I went to ConBody this morning. It’s a bootcamp workout on the Lower East Side, with a well documented story and theme around…convicts. Or ex-cons, to be exact. The space isn’t a workout room, but a jail cell, complete with a cell door. The wall features a mural of chain link and figures in hoodies. The logo is a clock with barbed wire on it. The hashtag is #dothetime. The branding is genius, and has landed a ton of press.
What’s more genius is that this is a business that actually does help to get convicted felons back in the employment market. It makes their prison time an asset, not a detriment, in their career as physical fitness instructors. It won’t get them back all their rights, but at least it gets them jobs. The founder, Coss Marte, from everything I have read, seems a genuinely nice guy, from a family committed to social good: his brother Christopher is running for district councilman in New York on a strong community service platform (Their mom was handing out his election pamphlets after she did the class with us. AWWWW)
Incarceration is a serious problem in this country: the US locks up more people per capita than any other country. Two million people are estimated jailed in this country, or just under 1% of all the adults in America.
Incarceration has been called “the new Jim Crow“: a race-biased system that perpetuates the caste system in America. In her book on this topic, Michelle Alexander argues that incarceration is a method to keep black Americans “in their place”, a seemingly fair, equal and just system that instead is skewed towards POCs. Not only does prison take away the freedom of a felon temporarily, but it is a permanent black mark that prevents that individual from fully exercising his rights in the future. He may not be able to vote. He may not be readily hired to work, resulting in economic disadvantage.
The prison system in America is known to be profitable and corrupt. Not only do we have the for-profit corporation in a popular Netflix series, but even Margaret Atwood has written satire about prison economics Now we may be recognizing the justice system as the new vehicle for racial sublimation.
So it is with no small amount of social irony that I, a middle class white woman, went off to do a bootcamp workout, in a room full of other middle class white people. And it was a fine workout. It was a bootcamp workout. It was a hard bodyweight bootcamp workout. And I appreciate and respect that. I especially appreciate and respect that Coss Marte has managed to wrap up an equipment-free bodyweight bootcamp workout into a brand package that manages to be tough love and inspirational, threatening in a safe way. He’s managed to make prison into a weight loss and transformation narrative that sells his service product for him. He doesn’t need to buy thousand dollar bikes when he has that story to tell.
Now, ConBody has been extended into its own space at the ridiculously named Saks Fifth Avenue Wellery. That is an even more glaring social irony. From everything I have ever read about that neighborhood and that store, the women at the Saks location must make the girls down at the LES space I went to look like street punks. I would bet that if they saw a ConBody instructor outside the space in a hoodie, the same UES women would clutch their pearls and eye him warily, perpetuating the same criminal stereotype bias. Yet there’s the workout, and the same ex-cons leading it, in a space that also houses a fucking salt cave. Is that a bright spot in the dark horrors of prejudice in America? Or is it just a ridiculous juxtaposition?
Either way. My quads are tired. A 7am workout followed by a stressful day of chasing clients around their own offices is exhausting. I’ve taken my magnesium and now I’m going to go handwrite in my private journal until I fall asleep.
And I would like to add that I did the time and then thought about rewarding myself for my “incarceration workout” with a cup of butter coffee with maca in it. Then I realized how ridiculous I was being even thinking that sentence and got the hell out of the Lower East Side before I could spend the $7.50. There’s being a spoiled white girl doing a jail themed workout, and then there’s going out after it to blow the same amount of money that some of my fellow New Yorkers probably have for food for the entire day on a specialty drink, and that was just one upper middle class wellness luxury item too far.