Prison PumpA former drug lord makes a fresh start as a fitness entrepreneur with a message, as he dodges shadows from his old life. NOW STREAMING ON CBC GEM
A life of crime can exert a powerful hold on a person, especially on someone who is trying to leave that life behind.
Jose Alejandro Vivar knows this only too well—and has the scars to prove it.
Arrested by Toronto police as a teenage drug kingpin, Vivar earned parole after several years behind bars and began a new life as an eloquent fitness entrepreneur with a message. But his positive momentum and ambitious plans were almost erased when a hitman fired five bullets into Vivar during an early-morning exercise class he was leading in a downtown Toronto park.
In Prison Pump, veteran documentary director Gary Lang shows us Vivar’s determination not only to survive this serious setback but to thrive on this new life path and finally become a role model to the sons he thought he’d never see again.
Prison Pump tracks the development of 25/7—the innovative fitness program Vivar developed in prison—which is now saving lives by both promoting healthy living and providing an outlet for ex-convicts who are struggling to re-enter society.
Vivar’s determination to see 25/7 succeed even has him teaching classes remotely while obeying a parole requirement that he live in an undisclosed location outside Toronto.
“Many of these gangs that we investigate [include] kids that came from very good families but they chose to be aligned with a criminal lifestyle,” says Doug Quan, formerly of the Toronto Police’s Gun and Gangs Task Force.
As the documentary reveals, Vivar’s middle-class Ecuadoran-Canadian parents were shocked to discover their son was so deeply involved in the gangster lifestyle, carrying his first gun at age 13, and running the large, citywide LA Boys gang by age 19.
When the leader of a rival gang was killed in a Toronto bar in 2002, Vivar was charged with his murder. Although he was eventually acquitted, Vivar returned to the lifestyle of money, drugs, and guns, even though deep down he wanted it to end.
A 2007 Toronto police sting operation targeting Vivar caught him in possession of six weapons (including one modelled after Saddam Hussein’s favourite firearm), 300 rounds of ammunition, 10 kilos of cocaine, a large quantity of ecstasy and marijuana, and $130,000 in cash.
He was convicted and thus began the 10-year prison sentence, during which he pursued certification as a fitness instructor and began turning his life in a new direction.
Prison Pump shows Vivar playfully using criminal wordplay to inspire his fitness classes. His own metamorphosis from an out-of-shape convict to a hard-body guru inspires his positive, spiritual message about renewal. We get an intimate glimpse into his once-secret new life in a Northern Ontario city, where he spins off the 25/7 program to local success—even as he still looks over his shoulder.
An aspiring motivational speaker, Vivar is given approval from his parole officer to travel to Vancouver to participate in the 2017 Toastmasters International Speech Contest Semi-finals; after his speech Vivar, takes a walk through the city’s notorious Downtown Eastside, a stark reminder of his criminal past.
“It’s made me resilient,” he says of his prison experience. “That was then, this is now.”