Roy Castro Once Sold Drugs, But Thanks To STRIVE New York He Now Sells Nothing But Happiness

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Companies big and small are giving something to the previously incarcerated — a second chance.

One man has worked his way up and is an ice cream mogul.

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But life wasn’t always so sweet. Roy Castro is the focus of this week’s Snapshot New York with CBS2’s Steve Overmyer.

When Castro used to walk the streets he was intimidating. Now, he’s met with a friendly handshake.

Overmyer: “You are the ice cream man.”

Castro: “I am the ice cream man.”

Overmyer: “That doesn’t mean you’re in the Mister Softee truck?”

Castro: “I am not in the Mister Softee truck. I’m in the distribution business.”

It’s a long way from his former life.

“I’ve come full circle with business, family and friends. I’m at a place that I didn’t imagine I’d be at.”

Roy Castro went from selling drugs during his younger years to running a $6 million company. All because he levered his past to plan his future. (Photo: CBS2)

In his teens, Castro fell in with the wrong crowd and sold drugs. By age 20 it had landed him in prison. After 10 years behind bars Castro could’ve retreated to his old life.

“As I’m going to do an interview and I’m getting turned down for an interview, when I get off the train in my neighborhood, I’ve got people offering me to be part of their new organization of illegal crimes,” Castro said. “I’m going into it the right way and getting turned down because I’ve got a felony. On the other hand, I’m coming back to my neighborhood and people are giving me money. I was very close to taking somebody up on that offer.”

But instead of giving in, he found an organization built on feeding ambition — STRIVE.

“I just think about the first day that I entered STRIVE at my lowest point when I couldn’t even find a job. And to go from not being able to find a job or even being ready for a job to becoming a business owner?” Castro said.

“We believe deeply at STRIVE in the notion of a second chance, and that people shouldn’t be defined by their past but about what they’re willing to do and steps they want to take going forward,” STRIVE President and CEO Phil Weinberg said.

STRIVE is a non-profit in East Harlem helping those who want to learn a job, but just don’t know how to get there.

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“We see men and women hungry to work. They’re determined, but often times they feel shut out,” Weinberg said.

What’s created in the organization’s classroom is opportunity. More than 1,000 New Yorkers per year come to the state-of-the-art facility to learn. In a fast-moving business landscape, the course load at STRIVE always changes.

“We start by working with employers and we ask them what skills are gonna help somebody stand out in the workplace. And then we backward map the training and work really carefully to construct the career pathway,” Weinberg said.

Overmyer: “This isn’t just for previously incarcerated people?”

Weinberg: “Correct. In fact, we serve many more individuals who have not been incarcerated than who have.”

Overmyer: “And this is free for anyone to come in?”

Weinberg: “Everything we provide is completely free to the men and women who come walk into our doors, so we work really hard to generate the resources, through the public sector, through private philanthropy.”

Overmyer: “You’re not only building a new work force, you’re also improving the community because you’re taking them out of what would be a negative situation.”

Weinberg: “So less people in prison, less people receiving public assistance, more people paying taxes. It’s a very virtuous cycle. It’s a win for the individual and it’s a win for the community as well.”

Castro is now CEO of the No. 1 ice cream subdistributor in New York City, serving more than 2,000 stores in the five boroughs.

“Before, I sell a drug to somebody and it brings harm and destruction into somebody’s life, into their home,” he said. “Today, I’m selling ice cream that they bring joy into every household. I’m selling happiness. That’s what I sell, one scoop at a time. One scoop at a time I’m gonna bring happiness into your life.”

And now he runs a company that grosses $6 million a year and is expanding.

“Right now I’m up to about 15 employees,” Castro said. “It’s pressure. It’s one thing to think about yourself, have to worry about yourself. But to have to worry about other families and how they are paying their bills and if they are going to be okay. That’s a whole new level of motivation. You don’t wanna let other people down.”

Castro faced a major life obstacle, but having the right mindset empowered him to leverage it to his advantage. He used his setback to set up his future.

“I’ve taken so much from life in my youth. I was a taker. So now it’s all about giving. So how do I give back? How do I make that impact?” Castro said. “I wanna sit with a 16-year-old Roy Castro and say, ‘There’s another way. You just don’t know it, but let me show it to you.’ How do I stop being a taker and being a giver, and that’s why I do what I do.”

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For more information about STRIVE, click here.