Ray was one of the ex-felons who works with Coss now who made a brief appearance in “The Remaking of Coss Marte.”

Ray also wore me out — when I was reporting Coss’s story in New York, I watched Coss lead one class, then participated in Ray’s class after that. I haven’t really worked out in a year, probably. A one or two mile jog here or there, some pushups and situps every once in awhile, but nothing like I used to do — no getting in the gym every day or anything like that.

So I’m out of shape. Problem is, I still want to think I am in shape. So when I started Ray’s class, I went hard, like I used to when I actually was in shape, and within 30 minutes I was dizzy and nauseous and cramping, and yeah, I’m not proud to admit it, but I quit. I went to the bathroom, dry-heaved, then hung out with Coss and his girlfriend until class was done. Felt real big about that, yep.

Ray wore a “Punisher” t-shirt, with the skull on it and everything. It was fitting.

I got to hang out with Ray for a few hours afterward, and he was a cool dude. He sent me the nicest email afterward, too, just thanking me for my time.

That meant a lot to me. With journalism, I just sort of feel like I’m taking from people for my own gain a lot of times. I forget how much it means to people just to be heard. Ray reminded me how lucky I am to have this as my job.

I thought Ray also had a compelling personal story, so I wanted to share part of our transcript here. He grew up a pretty well-off kid, got into the street life to prove himself to his buddies, and along the way he got really fat and unhealthy, and it took a humiliating experience on the basketball court to kick him back into gear. Then he lost a ton of weight and now he’s just wearing people out in those Coss Athletics classes.

He and Coss met through Defy Ventures, which, if you’ve read Coss’s story, you know is an amazing nonprofit that works with illegal entrepreneurs to make them successful legal entrepreneurs.

I’m in italics, Ray’s in regular type …

~

You got up with Coss through Defy?

Yeah actually, when I got to Defy, I was recruited there the year after he was there. So he graduated and I was recruited into the next class. He was a poster child for recruiting people. When you go to admissions, to open house, they use stories. I actually joined because of his story. I was like yo, I gotta be part of this. I was not expecting to actually get to work with him.

What were you doing before?

I was selling drugs, robbing people. I was, that was my MO. Before I got to Defy … my life before Defy though … I barely remember.

So was it sort of the same thing, you just grew up believing these things were normal, were fine, were life.

I didn’t really, I actually joined the streets because it was a thing to do, easier than college. I wasn’t gonna, I wasn’t in need of the street. My mom and my pop were well off.

I was like, I grew up with a lot, surrounding me was a lot of kids who came from broken home, so I was always teased, like, “Oh, you got all that money from your parents!”

I always felt like I had to get something on my own. So that’s why I was on the street. I had to prove to these kids that I don’t need my parents. And it was just a whacky decision. But I felt like I had to

Prove yourself.

Yeah. I literally dropped out of high school just a credit away from graduating, just to hit the street. To prove I could make it.

So where did that, how did that play out?

Basically I built up a quarter million dollars in profits. I made a lot of money. Sold weed, coke, dope — ecstasy was my main thing. But then the pharmaceutical drugs came in, and that killed my flow. That’s when I decided to start robbing other drug dealers.

What was your MO? Gun? Knife?

No, actually, I was never — I was just a B&E. I would get somebody in your inner circle who was not being paid right who knew a lot of information, and I would pay him part of whatever I took from your house.

So you didn’t just go hold people up.

No. that’s the bigger charge. My brother was actually locked up for that. And he told me that if you ever get into that, don’t use a gun. ‘Cause the guns, they’re gonna hit you with breaking and entering, assault, possession of a weapon. That’s so many charges. But if I just get caught inside the apartment, I don’t even get charged with possession of whatever I’m trying to steal. I’m just breaking and entering. So that’s a lot less of a sentence if you get caught. It’s a lot less, you’re not gonna lose your life if you’re just standing there in an apartment.

So what is it that made you decide to stop doing all that and get up with Defy?

Cops raided my house one day at 5 in the morning. They had me but they didn’t have me. They had everything, but they just couldn’t connect the dots. So I know, I was on probation, I didn’t actually go to jail, but they took all my properties, all my houses, all my cars. I was upset.

I would rather give all that up than lose my freedom. Because if I was to go to trial and lose I was facing 20 years. I was not trying to do that.

So did you ever have to go to prison?

I never went to prison, no. Thankfully.

So after the folks raided you, you got up with Defy?

I did two years probation. I completed my probation, and I was like, three years, just, I wasn’t hustling for 3 years. Just back and forth, lazy shit, worked for Fedex, worked for moving companies, and I was fed up. I went through depression, gained a lot of weight. Said let me just go back to school.

Went and got my GED. I got that at City College, and I used City College membership to the gym for free, started using that gym for free. Met some guy in there who started training me and I was in there every day.

Why’d you start working out so hard? 

Went down, went to play ball. I loved to play ball, I played ball in high school. Went down, and this old man just carved me up. I was like “Oh, no.” I was like 27 years old. I was like, “You cannot beat me!” That’s when I started taking this weight loss shit seriously. I was like, I can’t, I pride myself on this, and this guy is cooking me. It was a reality check. It’s like God sent him to me.

After that I was going to the gym every day, swimming, running, whatever. Before you knew it I just got addicted to this fitness life. More than those drugs I was doing.

Before I knew it, I had a six-pack. I gotta show you a before and after …

Screen Shot 2015-04-27 at 4.28.43 PM

 

So, the rest of your story?

I started New Year’s 2013. By summer 2013 I had the six-pack showing, and by New Year’s 2014, I was a new man. By then I was already a certified personal trainer.

So, Defy?

Met with Defy last year around this time (February). I met Jose. I met him at the gym. It’s crazy, I mean, I met Jose in the gym. He didn’t know I had a felony because I was always well spoken around him. He was like “Yo, you know anybody with a felony?”

I’m like, “Yo, me!”

“Whatchu mean? You gotta felony?”

“Yeah!”

“Watchua mean?”

“I gotta felony!”

“Yo! Would you want to get down with this program I’m down with?”

The rest is history. I went to the open house, I saw (Coss’s) story. It’s crazy. I get goosebumps. I’m working for him, and he’s one of the reasons why I joined Defy. So it’s like full circle with Defy.

I didn’t expect to work with him at all. I didn’t even expect to like meet him. When my class started, he came in and he gave a speech. He spoke to us, the EITs (Entrepreneurs-In-Training) that were joining that year. I’m class number four, he’s class number three.

So what do you think of all that coss is doing?

It’s inspiring man. Yo, I don’t, I can’t put it into words. But it feels like, it’s meant to be. Just, the way we were, where we were at, that’s not the way, that ain’t the way to live. The way was going about life without responsibilities. It wasn’t right.

What does it mean to you to have something like this you can fall into after — because a lot of times, you get a felony and you’re kinda screwed at that point, but this has almost been the opposite. It’s given you the opportunity. What’s that mean to you? And people like you from the same neighborhoods and same background, and all that?

It makes me feel valued, man. Makes me feel valued. Because before you feel helpless. Now you feel like oh, there’s actually people out there that could still care about us.

Like you feel like a real person?

Absolutely. I feel like a real person. I feel valued. I feel like I have some sort of value to me after I got into Defy.

Before Defy I don’t think I would’ve ever thought about being CEO of anything. I would’ve just been jumping from job to job and eventually would’ve just gone back to school for something. But doing nothing in the world.

What are you going to be CEO of?

My business is, I’m going into the youth sports development industry, and I’m using the development I learned from Defy to help mentor these kids. Because when I was a kid, I used to play ball. I had a scholarship to Lafayette University, and I lost it. I must’ve shot out every single CL in my knee. And that’s what made me funnel through a whole bunch of bad decisions. That was like, my turning point.

Yeah that’s devastating.

So imagine a kid having everything set for him. I was a star athlete. I wasn’t like the best player on the team, I was the second best maybe, but I had a lot of popularity in school. So once I shot out my knee, that was my third game of my senior season, and I was out the whole season. We had the whole season, and I thought I was gonna get back to my normal abilities, but every time I went to cut, it was over. I wasn’t the same. I wouldn’t move the same, I wouldn’t jump as high, I couldn’t run as fast. The sky was falling. The scouts were falling out. I wasn’t the same player. They gave me a semester by semester scholarship. If I were to meet certain clauses in my athletic career then they would extend my scholarship. I felt like I couldn’t afford that.

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  1. […] Coss confirmed something for me that I’d long hoped was true: That many people who scare us are people we just don’t understand — and people who have gone most of their lives being misunderstood. (See my posts about some of his employees, Sultan and Ray. […]