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.