Muscular Development: ‘Prison Bodybuilders: How do they do it?” by PJ Braun



The Following Article was originally published in Muscular Development Magazine in January 2023. It is the fourth in a series of articles written while PJ Braun was in prison. You can find previous and future articles in this series here. At the end of this article, you will find an addendum not included in the original publication where PJ reflects on the content of this article.

“I picked three gentlemen who have damn good physiques and interviewed them, to give you guys some perspective on what you can do when you put your mind to something, even in dire circumstances.”

As I sit here typing this out at the end of November I am currently 265 pounds, sore as hell, and fatter than I should be, but feeling strong and grateful to be able to train every morning. In past articles, I went over some of the difficulties of bodybuilding while incarcerated. There are no weights, so you have to make do. You can use things in nature or complicate bodyweight exercises, but doing something like making kettlebells out of pillowcases filled with rocks would be considered contraband and that would result in an incident report; something I don’t want.

Over and over, I am approached by people who wish to bodybuild while in prison and I have been very impressed after seeing some of their “before and after” photos. So, I decided I wanted to do something very different this month. I picked three gentlemen who have damn good physiques and interviewed them to give some perspective on what you can do when you put your mind to something, even in dire circumstances.

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The three men I interviewed are Mr. Campos, age 31; Mr. Holloway, age 30; and Mr. Anderson, age 41. Campos looks very lean and athletic. Anderson is built like a middleweight bodybuilder, and Holloway looks like he could be playing fullback for a Division 1 school.

Hey guys, thank you for letting me interview you. All of you are very inspiring. For my first question; were you working out prior to coming to prison?

Campos: “On and off, but nothing serious.”

Mr. Holloway: “No.”

Anderson: “I powerlifted for seven years but stopped five years before coming to prison and did nothing.”

OK, so then what got you started?

Campos: “I wanted to make a change. I was way too heavy and wanted to be healthy.”

Holloway: “I knew I needed to make a positive change so I could be healthy for my children.”

Anderson: “It was a decision I made with my wife so I could be in the best shape when I came home for my children.”

Wow, so you guys all had similar stories coming into prison. Can you tell me your starting bodyweight and your current bodyweight?

Campos: “I started at 240 and am now 160.”

Holloway: “I started out at 345 and I am now 225.”

Anderson: “I started out 265 and I am now 180.”

Holy crap, you guys have come so far! How did you do it?

Campos: “Mine took three years. I did it slow and steady with portion control. I did not eat any red meat or pork and focused on fish and chicken, and the no-flesh entrees they serve us at chow. I also supplemented with protein bars when they were available.”

Holloway and Anderson: Nine months total transformation.

Hold on, you guys lost all that weight in nine months!?

Anderson: “Well to be honest, I was down to 200 within six months and the transformation to 180 was where I slowed down and started gaining some muscle.”

“I trained one or two body parts a day like a bodybuilder.” (Note: Mr. Anderson is one of the guys I worked out with every day, he has since been released from prison). “I trained fasted each morning and I did a lot of walking; usually at least 5 miles a day but up to 10 and I run four days a week. I like to get a 5-mile run in daily but on the weekend I will do a long 18-mile run and I like to do HIIT on the exercise bike as well.”

Campos: “I had weights at my first prison. We would read the Muscular Development magazines and we even had Dust in there for pre-workout!”

OK, so Holloway, how did you do it so fast?

Holloway: “Intermittent fasting. I started eating when they serve lunch at 12:30 and stopped myself at the dinner meal at 4:30. I kept my calories around 2,200 a day. I had a workout that I came up with where I did chest, biceps and triceps on Mondays, legs on Tuesdays, 250 burpees on Wednesdays then I repeated the cycle with rest on Sunday!”

Oh man, I would kill for some Dust or Hype in here, haha. OK, kill is the wrong word. It would be beneficial to have some pre-workout in here, though, haha. Shout-out to my RDAP peeps with the “change language,” lol.

OK, can tell me about your workout routines, Campos?

Campos: “Well, it was great until COVID locked us down 24/7 and we couldn’t have any contact, so I learned to do everything with just bodyweight in my cell. Push-ups, squats, lunges and once I got to camp, I just started walking 3 miles in the morning and 3 miles at night every day.”

Man, you guys have all found a way to make the most of so little! I am curious when it comes to bodybuilding versus just cardio or doing nothing at all, what did you notice when you started resistance training?

Anderson and Campos: “I got hungry all the time!!”

Haha. What about you, Holloway?

Holloway: “Well, I got hungrier but I noticed I just kept getting stronger and stronger fast and while that was happening, my muscles became harder.”

What about you, Campos and Anderson?

Campos: “I was very surprised by how strong I got.”

Anderson: “Yeah, the stronger I got the harder my muscles felt, and I am always hungry but I can eat more.”

Guys, I love these answers because building muscle helps boost your basal metabolic rate and improve your metabolism, meaning you’re going to need more food just to sustain your lean body mass, which is so cool!

I want to thank Mr. Halloway, Mr. Anderson, and Mr. Campos for letting me interview them. Some people do nothing but make excuses: They don’t have a gym membership or they just can’t get to their gym. These three men have shown that you can dramatically transform yourself with next to nothing. They are an inspiration to me and many other guys here. I hope they continue their personal fitness journeys after they get home!

At the time of writing this, Mr. Campos and Mr. Anderson are back home and both have spoken with my fiancée, Marissa. She’s let me know that they are still going strong. Both of those guys mean so much to me. I will never forget the moment when Mr. Campos came over and asked if I was PJ Braun. He recognized me, the first day I was working out, from the magazines he used to read, and he became like a little brother to me. Mr. Anderson was my mentor in the RDAP program. Mr. Holloway is only a few months to the door and I am excited to see how far he goes with this. Losing over 120 pounds is a tremendous accomplishment but he says he’s still not done.

As for me, I am going hard but not focused on losing weight just yet. Until next time, I will leave you with this: Wherever you are, whatever your level of this iron game that you are at; never take it for granted. Practice gratitude. You could have a little gym in your garage or you could have a membership to the best gym in the country. Whether you have a lot or a little, where there’s a will there’s a way. We do this because we love it, no matter where we are or what we have!

I love you all, peace out, bye.

Editor’s Note (May 2024): Prior to posting this article, PJ Braun was requested for comment and asked to reflect on the content of this article. This was his response. It has been edited for clarity.

Not too many months after this, one of the gentlemen from this interview got really hooked on K2. I had never even heard of K2 until I got to prison, but every single jail and prison that I was locked up in had an abundance of it; It was everywhere. They get it sprayed on paper and mailed in on legal documents but they really don’t even know what they are smoking. Some of them are literally just smoking roach spray. 

I am not kidding, These guys will do all kinds of crazy shit to get high, but the ones who get really addicted to it turn into zombies. In Alabama we called them “walking dead”. At least a few times a day I would hear, “Oh, he on that walking dead.” It’s very sad. When I had first interviewed this gentleman he was a workout machine. He was also one of the funniest comedians and had an incredible singing voice too. He was a young man who made a poor choice and ended up in prison. As a result, his wife turned her back on him and he spiraled into major depression. He gained weight and started getting into constant trouble. He was passing out everywhere, including the shower, and he would puke all over himself in his bed. If it weren’t for some very caring inmates, he may very well have died in his sleep. The craziest thing of all is that they can’t even test for K2 like they can for marijuana. He and all the other guys would get brought to the lieutenant’s office for a piss test, pass and then get sent back to get high again.

I tried having a heart-to-heart with him and that did not work, so I tried again with some really tough love, but no matter how much you care about people, change can only come from within. He eventually got kicked off the compound and sent to county jail. Three months later he was shipped back. What I saw broke my heart: He looked like an AIDS patient. His complexion went from a chocolate brown to pure gray, he looked emaciated, and he lost one of his front teeth. Somehow he managed to stay on that shit the entire time he was in County. I tried to talk some sense into him, but not even a day back and he was high again. 

I prayed for him a lot, but on a personal level I had to wash my hands of the situation because the staff watched everything. It wasn’t in my best interest to be around those kinds of people there. 

I know this isn’t a positive addition for this month, but prison isn’t a positive place. The criminal justice system needs a lot of reform. I’m not gonna be all sunshine and rainbows when I write here; It’s all part of my story and I’m going to share it, happy or not.