This fitness entrepreneurship class is a second chance for formerly incarcerated

When Hector Guadalupe got out of prison, he hit barriers. He founded A Second U so others wouldn’t have to go through what he did.

When Joel Ramsey was incarcerated, he turned to fitness for his mental and physical well-being.

“During my time in prison, fitness was my therapy. I used to train for two hours a day, six times a week just for mental health and physical health reasons, ”says the man from 35, who was incarcerated for 11 years.

Upon his release, he went to a halfway house, where he was recruited into a program by A Second U Foundationwhich gives formerly incarcerated people the skills to become personal trainers in the New York area.

The program, says Ramsey, helps people reintegrate into society. Volunteers, mentors and coaches understand the anxieties and obstacles of reintegrating into society, he adds.

“It’s a therapy-like community,” says Ramsey, who runs his own training business, including a home gym and fitness classes.

He acted as a recruiter and coach for the Foundation as well as a mentor.

“When you come back from prison, you are at a huge disadvantage,” he says. “A lot of things that people have out there, we don’t – housing, jobs. We’re backed off and just trying to catch up.

A Second U was founded by Hector Guadalupe, who was only 23 when he began serving 10 years in prison for distributing narcotics. “When I was serving my sentence, during 10 years in prison, that’s where I found this obsession, this love for fitness and wellness, meditation and yoga,” he says.

Guadalupe lost 90 pounds and became obsessed with taking care of himself, he says.

“For the first time in my life, I had to sit down with myself and rediscover who I was, my passion and what I loved about myself and my life,” he says, later adding “Wellness opened the door for me and I got national certifications and studied the industry in New York” while incarcerated.

During his time in prison, he says, he trained thousands of men, including staff, in the best fitness practices.

“I use wellness as a tool to communicate with people,” he adds.

Upon his release, he was excited to start working, but none of the corporate health clubs would hire him due to his previous conviction. “It was a very frustrating time in my life,” he adds. “Tons of closed doors, no opportunities.”

Eventually he was given a chance as a coach and along the way he started the A Second U Foundation to keep others from having to go through what he went through. Since its inception in 2015, the A Second U Foundation has graduated 200 people, 75% of whom have worked in corporate health clubs and boutique gyms, while the rest have started their own businesses. Of those who participated in the program, only two have reoffended, he says.

There’s one eight-week course per term, and each course runs seven days a week. “It’s a very intense program,” says Guadalupe.

Participants learn a variety of skills, including how to close a sale, work with clients, and run a business. The program is free for participants — it is funded by private foundations and grants provided by corporate partnerships — and participants also receive $1,500 in financial support and other resources, he adds.

The program lasts eight weeks, and on the ninth week they take the certification exam to become a certified personal trainer, Guadalupe explains. The program teaches both health-related skills and soft skills, including customer interaction.

“That’s a lot of support from our side,” he said. “These are things I knew when I got home that I needed.”

The program is based on Guadalupe’s personal experience of running into walls in his post-prison job search.

“This program is based on my travels when I came back from prison and the resources weren’t there for me and people didn’t believe in giving me the resources,” he adds.

Additionally, the foundation is partnering with sneaker brand VEJA to create a running club in New York every other Saturday, which began last month.

Guadalupe says the goal is to ensure corporate health clubs open their doors to all individuals, including those who have been incarcerated.

“We want corporate health clubs to do well,” he said, later adding, “We need them to open those doors.”

Rickey Burton got involved with the foundation through a friend in 2015. He was already a certified trainer in Newark, New Jersey.

“Even though I was already certified and had clients, I still put myself through the program,” he says. He moved to Brooklyn immediately after starting the program. “In the end, it ended up taking my career to a whole new level. It gave me the structure that I didn’t have before.

He learned how to attract clients and develop routines and programs for clients, he says. Burton now runs three gyms.

“These are things I dreamed of for 10 years straight when I was in that cell,” he says. “I look at it as everything I imagined while I was on that bunk, all the successes I imagined, I still have a long way to go, so there’s no time for to rest.”

Burton, 44, continues to mentor and speak to new recruits to the A Second U Foundation, which he says should become an international program.

“We save lives and we are passionate about what we do,” he says. “Our passion fuels us every day.”

Kristi Eaton is a freelance journalist based in Tulsa, Oklahoma. His work has appeared in The New York Times, The Associated Press, The Washington Post and elsewhere. Visit his website at or follow her on Twitter @KristiEaton.

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