By Mark Ellis—
Growing up in Queens, Herman Mendoza faced peer pressure to experiment with drugs at a young age.
“I was addicted to snorting cocaine, which led me to start selling small quantities of drugs,” says Mendoza, the author of Shifting Shadows (Bethany House).
His hardworking parents weren’t around much, which provided lots of freedom for Mendoza. “I had a lot of time on my hands to have access to these drugs.”
But the lax home and absentee parents led to trouble. “Eventually I was a nuisance at home and causing havoc there,” he says. He joined with some other young toughs in the neighborhood to steal a car radio, which led to an arrest for robbery and trip to a juvenile detention center when he was 13.
He managed to graduate from high school and immediately got married. His parents were upset. “Why don’t you go to college?” they asked.
“I’m in love,” he told them. After the birth of his first child, Mendoza was unemployed, desperate for work.
His two oldest brothers were involved in the sale of narcotics, working with a Colombian cartel. They had expensive cars valued at over $100,000 and designer clothing and a lavish lifestyle, but he says he wasn’t drawn to that as much as the urgent necessity to find work to support his young family.
Mendoza’s brother invited him to visit their stash house. When he walked in, he was struck by the sound of a TV set at the maximum volume to mask the sound of machines counting $1.2 million in cash.
The older brothers paid their younger sibling $10,000 to run the counting machines on his first work shift. “That day I was hooked. I thought, this is easy money.”
“I was impressed with this whole operation. It was well organized. I started to distribute cocaine with him, hundreds of kilograms of cocaine,” Mendoza recounts.
One day he and his brother were taking drugs to a client in Manhattan. “We were being followed and it turned out it was the police. The cops pulled us over, we started to run, and we were apprehended and sent to jail.”
The next day The New York Post and Newsday had headlines about their arrest for drug possession, with $3.8 million of cocaine seized in the back of their vehicle. They faced 25 years in prison.
“I pleaded my case down to 3-9 years and my brother got 4-12,” he recounts.
Initially he went to Rikers Island, the notorious jail that houses 14,000 inmates, then he was transferred to a jail in upstate New York, where he signed up for a program called SHOCK. “It sort of a scared straight tactic, with ex-marines that get in your face, and try to get you to respond to a different lifestyle.”
Under pressure, he began to negotiate with God. “If you get me through this, I won’t drink alcohol for six months,” he declared to God.
A few months later Mendoza got released and went to celebrate with an old friend, another drug dealer who happened to be controlling a ton of cocaine.
The man offered Mendoza drugs and said if he wanted to get involved to let him know. Mendoza began to wrestle with his conscience. “My heart was saying no and my mind was saying I could make all this money.”
As he fantasized about being wealthy again, he fell into a trap, like the proverbial fool returning to his folly.
Unfortunately, Mendoza returned to his former lifestyle, distributing hundreds of kilograms of cocaine. His wife didn’t want anything to do with his avocation. “I never took any drugs to my house. She knew what I was involved in, but she didn’t want to know any specifics. She was enjoying the fruits of my labor, but she didn’t want me to bring anything home.”
They lived in a posh, gated community outside New York City.
Eventually he and his second oldest brother got arrested by the DEA after being set up by a fellow dealer who had been nabbed and began cooperating with the authorities.
Mendoza got released after posting bail of $500,000, but his brother remained incarcerated because of another violation involving 87 kilograms of cocaine.
After being released on bail, Mendoza was distraught. “I turned to alcohol, drinking every single day to numb the pain, the reality that I was confronting life in prison. I decided not to attend my court appearance. I jumped bail and went on the run.”
He began to miss his family, however, and one day he asked his limo driver to take him home. The next day the phone rang and his wife picked up the receiver. It was the authorities.
“Tell your husband to surrender himself. If he has any guns, toss them out the window,” they said.
Mendoza hurriedly put on his clothes and started to jump out the window. Police were standing below and told him to freeze. He went back in the house and told his wife, “My life is over. Open the door.”
On the drive back to prison, Mendoza asked the marshals to open the back door of their vehicle so he could jump out and end his life. “My life is worth nothing,” he told them.
“You never know what could happen,” the officer replied. “Your case is a big one but you never know…”
Mendoza faced life in prison. But he had no way of knowing that his older brother who remained in prison had been born again during his incarceration and had begun praying for his younger brother.
The older brother prayed: “Lord, send my brother to the same facility where I’m housed so I can share this gospel with him, because they are going to kill him out in society.”
Amazingly, the Lord answered that prayer and sent the younger Mendoza to the same facility – even the same cellblock where the older brother was housed!
When they first saw each other, the older brother was so overcome with emotion he threw his hands into the air and said, “Praise the Lord, praise God!”
Mendoza looked at his older brother quizzically. “Brother, we’re in jail, what are you talking about?
What is this new language he’s speaking?” he wondered.
The older brother began to share the gospel.
Is this some jailhouse religion he got, he found Jesus just because he’s locked up? Mendoza thought. The message failed to resonate.
Mendoza’s overwhelming desire was to get out of jail. But his attorney said he couldn’t do anything to free him. He hired a second attorney, but ran out of money. The second attorney also dashed any hope that Mendoza might win his freedom.
“At that point it was the breaking point. I had tried everything. My wife also had left me at that point.”
He finally hit bottom and turned to God, because he had nowhere else to turn. He cried out, saying: “Lord, if you’re real, fill up this void. I’m empty. I’m depressed; I need peace.”
His older brother invited him to attend a chapel being run by inmates. As Mendoza approached the service, he prayed quietly, “Fill this void, God…I need peace.”
Mendoza sat down in the back. In attendance were 60-70 other inmates. “The preacher started talking about the same thoughts and feelings I was feeling.”
“There is an individual here who has been chasing after things,” the preacher said, “and those things have led him down a road to destruction. What he really needs is Jesus, he needs peace. There is a peace that goes beyond all understanding.”
Mendoza knew the message was for him. At the preacher’s invitation, Mendoza went forward to receive prayer.
“I said, “Yes, I want Jesus,’” to the pastor. Mendoza started to cry.
“The peace of God enveloped me. A weight lifted off my shoulders. I felt conviction for all the sins and wrongs I had done to my family, my wife, my mom and dad, my children. I said it with conviction, I wanted to make it right.”
Mendoza immediately called his mother to tell her he was born again. “She didn’t understand this new language. I explained to her and she was skeptical but excited at the same time. I tried to reach my wife but couldn’t get in contact with her.”
During his stay at Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn, he learned that his wife wanted to come and visit. Mendoza fasted and prayed for three days before she came.
When she arrived, she said, “I have bad news.” (She intended to ask for a divorce.)
“I have good news for you,” he responded. “Can you allow me five minutes to share this good news with you?”
He asked her to forgive his many wrongs and sins against her, and she started to cry. She saw the newfound peace emanating from his soul.
“You have this glow and this peace within you,” she exclaimed. “I want what you have.” His wife began to confess her sins.
The bad news about the divorce never arrived. By confessing their sins to one another and praying for one another, God brought healing and restoration to them instead. “That’s what God did; he restored our marriage. We reconciled our differences. She confessed her sins and I confessed my sins. She said, ‘I want Jesus.’ She accepted Jesus.
Eventually the time came for Mendoza’s sentencing. Over 100 inmates wrote to he judge and asked for clemency and leniency.
The sentencing day came. The prosecutor said, “Your honor, he’s committed a crime and done all these bad things. But I’ve heard he’s done all these great things…”
Mendoza received a sentence of 48 months, but had already served 39 months.
After his release, Mendoza became a pastor and started a nonprofit to help young people. “I want to train young people up so they can become the Christian leaders of tomorrow, so they can represent the kingdom of God,” he says.
If you want to know more about a personal relationship with God, go here
To learn more about Mendoza’s book and ministry, click here