Ex-offender LJ Flanders used his time in prison to turn his life around after he had a unique idea inspired by his time behind bars
Image: Stevan Borthwick)
LJ Flanders was jailed at the age of 21 for his role in a fight but refused to let that mistake define him.
Instead, he decided to turn his life around in those 16 months, using the four walls of his prison cell as inspiration for his now thriving business.
LJ, now 32, drew up the blueprint for his exercise book, cell training, while he was in Pentonville prison in London.
Full of bodyweight workouts people can do while locked in a cell, LJ’s book was the stepping stone for him to start a social enterprise, hiring ex-prisoners to train others, and most recently one founded Clothing line with Next.
LJ, who hails from East London, was arrested in 2011 and initially locked in his cell 24 hours a day.
“To keep fit in the cell, I would do some push-ups, or do some sit-ups, or do some squats. So I only really knew three exercises,” LJ explained.
His mental health was beginning to suffer, so he decided to enroll in a personal trainer qualification, which gave him purpose.
“I felt like improving myself to increase my chances when I came out,” he said.
But during his work as a trainer in prison, many people came to him for tips since they only got about two hours of exercise time a week.
This sparked a brainstorm: “I wanted to try to create a bodyweight training manual that could be done in a small space,” LJ said.
“And another thing I’m also thinking about is accessibility, the exercises range from beginner to advanced, so everyone can take something away from the book,” he explained.
LJ then spent the rest of his months in prison going to the library to gather information and drawing illustrations for his easy-to-follow guide.
He had another stroke of luck in the library when he spotted a poster The prince’s trust a charity that helps young people get their lives on the right track.
After leaving prison in 2012, he started working at a gym and contacted the charity, who suggested he enroll in their entrepreneurship program and learn the basics of entrepreneurship.
With the Trust’s mentorship, he was able to publish the book and began giving prison tours.
“People have asked me the same question. “I want to go into the fitness industry but I have a criminal record. How do I get more qualifications?’ All those worries I had, I started hearing people have the same worries,” LJ said.
This is why LJ started his social enterprise, Cell Workout Enterprise CIC, This is a network of 50 ex-offender fitness coaches from across the UK.
Profits from his Next Athleisure line go to both this company and The Prince’s Trust to help more young people.
“People make mistakes and I remember my employer at the Virgin Active gym actually saying, ‘Who am I not to give someone a second chance?’ That’s always stayed with me,” he revealed.
“I was given a second chance and I’m constantly trying to do that for other people.”
https://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/doing-press-ups-prison-cell-27338335 "Doing push-ups in my prison cell started my successful business career"