COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — A fitness studio in Columbus connects women leaving incarceration to personal trainer qualifications that allow them to get living-wage jobs.

“Fitness saved my life 26 years ago, in many ways,” says Rocquel (Rokki) Bonner, co-founder of Fit to Navigate located at Personal Fitness Navigators, Delmar Drive, Bexley.

Rokki overcame mental health and auto-immune problems with fitness and has been connecting imprisoned women to the fitness industry since 2017. She also started working with women in the prison system because of her contact with the criminal justice system. 

“So you think about fitness as being a way, an outlet, to move thoughts through your body,” Bonner explained. “To also get clarity in yourself. To release some things in a non-violent or non-numbing way.”

Bonner says there’s been zero recidivism in the women who’ve gone through the Fit to Navigate program.

“We know that about 20 hours in the personal training world is almost the equivalent of what a full-time job is,” Bonner explained. “So, you can make a very family-sustainable income as well as be there and have time for your children.”

Women exiting the justice system have to work several jobs while looking after their kids; typically they have access to low-paying jobs such as cleaning, Bonner said.

“Women at that point in time have to have some type of job in order to pay back restitution, or taxes and things that are waiting for them…once they get out. Which is very challenging. Because you can’t just have one job. They may be working two, or three jobs.”

Even with certification, it’s tough for women who have to check the justice-involved box on job applications to land a position as a personal trainer in the gym. One of their program graduates went through seven interviews at a gym before she was hired.

“Our goal is to develop our virtual staffing model where they can start training from anywhere,” Bonner said, explaining Fit to Navigate’s solution to that problem.

Bonner offers sponsorships and merchandise for people who want to support the program. Fit to Navigate recently won Maroon Arts’ PitchBlack: Deliver Black Dreams pot of $4,146.

“Based on the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation it cost Ohio $24,000 to incarcerate one person for a year and Ohio spent $1.7 billion in 2018 in Incarceration with more than half going back to prison known as recidivism,” Fit to Navigate said in an email statement.

“The women in our wellness program have added 500K back into Ohio economy annually; based on 100% employment rates/wages and 0% recidivism.”

Fit To Navigate works with women inside (where ther program started) and outside the prison system as well as with at-risk communities. Fit To Navigate uses its program not just as a tool entrepreneurship, but mainly to create access to wellbeing services.