At 13 Herman Mendoza began taking drugs and then started dealing in order to support his habit. But at that stage it was just ounces and grams of cocaine.
Later, at 21 when he was laid off from work and needed the money, Herman began distributing 'coke' with his four brothers through a cartel. Now it was many kilograms.
"I was married and couldn't find another job," Herman said in an interview with "The Pure Flix Podcast". "And so I was desperate for money."
However, he was worried about getting addicted again, so he asked not to be involved in actual distribution. Instead he was given the task of counting the money. One time, that amounted to $1.2 million US.
From there Herman got more and more involved and he eventually got sucked into doing exactly what he had initially refused to do – distributing drugs.
That lifestyle made him feel untouchable. As money came flooding in, he began to party, hang out with celebrities, drink heavily and spend tens of thousands of dollars.
"It changed my whole perspective in how I viewed narcotics. I saw it as a way to get rich quick." Because he had an office and was part of an organization, not peddling on the street, he felt legitimate.
But eventually Herman and his brother were stopped by cops on the way to a client and arrested with 31 kilos of cocaine in the trunk of their car. The next day in the newspaper headlines he saw that he could get life in prison.
"The reality of what I was involved in finally hit home," he said. "I was facing 25 years to life, and at the time I had one child and I was thinking, 'What's going to happen to my daughter?' It left me reeling. Our parents were distraught."
Herman got sentenced to 3-9 years but struck a deal and ended up going to prison for only six months because he agreed to do a rehabilitation program. His brother got 4-12 years.
Herman had been raised Catholic but was not a religious person. Nevertheless, when he got the program he went to the chapel and prayed: "God if you will get me released from this program I will not drink alcohol for six months."
But after being released he went out to celebrate six months of sobriety and bumped into a cartel buddy who got him right back into the drug game.
"It reminds me," says Herman, "of that Bible verse, Proverbs chapter 26 and verse 11 that says 'as a dog returns to its vomit, so a fool returns to his folly'. I was a fool," he acknowledges.
This time, Herman was arrested in a Drug Enforcement Administration sting and found himself behind bars for the second time, facing 18 years to life. He got bailed out and, in fear, jumped bail and spent six months on the run. "I was miserable, depressed and drinking every day to numb the pain."
However, the brother arrested with him the first time, who was behind bars, had since become a Christian and prayed: "Father God, send Herman to the same facility I'm at so that I can share this hope with him. Otherwise they will kill him out in the streets."
Remarkably, his prayers were answered when Herman was arrested shortly thereafter.
On the way to prison Herman wanted to kill himself as he felt so hopeless and out of options. However, when his brother saw that he was not only in the same prison, but the same dormitory, he exclaimed, "Praise God!"
"I didn't understand his new language and attitude," Herman admits. "His countenance was totally different. A few months later I gave my life to the Lord ... there was no other way to resolve my issues. I said, I need to try God, I've tried everything else. I had women, I had millions of dollars, but it was never satisfying."
He went to the prison chapel to pray for peace. The jail house preacher ended his message by saying, "There is someone here that has been chasing after things but they have led to a dead end. What you need is Jesus Christ to fulfil that void."
Herman went forward and began to cry saying, "That's me."
"I confessed my sins and accepted Jesus as my Lord. I felt this warmth that enveloped me. I felt the presence of God," he said, suddenly wanting to make amends for all those he had hurt with his lifestyle. "God showed me my sin. I realized that Jesus paid the price for my sin ... I was a walking dead man and now I'm alive in Christ."
Herman and his brother began studying the Bible and theology in jail and running services in their prison. Herman's wife heard his testimony while visiting him and gave her life to Christ too, saying, "You are freer in here than I am out in society. I see such a peace in you."
Years later, on his release, Herman began working with the UN in various parts of the world to reach young people. Today he is a pastor in the New York City area.
Herman says his life is testimony to God being able to turn to good what Satan meant for evil.
For more of his incredible story, read his new book, Shifting Shadows: How a New York Drug Lord Found Freedom in the Last Place He Expected.•