One thing that makes Coss Marte proud is that he’s always been good at math. His mother, a Dominican teacher who moved to New York while still pregnant with him, used to homeschool him when she was not working in a factory.
“I learned to do multiplication before I even went to school,” Marte told Latino Rebels.
At the age of 13, his talent for numbers made him dream of one day becoming a graduate student in commerce. But the neighborhood where he was born and raised, the Lower East Side of Manhattan during the tumultuous 80s and 90s, made him believe that the marijuana business was the best way, if not the only way, to succeed through to his talent for Numbers.
His illicit career quickly landed him a few stints in prison, including in 2009 when he was named head of a multimillion-dollar drug operation.
“I was arrested about nine times. Coming in and out was like a revolving door,” Marte said, recalling the ways of his “old self.”
Yet, despite his time behind bars, his only goal was to make more money. “Every time I went inside, I thought I was strategically waiting to come out to do something bigger and bigger,” he said.
It took a stint in solitary confinement, where he sat around the clock in a cell with no communication, with limited food and only a few showers a week, to lead him to what he describes as a spiritual awakening. .
“It was a tough time when I just started to really think things through,” he recalls. “I basically read the Bible cover to cover, and realized that what I was doing was really wrong, and how many people I was affecting because of the things I was doing in my life. And so i swore i was gonna go out and do something good.
On leaving confinement, a warning from the medical staff about his very high cholesterol level fueled a desire to train. Running and using the pull-up bar in the backyard, he developed an effective system for losing weight and getting in shape through bodyweight workouts. Marte transformed the saving and liberating experience into a method, then into an idea for a new business.
Today, Marte is the CEO of body, a gym on his native Lower East Side, which also operates in jails and jails across the country. With two exceptions, all of Marte’s 50 employees were hired after leaving the prison system.
“Success”, he said. “It’s just about being a person for others, being and treating people well. This is where I get my reward. It’s not real stuff, because we get stuff and then we get bored. But when we see someone flourish, and we give someone an opportunity and they take advantage of it, and they move on and start doing amazing work, that’s real success. .
Marte is also co-founder of Conbud, which, like Conbody, aims to give former inmates a second chance. He is one of 900 applicants awaiting a license by the New York Cannabis Management Office to be among the premier recreational cannabis dispensaries in the state. The first round of 150 licenses, 70 of which will be located in New York City, will go to people who have experience running a successful business and have previous marijuana convictions or their family members.
Viewing prior marijuana convictions as an advantage for the first licensing group is an unprecedented approach, unique to New York, and has been hailed by cannabis advocates as a way to redress historical inequities.
“The cannabis business, I feel like, it’s just kind of a fix for me growing up in this neighborhood, being pulled over by cops probably over 200 times and being searched, and thrown in jail for a bag of weed”, Marte . “I feel like this is an opportunity for us to make money, and I can also have employees of my own and create more generational wealth, and give back to the community I work with.”
About President Biden’s pardon for the thousands of Americans convicted of minor federal offenses related to marijuana possession, Marte says it’s a good start because it opens up a conversation about cannabis-related sentencing.
“Cannabis didn’t kill anyone. You don’t see anyone smoking a joint and wanting to start a fight in a bar. It is used for recreation, for relaxation and for medical services,” explained Marte.
He agrees with Biden’s recommendation to the Department of Health and Human Services and the Attorney General to downgrade cannabis as a Schedule I drug, which bumps it up alongside much more dangerous substances like cannabis. heroin and LSD, and even above crystal meth, OxyContin and fentanyl.
“I think (marijuana) should definitely be used responsibly,” Marte said. “It’s a flower, it’s a plant. I don’t think we should incarcerate people for this anymore.
Last summer, Marte was asked to address Congress on providing opportunities for formerly incarcerated people.
“What if you were judged for the worst thing you’ve ever done in your life? he asked members of the Senate Small Business Committee.
When asked for advice for young people who might be facing the same circumstances he encountered on the Lower East Side as a 13-year-old, Marte told Latino Rebels: “To any young person who thinks the streets are the way to success, I would tell them, for example, try to get out of that four-block radius that you live in. There are so many other opportunities to make money.”
According to data published by the Youth Justice Research Collaborative in 2020, youth arrests in New York dropped by more than 40%, but the racial disparity is overwhelming, with black and Latino youth accounting for 93% of arrests.
“When I was a kid, I only saw the street. We didn’t have a phone, we didn’t have social media. Today we have so many eye-opening opportunities,” Marte noted.
“Do some research on that,” he added. “Jump on it. Be patient and trust the process. There are other ways to do it, and if you keep doing the right thing, trust me, the good stuff will come back.
Juan de Dios Sanchez-Jurado is a summer correspondent for Futuro Media. A Colombian writer, lawyer and journalist, he is currently studying at the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism at the City University of New York. Twitter: @diosexmaquina