Finding Freedom in Prison
"My life is over." That's what Herman Mendoza thought as he raised his arms in surrender. The police had his house surrounded. His kids were in bed while his wife tried to defend him. He tried to run, but it was useless. A once powerful drug lord, Herman now faced life in prison. And "life" is exactly what he found there.
About the Guest
- Shifting Shadows: How a New York Drug Lord Found Freedom in the Last Place He Expected by Herman Bendoza.
- Listen to the full episode of Finding Freedom from Prison
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“My life is over.” That’s what Herman Mendoza thought as he raised his arms in surrender. The police had his house surrounded. His kids were in bed while his wife tried to defend him. He tried to run, but it was useless. A once powerful drug lord, Herman now faced life in prison. And “life” is exactly what he found there.
Finding Freedom in Prison
Herman: I remember I was in the back of the car, handcuffed. As they drive away, I saw a glimpse of what they were doing. They were celebrating that they caught a big drug lord, and they were taking pictures. But my wife was obviously distraught, saying, “They took the father of my kids and, also, my husband.”
Ann: Welcome to FamilyLife Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I’m Ann Wilson.
Dave: And I’m Dave Wilson, and you can find us at FamilyLifeToday.com or on our FamilyLife® app.
Ann: This is FamilyLife Today.
Dave: Alright, so today on FamilyLife Today, we got a sort of special program; don't we?
Ann: We have a special treat, because Kim Anthony is in the studio with us today.
Dave: Yes; Kim has a podcast called Unfavorable Odds, and your whole life is overcoming odds.
Dave: Kim, welcome to FamilyLife Today.
Kim: Thank you. Great to be here with you both.
Dave: Yes, it's pretty cool what you do. A lot of our listeners know—and a lot don't know—your podcast is about what?
Kim: It's about people, who have overcome unfavorable odds, and have seen Jesus redeem all that they've been through.
Ann: I will say this: if you haven't listened, you need to start listening. Because you know, when you go to church—and it’s baptism day, and people share their stories—
Dave: I thought you were going to say: “When you go to church, and it's bad.”
Dave: Oh, baptism day—
Ann: —baptism day and people
Dave: —it inspires you.
Ann: Yes! And every one of these podcasts: you'll be uplifted and reminded how good and how big God is.
Dave: Yes, like today. So you/we're going to play an episode that you had—a very interesting interview—with a man, who's now a pastor.
Kim: Yes, it's Herman Mendoza. He was a young married man, 21 years old. He was struggling to make ends meet for him and his wife. He decided to go work for his brothers, who happened to be drug dealers. He rationalized it because he was only counting money. Eventually, he got sucked in. He started selling drugs and became one of the biggest drug lords in New York City, at the time; but he got arrested, so he went to jail for his crime. But when he got out, he decided to set his life straight, which he did. But sometimes old demons will come back to haunt you.
[Previous Unfavorable Odds Podcast]
Kim: Herman, you had actually gotten a job, doing legal activity.
Herman: Yes, I was a salesperson as a sorbet/selling sorbet ice cream. I was really good at it. [Laughter] I was making money just to support my family. I had an apartment. I was again/back again, nine to five.
Kim: Right; right.
Herman: I get trapped in this sin again, and I get caught right back into the same behaviors. I’m back in the enterprise/the business: again, selling hundreds of kilos of cocaine.
My second oldest brother gets arrested in Miami, and they extradite him to New York. When they extradited him to New York, we bailed him out on a half a million dollars. When he’s bailed out, he says, “What are you up to?” I explained; I said, “I’m working, again, with the cartel.” He says, “Okay. I have a friend of mine that owns a trucking company. He used to do a lot of my distribution.” He owned those 16-wheeler tractor trailers. He had a secret compartment in it, where we housed the drugs there to conceal it from the police.
He said, “Look we can work with this guy.” I said, “You trust him? He said, “Yes,” to me; “I’ve been working with him for many years.” We start working with him, and we give him 11 kilos—we first give him 9 and then another 2 kilos—actually, it was a total of 14 kilos. Towards the end of the last kilos of cocaine that we gave him, through one of our workers, he owed us money. He kept on stalling us, saying: “Oh, I’ll bring it next week,” “I’ll bring it next week.” When he finally brought a portion of that money, he was still short about $80,000.
Kim: That’s a lot of money.
Herman: Yes; then we figured: “Something doesn’t sound right here”; but we thought he was just trying to stall us for another week, whatever the case may be.
Kim: This is a person you refer to in your book as John?
Herman: Yes, that’s John; yes. This is now Emilio and I. We find out, one day, that the money was in sequence, sort of all numbered in a way that seemed obvious to us that this money came from the Drug Enforcement Agency. My brother and I looked at each other, and said, “We’ve got a problem.”
Turns out that he was working with the DEA, Drug Enforcement Agency. From that day on, I was having people drive me around. I was just drinking alcohol to try to just figure things out—trying to find a way out to try to make some more money/make hundreds of millions of dollars—and flee the country.
Well, it didn’t happen that way. One day, we’re driving; and we get arrested in Manhattan. It was by the DEA Agency. I tried to conceal—I had a little black book that had all my contacts in sequences—I was trying to conceal that black book that had all my contacts. They arrested us and took me to MDC, Brooklyn. I was there for about a few weeks and got bailed out on a half a million dollars.
Kim: Was that just money that you had floating around from what you made?
Herman: Actually, with the feds, it doesn’t work that way. They have to investigate where the money came from; so I put up a house that I owned, but it wasn’t under my name. Then I put up another house that was owned by my oldest brother. When I was released, the very first thing I wanted to do was drink and party. I was like I want to forget all the stuff I was dealing with. I was drinking heavily every morning.
I remember, one day, going to my attorney to have a discussion with him about my case. He told me: “Listen, Mr. Mendoza, you’re facing 25 years because this is your second case. You were convicted already on 32 kilos of cocaine.” He says, “Your case is not looking good.”
That scared me; I was like, “Man.” I decided to jump bail; right? I was supposed to go to court the following week, and I didn’t go—I jumped bail—so I was now on the run. I had around six months on the run.
Kim: Where did you go?
Herman: I was staying at different girlfriends’ homes, friends that had property/that had apartments around the city. Sometimes, I would go to casinos/Atlantic City, and stay there, and just gamble, and just drink all day, trying to numb the pain, and try to figure things out.
Kim: By this time, did you have three children?
Herman: Yes; by this time, I had three children.
Kim: Okay, and two of them were with your wife.
Kim: Who was the other one with?
Herman: The other one—when I was out in the world, doing crazy stuff—I had a mistress. She became pregnant; and we had the child, which was a blessing to have a child. It was not a blessing for me to commit adultery; but it happened to happen this way, so I had three kids; right.
Kim: Then, you’re looking at the possibility of 25 years in jail. You would miss out on their childhood.
Herman: Exactly; exactly.
I remember one night of partying and drinking—a drinking binge—I decided to go home to see my kids. I was in a club, in a VIP. I was drinking/drinking Crystal and trying to, again, numb the pain. I told my driver; I said, “Take me to my home.” I lived in a gated community, and he drove me there. He said, “Are you sure you want to go to your house?” I said, “Yes, I want to see my kids.”
As I enter into my property/I went home, I laid down. Early in the morning, my wife receives a phone call. The cops tell her: “We have your house surrounded. Tell your husband to open the door. If he has any guns, to toss it out the window.” The very first reaction was: “I’m going to escape.” I open the back window, and I try to jump out.
The cop is right there, and they say to freeze. I go back in the house, and told my wife, “Listen, open the door. My life is over.” She opens the door. I remember it was a horrific scene—because my sister-in-law was there, staying over at my house; my kids were asleep—cops come, guns drawn. My wife just develops this anger towards the cops/this strength of just fighting with the cops. She says, “Put the guns down. He’s going to give himself in; we have no guns in the house.”
I said, “I’m here.” I raised my hands, and they handcuffed me. They were searching the house for any guns. As they haul me into the adjacent car there, the marshals—it was the marshals, DEA agents, state police, and local police—I remember I was in the back of the car, handcuffed. As they drive away—my wife tells me later on, but I saw a glimpse of what they were doing—they were celebrating that they caught a big drug lord, and they were taking pictures. But my wife was obviously distraught, saying, “They took the father of my kids and, also, my husband.” Now, rightly so; but at the time, she didn’t want to think about that. She wanted to have her husband back.
Dave: We're listening to a clip of Unfavorable Odds, of a man whose life just seems to be headed nowhere.
Ann: Well, this sounds hopeless, like, “Oh, there's no way back after this one.”
Kim: Yes, and it was hopeless. He had children; it was possible that he would never see those children outside of those bars again.
Ann: Imagine being his wife too.
Kim: —watching your husband taken away and watching them celebrate the fact that they have caught him.
Dave: Yes; I mean, again, if you don't know the rest of story, you're thinking: “The door just closed. It's done; it's over. Second offense: he's not getting out again; he has shipwrecked his life.”
Dave: What could possibly turn anything good out of this situation? And
Kim: And just like God, He provides opportunity in the least likely of places.
[Previous Unfavorable Odds Podcast]
Kim: Take me back to when you were driving in the back of that car, after they had arrested you in your home.
Herman: I’m back at that car. I lived, again, in a wooded area, so I was looking towards my left and towards my right. It’s just pine trees, sort of a lonely road leading out to the major highway. I told the marshals, “I want you to open the back door, because I want to end my life.” I said, “My life is not worth anything right now.” He said, “Look, you never know what could happen”; and he gave me a glimpse of hope.
Kim: —which is odd in your situation.
Herman: Yes, yes; because I knew what I was confronting; it was just a weird feeling. I tried to gain my composure again, because I knew I was going to prison; and I didn’t want to look weak. But I was obviously hurt. When I say “hurt,” meaning I was in a place of no escape. I knew that my pending situation was sort of like a doomsday for me. I would never see my wife again, and my kids; and never get to see daylight, once again, in the sense that I was never going to be free out in society, until my later years. That reality set in.
They took me to a local jail. I remember that my kids came over to see me and my wife. My son and daughter wanted to embrace me and touch me. There was a separationit was sort of like a glass partition between us—with a handset/with a phone set. That’s the way I was communicating with them. My son and my daughter were saying, “Dad, tell them to let you free; that you’re going to be a good person. You’re not going to be bad.” He said, “I just want to touch you. I want to play with you. Can you come around? Let them know. Let them know.” That broke me. That day, my wife said, “I’m not coming back to a prison ever with the kids.” I said, “Rightly so; rightly so.”
They extradited me back to New York. On the way to Brooklyn, they send me to this unit called Five South. Little did I know that my brother was in Five North. Now, my brother had given his life to the Lord. This was his prayer: “Father, send my brother to the same facility/same dormitory, so I can share the gospel with him; because if not, they are going to kill him, out in society.”
Now, I just want to give your viewers an idea of the federal system. They never allow two brothers, to be in the same case, to be housed in the same unit. That just doesn’t happen. Well, God would have it no other way; there will be no other recourse. I got sent to Five South. Someone heard my last name, “Mendoza”; so the guy wakes me up—an inmate. He says very quietly—because in the prison culture, you don’t wake up a prisoner from his sleep; because that’s his way of escape out of reality—he kind of taps me lightly; and he says, “Mendoza, Mendoza.”
I get up; and he says, “Someone wants to see you next door. It’s your brother.” I’m like, “Brother?”
Kim: Oh, my goodness.
Herman: So I walk to Five South to the recreation area, because they allow you to go to the recreation area. My brother sees me and extends his hands up in the air. He says, “Praise the Lord! Praise God!” I look at him and I say, “Praise the Lord; praise God.” I say, “Man, we’re in jail. What are you talking about?!”
He starts sharing; he goes, “One day, you’ll know; you’ll understand.” He starts sharing the gospel, little by little, with me. He invited me to this church service, which I found interesting. I sat in the back, and I heard the preacher. He says, “You know who you are. God is calling you to have a relationship with you. He loves you; He wants to give you that peace that surpasses all understanding.”
I knew it was for me. I approached the altar/makeshift altar that they had there, and I just fell to the ground. I bowed down, got on my knees, and cried out to God. I said, “This is me. I’m the sinner you’re talking about.” The very next thing that I felt in my heart was a strong conviction of the things that I’ve done in the past.
I wanted to make amends and make it right. I thought about my wife, obviously; I thought about my kids; I thought about my mom, my dad. I thought about the people that I hurt by spewing drugs, without seeing them; because, again, I was in a different level. Basically, I was distributing the cocaine and giving it over to other organizations, where they then themselves will distribute it out into different street corners or stash houses. I wasn’t physically seeing what was happening, but God was showing me the lives that I was destroying; right?
Later on, in my studies, it’s sort of like the story of Joseph—that God takes Joseph, innocent man though; in my case, I was guilty, obviously—but God takes, what the enemy meant for evil, God turned it around for good; right? I was understanding; I wanted to learn more about God.
I grabbed the handset; I made a phone call. I contacted my mom; I said, “Mom, forgive me for the things that I’ve done to you.” I said, “I’m born again; I’m a Christian.” She didn’t understand this new conversion—she was skeptical—she was like, “Yes, Christian.” But she goes, “I’m happy for you.”
Then I wanted to contact my wife, and I couldn’t get through to her. Then I was praying for my wife and fasting, one day for three days for her salvation, with another inmate/fellow inmate. She came over to the visiting area; I thought it was my attorney. I didn’t even know. I see her, sitting across the room. I sat next to her; and she said, “Look, I got bad news to tell you.”
I said, “Hold up. I’ve got good news to share with you. Give me a few minutes.” I started to share my heart with her. I confessed my sin. We really started to speak to one another. The Holy Spirit was tugging on her heart; and she said, “Look, I want what you have. I want that Jesus that you’re professing and you’re speaking about. You’re more free in prison than myself, that I’m out in society.” She said, “I want Jesus.”
She said to me, “The reason why I came here was to let you know that I want a divorce. I wanted to end this relationship. But now, hearing your story and Jesus touching my heart right now, and knowing that there’s a better life in Christ, and that I could be fulfilled through the Word of God, this is what I want.”
Dave: We're listening to Kim Anthony’s podcast called Unfavorable Odds. I tell you what: hearing that story, I'm in tears!
Ann: Me too!
Kim: I know.
Dave: I would have never dreamed it would turn like that.
Kim: I tell you: it's the power of prayer. Think about how his brother prayed for his salvation, and then he prayed for his wife’s salvation; and lives were changed. He's making an incredible impact today.
Dave: Yes; I mean, even his wife’s line: “You are more free in prison than I am as a free woman,” is the truth of the gospel.
Ann: Well, I thought of Jesus saying, “I have come to set the prisoner free,”
Ann: literally and figuratively. And isn't that what we all want?—we want freedom. I love that his wife said that to him: “You are more free than I am, and I'm not in prison.”
Dave: Yes; I mean, there's so many lines in your interview; but even the police officer saying, “You never know what might happen,” is almost like God saying “I'm here; I've got a plan. It looks like you've failed it and I can never use you.” And yet, God is up to something.
I mean, I'm thinking of a marriage right now, that's at the end. They're listening, thinking, “We're done; there's no hope.” You never know what God may do.
Dave: And Jesus can turn around anything. That's a great story.
Ann: And you can hear more of the story. If you want to hear the whole version, how do they find that?
Kim: Well, you can get the link at FamilyLifeToday.com.
Dave: We heard an edited version, and there's more that we missed. I would say, “Click on the link. God wants to use this story in your life. I think He wants you to share it with others, because this is a story that changes lives.”
Ann: And Kim, thanks for what you're doing. This podcast is amazing, and the stories and the interviews that you have really push us to remember that God is faithful.
Kim: He is faithful. Thank you, Ann.
Shelby: You've been listening to Dave and Ann Wilson with Kim Anthony on FamilyLife Today. We've been listening to clips from Episode 31 of Unfavorable Odds. You can hear the full episode with Herman Mendoza when you search for Unfavorable Odds wherever you get your podcasts. Or you can get the link in today's show notes at FamilyLifeToday.com. We've also got copies of Herman Mendoza's book, Shifting Shadows. Again, the website is FamilyLifeToday.com; or you can call to get a copy of his book at 800-358-6329; that's 800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
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Now, tomorrow, Dave and Ann Wilson will be talking with Jen Oshman about the natural struggles we experience as we live in a culture that is very much the “era of self.” That's tomorrow.
On behalf of Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Shelby Abbott. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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