It was 2009 when at the age of 23 Coss Marte found himself in prison for the third time, for heading up a multi-million dollar cocaine and weed ring in New York state. Almost a decade later he has harnessed the brains he used to build a lucrative drugs empire to run a fitness business that has seen him host a pop-up store at the luxury Saks Fifth Avenue department store.
Overweight and with dangerously high cholesterol, doctors told Marte that if he didn't radically change his lifestyle he would be dead in a few of years. Determined to avert the prediction of doom, he began working out in his cell and prison yard, using only his body weight to shift 70lbs in six months.
Upon his release, he became a personal trainer and eventually launched a prison-style workout boot camp in New York. Now 32, Marte heads up a team of 17 fellow ex-convict personal trainers, and is helping to roll out fitness programmes in US prisons to help inmates find jobs on the outside.
"Most of the time you're rejected because of your background and not allowed to work. That's the issue we want to fix," he told IBTimes UK.
Looking ahead to the future, Marte wants to expand his business to locations including Brooklyn as well as Boston, Washington DC, LA, and eventually overseas.
"I don't think I can call myself successful yet," he added. "I'm just working day to day and just getting up and delivering. And that's the same thing I did when I was selling drugs. I kept going 24 hours a day, and kept growing and I had a huge team. I didn't start making millions overnight, it was little by little."
"You have to keep striving and pushing and it's a process. You have to trust in that no matter what happens you are going to be OK. You're going to wear clothes, you're going to eat and be OK."
Ahead of the release of his first book , Marte revealed to IBTimes UK some prison hacks - he learned from fellow inmates over the years, using only items available in commissary (or that could be pinched from guards).
"You can make this at home, but it's not that healthy," warned Marte. "I don't recommend that people live off this, but it was something we did in prison."
First, open a packet of Doritos and gently crush the crisps. Then, flavour with half a packet of instant ramen noodle seasoning. Crush Cheez-Its and ramen noodles, then add them to the Doritos and mix.
Next, peel the skin off a Slim Jim meat stick, break it up and add to the mixture. Slice half an onion and toss in the bag, either using a plastic knife from the cafeteria or the top of a tuna can.
Mix again, and pour in hot water slowly while massaging the bag and pushing down the noodles. Fold the Doritos bag so it is closed, and wait three minutes. Then peel open at the seam so the packet forms a plate. Dress with mayo and ketchup before eating.
"We used a wire and battery to start a fire," he said. "This is how we used to light cigarettes."
First, strip the wire from the headphones that come with a portable radio. Then, connect the wire to the negative and positive sides of a battery to spark a little heat.
"We'd take a string from a fresh mop, and keep that as a wick to burn slowly."
The best cheesecake
"We used to make the best cheesecakes," recalled Marte. "We would take a lot of cookies, crush them up really fine and pour water on top to make a dough. Press it around a bowl and microwave for 10 seconds."
Next, take cream cheese and jellies candies and Oreo cookies and mix together. "Throw it on the base, then cover the bowl and microwave for a minute.
"Take it out and freeze it overnight," explained Marte adding: "We'd do that by getting ice from a machine and throwing it in a bucket and covering it."
"It was fine to make a cheesecake, but if you were caught with alcohol you would be sent to solitary confinement for eight months," said Marte.
"We would take fruits from the cafeteria and we would steal a gallon jug of laundry detergent. It was nasty but we rinsed it out so it was clean.
"Then you let fruit rot until you smell the alcohol, and take powdered juice and a bit of hot water and melt it."
Let this sit and fill it with more juice, sugar, and then yeast. To create yeast, inmates boiled up bread and used coffee filters stolen from guards to filter the bread. "Eight days later you have wine," Marte declares.
"There were limited can openers so we used to take nail clipper and use the clipper to open the can. Once you get used to it you can open a can in five seconds," Marte concludes.