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The New York Post
Inside a small room on the Lower East Side, a group of sweaty, grunting females attempts pullups on crude bars.
What appears to be the local county lockup — there are prison bars, a spot for mug shots and even occasional meals served on industrial trays — is actually hot fitness studio ConBody, which is attracting devotees of posh studios like SoulCycle and Pure Yoga.
The draw for pampered New Yorkers, who will most likely never see the inside of a jail cell? Classes taught by buff ex-convicts.
"I found it on Gilt," says class participant Katie Williams of the Lower East Side, referring to the luxury discount site hawking Christian Dior accessories and tennis lessons.
"I like the rustic feel of this," adds Williams, a 24-year-old account executive, noting the contrast between ConBody's bare-bones aesthetic and the typical mirrored studios she frequents.
ConBody is the brainchild of convicted drug dealer Coss Marte.
After his release from upstate's Greene Correctional Facility in 2013, Marte was unable to find employment. He did, however, have an idea for a no-frills, prison-style boot camp, having lost 70 pounds serving his four-year sentence by using his own body weight to get toned and fit.
Initially, he gained a following by training groups in Sara D. Roosevelt Park and a rented space in a preschool.
In January 2016, Marte opened up his own studio on Broome and Eldridge streets - the same corner where he once sold drugs - and began hiring fellow excons as trainers and maintenance and customer-service workers.
The former drug kingpin has managed to tap into people's morbid curiosity about prison, which has been stoked by shows such as "Oz" and "Orange Is the New Black." In fact, when participants take their mug-shot selfies, they ask him for pointers.
"A lot of people ask, 'Do I smile? Do I keep a serious face? Do I turn this way?' They want to get the right position," says Marte, a charismatic 31-year-old father of one.
In April, Marte organized a 10K run dubbed the "Prison Break," and this month he landed a marquee spot inside the Saks Wellery, Saks Fifth Avenue's new wellness pop-up at its flagship store.
"After I closed the deal with [Saks], I stepped out of the building and felt like crying," says Marte, who walked the 50 blocks home to diffuse all of his emotions and clear his mind.
"I never would have imagined [finding myself in this position] four years ago sitting in a prison cell in lockdown." Jill Reinholt, a Greenwich Village resident who also found ConBody on Gilt, swears by the penitentiary-style sweat sessions.
"It's the only place I've ever been where I'm motivated and inspired and I laugh," says the 28-year-old teacher of the studio's $30, 45-minute classes.
Marte has even launched monthly prison-food pop-ups where his chef pal Kelly Zavala cooks up Salvadoran grub for $10 a pop.
"We promote it as 'prison food' but it's really good," says Marte. "It's much better than the food I had in jail." Beyond fetishizing the prison experience, ConBody has a laudable social mission, which is to employ those who can't find jobs because of their rap sheets.
"In talking to Coss and hearing his back story and upbringing, I'm very proud of them and happy for what they've done," says Reinholt.
Inside the modest LES studio, there are no locks on the lockers. People simply toss their belongings inside and trust that - in a room staffed by ex-cons - their bags will be not be touched.
"It's about trusting that we're people and human beings. When people come in for the first time, they are nervous and don't know what they are getting into.
And they realize that we break down the stereotype and make everyone feel like human beings," says Marte, who recently launched an online class subscription.
He is also in talks to franchise ConBody in cities across the country and even in Australia, which was once a British penal colony.
"People believe the product is good.
It's not like your bougie Barry's or SoulCycle," says Marte.
And it's not just workout buffs who want a piece of Marte's concept.
"It's crazy. I get fan-jail-mail every week," he says. "They say things like, 'I have two years left and I want to join ConBody.'"
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