Body by Rikers: Getting to Know My Trainer, The Ex- and Future Con

'I'm going to make you a monster ...'

In the years since his release from prison, Bashar had a difficult time finding work. Bally and Equinox wouldn’t hire him, but my smaller, independent gym did. “I started helping people,” he said, noting that he had been inspired to train by his grandmother’s struggle to touch her toes, a struggle I shared.

So training me was part of his own self-improvement regimen? That felt a little too The Help for me. I asked him if it bothered him to have a gay client. “Everybody’s just there to get healthy and get big,” he said. “We just on different boats.” You give respect, you get respect.

Soon he’d be going to jail on another conviction, as an accessory to drug dealing. He’s scheduled to return to prison on Nov. 30, for a minimum of 57 months.

“I’ve accomplished so much now, and if I go back, what?” He sounded for the first time despondent. “Start all over again?”

I’ve stopped going to the gym since the Starbucks meeting. Chalk it up to a mix of mild early-winter depression, discomfort with watching Bashar work in his last days as a free man, and guilt that even writing an article wouldn’t do him any good. I told him I’d text him a day for our next training session, but instead found myself fielding texts from him: “What happen to u?”

I feel like I’ve gained a little weight, backslid a little. Not that I’m complaining. A few pounds will be the lightest thing either Bashar or I have borne.


  1. Textgenie says:

    Real feeling in the Observer – surprising. Well written too. About time that jailing blacks and brown for picayune drug offenses to keep them off the job market was stopped.  Find them jobs, Washington.

  2. Rose says:

    Excellent piece. I am so glad someone took the time to write about people like Bashar- people whose lives are complex and often filled with the types of  experiences and traumas that don’t fit neatly into society’s pre-fabricated categories. Consequently, a one-size fits all approach to punishment often causes these people irreparable harm. This reductionistic view of crime and “criminals” is a shameful failure of the legal system that should be rectified as soon as possible if we truly wish to consider ourselves a just and merciful nation. 

    By the way, Bashar has been my trainer since July 2011. He is excellent-dependable, enthusiastic,and  although he often expresses views and opinions that are at times infuriating,  he is also always funny, kind, professional, devoted to his craft, and extremely hard working.And, finally, I am pleased to report that this story has a happy ending. Bashar has received probation. I am guessing this must be due both to his clean record  as well as to his many allies  (friends, family, co-workers, clients, etc)  who all rallied to his side and attested to his character. So, in this instance, I guess the system worked. Let’s hope there are increasing opportunities for individuals like Bashar (and there are many), to get another  chance at being a fully contributing member of society.Oh, and if you want a great trainer call or text him at 917.545.3170. You can also email him at: This is a good way you can help people like him bypass the stigma and difficulty they often have in getting straight employment.