When most teenagers were getting their first jobs at neighborhood grocery stores and fast food restaurants – Jecoby Lewis was preparing bodies at Lomax Funeral Home. His godfather Oliver Lomax gave him the job as a mortician and he worked that job faithfully from the age of 12 to 18.
It's safe to say Lewis has always marched to the beat of his own drum.
Perhaps growing up too fast and in an even faster environment led to many decisions that Lewis wishes he could revisit. He was supposed to graduate from high school in May of 2003. Instead, Lewis found himself in a Lew Sterrett jail cell. He would spend over a year in the county jail before being transferred to a state penitentiary, also known as the 'Belly of the Beast'.
For 13 years and nine months, Lewis was inmate 1342331.
Because he didn't technically complete his senior year at Lincoln High School, Lewis was never awarded his diploma. He did, however, pursue and attain his GED.
When one is incarcerated, he will attempt just about any feat to occupy his mind and pass the time. For Lewis, working out became a means for survival. He would spend countless hours lifting, defining his abs and sculpting his body. Because inmates don't have money at their disposal, they often trade goods or commodities of some sort. Whenever others took notice of his workout routines, they would trade chips and noodles for his training services.
Eventually even the guards would request his services, and soon Lewis found himself creating meal plans and workout routines in his cell.
It wasn't long before a fellow inmate named Lawrence gave Lewis the nickname "Hardbody." The name stuck. "Hardbody" would echo throughout the institution, followed by requests for training.
"While I was studying workout techniques, the other inmates were taking notice of my consistency," says Lewis. "For years I was the guy everyone wanted to train with in the prison."
Lewis sent a letter to the parole board, citing President Barack Obama's initiative to release prisoners who had served 10 years or more.
November 30, 2016 - Lewis walked away from prison with both a new body and a new mindset. Focus your mind and punish your body had become his mantra.
"I didn't know exactly how I was going to accomplish my goals once out of prison," says Lewis. "But I knew I was never going back to prison."
It was always his intention to become a trainer, but after over 13 years in prison he had no true idea of the resources that awaited him in the free world.
"When I came home in 2016 I learned about Facebook Live," laughs Lewis. "It was so simple, yet such a good resource."
From his kitchen, Lewis began posting Facebook videos each morning of in-home exercises. He would share with viewers how to use kitchen items to train, such as a bag of potatoes and water bottles.
In less than two years, Lewis has elevated his lifestyle of fitness and gained many more supporters.
Rarely does he sign on to any of his social media platforms without tagging his developing business HARDBODY 84 FITNESS. The "84" signifies the year Lewis was born.
He can be seen on Facebook and Instagram sharing his intense gym workouts. He still spends several hours working out alone, but he also has clients now. Those clients appreciate the fact that Lewis will meet them in the middle, be it at a park or at a local gym. Lewis does both personal training and in-home training.
Recently, Zumba instructor Michile Williams invited Lewis to train her class of more than 30 people. After the Zumba session concludes, Lewis takes on one of his most challenging tasks yet – training a large group.
Southside Fitness, a new gym in South Dallas has offered Lewis the opportunity to have his personal boot camps held there. Another opportunity to expand, and much to Lewis' delight – it's in his beloved South Dallas.
"When I first started I didn't even know how to charge for my services," admits Lewis. "Once I got my personal training certificate and became more confident as a trainer – it seems like people trusted me even more."
It's important to note that Lewis is not attempting to etch his way into the fitness industry with hopes of a financial payout. When first out of prison, he charged people $20 to train for an hour. He just wanted the chance to teach people how to be fit.
The 33-year-old is a father, a husband and an entrepreneur from South Dallas. "I'm from Dixon Circle," he says proudly.
His full-time job in construction requires that he bulldoze buildings and other sites each day. He sees fixtures from his childhood community disappearing and being bought out often. Lewis doesn't want everything familiar about South Dallas to one day just be a memory.
"I do have hopes of one day being a full-time trainer," says Lewis. "And I want to bring everything to South Dallas."
Lewis doesn't deny who he used to be. He feuded with opposing gang members that he now trains from time to time. He made poor decisions. He disappointed people. He knows that some people will only see the tattoos and the muscles, but he's very grateful to have such a growing and diverse clientele.
"I am who I am and I'll never deny my background," says Lewis. "I'm proud to be one of the guys capitalizing on a second chance."