—I don’t know—nothing. That’s how I grew up, and that’s what I seen. Growing up in that lifestyle and seeing my mom, not having much, provide for me. I would go to school, and people would have everything they want, around my neighborhood. It’s not a very rich neighborhood, but other kids had more than me. And I wanted that stuff. And people would ask me, ‘What do you want to do when you grow up?’ and I would tell them I wanted to be rich. And that was my goal in my head all the time. I wanted to be rich. I wanted to be rich. I wanted to really make it, and the first opportunity was through the world of drugs. I started messing around with the guys on the corner. A few of them were my family members, so I would just hang out there. It was another sort of childcare, because my mom was working so much. And I would see them selling drugs, and it was just a normal thing. At 13, I started dealing drugs with them, and I got arrested. It just quickly starting progressing. From 13 to 27, I went in ten times. I was arrested 10 times…three-time felon. It [became] a revolving door. As soon as I got arrested the first time and had cuffs on me as a kid, I felt like ‘Whatever. I’ve already started this lifestyle; I’m just going to continue it. I’m in a gang; nobody’s going to take me out.”

Coss Marte Part 2: Moving In and Out of the System

Coss Marte Part 2: Moving In and Out of the System

Takia “Judah” Parham Part 2: Prison and Bedford Hills

Takia “Judah” Parham Part 2: Prison and Bedford Hills