At 6 years old, my two older sisters came from the Dominican Republic to live in my home, which meant less resources and space. There were six of us living in a tenement apartment in the Lower East Side of Manhattan. My mom would dress me in my sisters' hand-me-downs, which was embarrassing.
From an early age my goal was to break the cycle of poverty. People would ask me, "What did I want to be when I grew up?" I would tell them I wanted to be rich. My first opportunity to get out of poverty was through selling drugs.
I began smoking marijuana by the age of 11. By 13, I made my first sell. My role models were guys on the corner who wore the big chains and dressed in the best clothes. So, I purchased my first ounce to sell and took it to school. I knew the smoking crowd would buy my product because of the convenience and quality. Soon I was working my own corner, where I pitched drugs with other local dealers who respected my hustle.
I sold all day and all night.
Eventually, I had a cocaine distribution ring in New York City.
I reached my goal of becoming rich by age 19, making more than a million dollars a year.
I was only 13 when I was arrested for the first time, for smoking weed in my local park. I received just a slap on the wrist. From then on, I was in and out of jail for the next 10 years, serving a total of six years. I was charged with running a cocaine distribution service in the city. I supervised over 20 people, and I developed routes to deliver drugs 24 hours a day, seven days a week. I thought I had everything under control until I was caught by federal agents and sentenced to seven years in prison.
My personal transformation happened behind bars.
I was sent to "the box" after an altercation with a prison officer. After I was beaten, I was shoved into the cell and forced to do nothing but think. I asked myself "Why?" How did I end up here?
Meals and showers were minimal because the officer put the word out to punish me. I developed a routine of reading books, sleeping and writing letters all day. I wrote a 10-page letter to my family and realized I didn't have a stamp to send it, which was frustrating and humbling.
After I had been in solitary for 2½ weeks, my sister wrote to me and suggested I read Psalm 91 from the Bible. My whole perspective on life changed. I began to believe that my purpose was to give back instead of destroying individuals around me. I realized selling drugs was wrong. What I was doing was not only affecting my son and family, but the thousands of people I sold drugs to as well.
The web of destruction I was creating was so awful that I asked God "How can I give back?"
I turned to fitness. Early on in my sentence, prison doctors told me that I could die if I didn't get my cholesterol levels down. I started exercising, and I lost 70 pounds in six months. The prison yard became my training facility, where I helped other inmates lose more than a thousand pounds combined.
It was super difficult when I came home. I didn't have any place to go and ended up sleeping on my mom's couch for a year.
Then I found Defy Ventures
, a nonprofit that helps ex-cons start their own businesses.
Now, my life has come full circle. I started ConBody, where I run a prison-style boot camp and hire formerly incarcerated individuals to teach fitness classes. I'm now giving others the opportunity to be treated as humans and break down barriers between ex-convicts and the general population. That's my goal: bringing people together to show we are not scary, we are normal.