Sultan is one of the ex-felon Coss Athletics trainers who make a brief appearance in “The Remaking of Coss Marte,” my story that came out last week. He was an incredibly compelling guy in his own right, and I wished I’d been able to give him more space in the story. He probably deserves his own story. Here’s the best I can do, for now anyway.
The man’s a beast — 6-4, just shredded, like an action hero. He’d randomly break out into a British accent (that sometimes sounded Australian), and he said he picked up that habit while he was in prison, where he started doing it just to entertain himself: He served 14 years for armed robbery, and he says he spent nearly half that time in solitary confinement because he just couldn’t stop fighting the guards.
If you’ve read Coss’s story, you know that that was maybe the hardest part of his time in prison — not fighting back when he was abused by the guards. Coss was just — “just” — at a medium security facility.
Sultan? He was in max security the whole time.
He’s a trainer and a model now — that picture is from his Instagram, where he is @sultan_a_malik — and while we were all hanging out, he was reading books on his iPad, studying up on human kinesiology or something like that — he’s getting a degree that’ll help him help people get in shape.
We had a good talk, and there were parts of it I really wanted to share, so here you go.
For instance: He was a stickup guy, meaning he straight-up robbed people, but there were certain codes of honor among guys like him — you can rob certain people, you can’t rob others, that sort of thing. I had no idea.
And he has some eyebrow-raising things to say about the state of prisons in America, at least as far as he’s experienced, and some other stuff.
Here’s our transcript. (Thanks in advance for forgiveness on typos, etcetera.) I’m in italics, with Sultan in regular type …
How’d you get hooked up with Coss?
I was released from prison, Auburn, on May 2, 2014. I had gotten into the fitness world in prison. Just had this idea that okay, I worked out, I did the research, I had brought together all these muscular guys who were stereotypical in prison.
Yeah, he was telling me you were training people in prison.
Yeah, yeah. It’s not so much things you can do when you’re in prison with weights. But in the process, everybody gets bulky, not really knowing the science behind the — the body is awesome. The science in the body, I’m beyond intrigued, so that’s why I’m in school. So I did the research. My journey started by way of a book called the Body Sculpting Bible for Men. And I actually apply what it is I learnt from it.
And within two months I seen a drastic, drastic change. Because I too was muscular, bulky muscular. And I just began to shred. All the guys who work out around me, they seen the change, so they wanted to be a part of my program. So that was just a part of that transition. And mental transition of wanting to pursue the fitness industry. So when I got out, I had the physique, the know-how, the practical part of the know-how, and I just started scouting for clients. And within the first week I had about eight clients whom I was training, within a week of being released.
You live around here? (B note: Lower East Side)
No, I’m from Brooklyn. Best Avenue and New York. So I recruited some people and they referred other people to me, and then I had entered this program called the B2W where Coss works at, by way of public assistance. I didn’t have an immediate source of income, and resorting back to the street life was not an option for me, is not an option for me. So I was meeting with another employee at the B2W who puts together resumes for those who are seeking employment.
What is B2W?
Back to Work program. It’s a section of a requirement of public assistance. So I just was straightforward with the woman, her name is Angie, she’s a good friend of both Coss and myself. And I just told her, like, my life story, in concise form. But I didn’t pull any punches. I told her my agenda, what I had done thus far at this point upon my release, and she smiled at me and said, there’s a guy, someone I want you to meet. Coss just so happened to be her coworker who works right across from her, so she made introductions. She told me to tell him my story. I was a little reluctant, but I was like, why not just continue onward. Just being straightforward.
What were you reluctant about?
Just informing people whom I didn’t know and furthermore didn’t know me about my story. There’s a bias, a prejudice, against people with criminal records. I didn’t want to be looked at in a certain way, a derogatory way, a biased way, anything negative, I didn’t want to be associated with it. But I took the leap of faith and told him about it, and lo and behold, he has the same story as I do. And at that point he already had launched the coss brand, the prison style workout. And that was our initial introduction. From there everything just soared.
I still maintain my clients, he would give me a call and let me know where to meet us outside of the locations he had chosen, and he would gradually introduce me into the fitness group that he runs. And he seen it was this, he told me, “Listen man, you have something with you in terms of a characteristic that draws the people into that mindframe that they want to work out and they want to work out hard, and this is what they came to the session for.”
And my program is like Coss. I always keep his flavor but I also make sure that I put my spin on it.
And mine’s is very like coss, very organized, very intense, very interactive, and it’s result-based.
How much does it mean for you to have somebody like him listen to your story and say yeah, I believe in you, I want to work with you. Because I mean, I can’t imagine, that’s almost terrifying to have to admit to people, because you’re right, there is that bias. So yeah, what was that like?
If I could choose one word, it was intimidating in a sense. I mean, you’re forced to in that circumstance, for me, I felt as though I was forced to fight a demon, to have ot step to the plate and say you know, I just did 14 years in maximum facilities and in the boxes of the boxes, all the terrible places, I wasn’t in mediums and minimums, I was in super maxes, and then the hole on top of that.
So why’d you go in?
I was a stickup kid. I sold drugs but didn’t make enough money fast enough from them. So I used to look for guys who made a lot of money and I would stick them up. Simple as that.
How’d you go about it?
I cant give you too much detail about that. I don’t want to steer you wrong. Let you become tempted.
It landed me facing in 15 years. I pled guilty to 15. And they, the number, if I lost trial, had I went to trial, was 33 years to life. So I pled-bargain. I didn’t tell on anyone, everyone told on me, but I pled down to 15 years, I did this that and the other. I was given 15 years of which I did 14 years.
But I was caught in the mentality, I was caught in that street mentality, and it didn’t really hit me until later on that — “Listen, man, this is a choice. Do you want to live like this? Or do you want to live a different way and seek out a different means to the end that you want?” Which is ultimately success. I want success.
Yeah and Coss tells me you spent a lot of time in solitary.
That is crazy. How did that happen?
You know, you get caught up into the environment. I mean, that begs the question, what influenced people like coss and myself to participate and to be role players in that street life that led to the pipeline to the penitentiary? It’s that environment. It’s shaped by so many rough mentalities, personalities, the COs, corruption, they corrupted, a lot of prisoners are corrupted.
How’d you see that with the COs?
That’s, wow. That’s a huge rock to uncover. I seen so much. Just abusive. It’s abusive. There’s no way that they should have that title, COs, Correction Officers, because it’s not that. It promotes the opposite of reassimilation into society or rehabilitation towards being assimilated into society. It bolsters the recilivism (?) rate because it creates resentment and bitterness and a distortion of reality.
What would the COs do?
Oh wow. I’ve seen them handcuff and beat prisoners up. Starve them out. Not feed them. I’ve seen all types of stuff. I’ve seen COs put hits on prisoners by other prisoners. Oh man. It was on and on. I’ve been subjected to it. It just, it lends itself to the end result. I mean, you keep prisoners remaining prisoners, inside, and if they’re lucky enough to be released, they enter society with a feeling of, I guess it would be hate, and that’s a very strong word, but —
No, I get that. I mean Coss told me stuff that happened to him.
I still have scars on me from being beat up by the COs.
Why would they?
It’s the intimidation factor. In order to control a mass population of men, you’re talking about testosterone, it has to be, and their idea, their minds, assertiveness of authority, it has to be that much more pronounced, so in order to do that, you have to instill fear. You isolate, you antagonize, you abuse, you show your authority in these physical manners. The threats, the verbal harassment, verbal attacks. It’s a system.
And they have it to a point where there isn’t any liability on them. They’re sued civilly. The taxpayers pay for it. Taxpayers pay for their lawyers. Taxpayers pay for the course of litigation against them. The taxpayers pay for the rewards. If the judge awards victory to the plaintiff, the prisoner. So there’s no incentive for them to stop. The transparency isn’t there. The propaganda that’s pushed out to the public is, well, they’re prisoners. This is not, the officers are upstanding citizens. They come to prison drunk. I’ve seen that.
No, I believe you. I just find it all fascinating. It’s not something I ever get to talk to people about. I find this educational. I want to ask you more about that in a minute, but to be clear first — what was it that landed you in solitary so much?
Was it a reaction to some of that and you just lost it?
It, definitely. Definitely. If, I mean, for me, I have a personality where I wont bend. I will humble myself but I will not bend. I will not be degraded, I will not be defiled, I don’t care who it is. I will not allow someone to mentally, emotionally, physically or spiritually beat me down. I wont walk with my chin on my chest. I walk with my head high and my chest out. Not a sense of egotism or pridefulness, but self-respecting.
I’m not gonna let anyone, it also speaks to the prisoners. You got some assholes in every facet of that society. In addition to outside of the prison walls. You always got people who are assholes. So there, I wouldn’t let a prisoner step on my self-respect and my pricinpels and morals, and I don’t want officers to do that either.
Now would I just jump into a situation? No, I wouldn’t do that, because, versus, there’s a fiber in me, that even in the streets, there were certain things I wouldn’t do. People that weren’t part of that life, I wouldn’t rob them. I wouldn’t rob a mom and pop store or a person coming home from work that’s working 9 to 5.
That’s interesting. So the people you would rob, you would make sure, you wouldn’t just go up to random people
You would scout them out first.
Yeah, I would scout them out.
So what was your criteria?
You still want me to steer you wrong here. Because it’s enticing.
I mean, the streets talk. People living that life, you find out who are the main players inside their game, and overall, the game. The hustling game. Because people look at sticking up drug dealers and stuff as a hustle. Just like selling crack, coke, whatever your choice of product is.
It isn’t hard for me, wasn’t hard for me, to tag these individuals and know that they were my source of revenue. The flashy cars or if they were those that liked to keep low profiles, there are still ways to find out who they were. By whatever means, word of mouth, or a woman, there’s, that’s been the downfall of a lot of guys, beautiful women. You know, did something to cause resentment, and in that world, they know there are players like myself who have no problem, or had no problem, that’s a past life, of relieving them of their valuables.
So that’s pretty much the criteria. You’re in a swimming pool of choices. So that was my game, man.
It’s, so is that just you? Did other people just rob whoever they wanted? Were there certain rules?
I’m sure there are. You have people of any
Well that’s, let me rephrase — obviously random people get robbed, mom and pop stores, all that. But I mean, when you’re growing up and involved in all that, was that frowned upon or something by people on the street that you ran with?
Oh yeah. There’s a hierarchy.
There are just certain people you’re not supposed to mess with? Or
Yeah, or dealt with. Or dealt with. It all depends on the environment, and there’s a hierarchy in any society.
If you liked this, please consider buying my new book, Behind the Drive.
As always, thanks for reading.