By: Richie Benitez
I was raised in Washington Heights, New York, in the 1980s. I grew up in the cocaine boom of New York. At the age of 14, I tried “coke” for the first time and the feeling of superiority grabbed me instantly. It wasn’t long before I began selling “coke” in my high school. By the age of 15, I was able to formulate a batch of cocaine that would accommodate my height and weight, so that I could be high all the time and no one would know. I soon found myself dealing drugs and eventually capitalizing on a huge gang movement by bringing gangs together for drug parties. Despite the drug dealing and gang parties, oddly enough, I actually liked school and did rather well. I graduated from high school with honors. If anyone had told my teachers that I was a drug-dealing, prostitution-running, coke-head criminal, my teachers would never have believed it. As a drug addict I became an expert lying, deceptive cheat that could con anyone… so I thought… but eventually the con was on me!
Eventually things got a little too hot and I had to get a job. I became a hospital maintenance worker—and had to learn how to live on a regular paycheck. I thought to myself “This is it… it’s time to stop and get your act together.” However, my addiction had different plans. My attempt to stop using cocaine did not work; as a matter of fact, my addiction grew worse. Soon I started selling drugs in the hospital to provide for my own habit. In my heart of hearts, I wanted out, but I just got deeper into my world of addiction.
Then it happened! I met the woman I wanted to spend the rest of my life with: Lisa. I figured that if I got married, I would stop; I would not need the drugs anymore to be happy. That bubble burst a few days after the wedding; I realized was still hooked. Lisa was married to a lying, deceptive man; for three years she had no clue that her husband was a junkie. When Lisa found my stash of coke in the house, she was devastated. The drugs were bad enough, but the years of lying overwhelmed her with disgust, and she was heartbroken. I told her this would never stop; this is the way that I would die. But then came the wonder of my life… my first-born daughter, Krista… that’s it…I’m a dad… it’s finally over… I am definitely stopping now!! But all my good intentions were a farce. When Krista started walking, somehow she found a package of my drugs: a cocaine dose so pure that if she were to put it in her mouth, she would be dead today. I almost killed by first-born baby girl… what was wrong with me?! I thought that my life was over. There were times that I was so high at night that it felt as if my heart were beating out of my chest. I looked over at my wife and my baby girl as they slept and kissed them good-bye, thinking they would see a dead man in the morning.
“O wretched man that I am!! Who shall deliver me from the body of this death? I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord!!!”
At the hospital where I worked, there were many “professing” Christians who seemed no different than I was. They were liars; they were cheaters; they were thieves. It was all just nonsense to me. But there was one guy, Tommy Port, who was different… annoyingly different. I hated him because he was always too happy. Jesus this and Jesus that… this guy had so much Jesus that it came out of his ears!! He LOVED Christ. I tried to intimidate him with cursing and sexually explicit language, just to let him know that he couldn’t con me with this Jesus stuff. Through more circumstances than I have room to write about, I mustered up the courage to ask Tommy about his faith. I did not know if he was a Jehovah Witness, Mormon, Catholic, or whatever; but I knew that he lived what he preached, and he preached to all who would listen! I asked Tommy, “Hey, what is this religion of yours?”
He looked me straight in the eyes… I have to tell you that I tried many drugs and all kinds of alcohol, but what that man had in his eyes… That love!! That peace!! That joy!! I wanted it in the worst possible way. Tommy said to me, “I don’t have religion, but I have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.” Tommy gave me a book by Billy Graham called Peace with God, and it was a lot like my story. I put my trust and faith in the person and work of the Lord Jesus in April of 1998. In the middle of my living room, I knew from that point on that I was heaven bound and everything was going to be all right.
Many years have passed, but the Lord has used me to witness, help youth, preach, and become involved in camp ministry. By God’s grace, now eighteen years later, my wife Lisa and I serve and minister to couples as well. I am in happy fellowship with Lisa and our daughters Krista, Brianna, and Sarah at Grace Gospel Chapel of Jersey City, New Jersey. Alleluia… What a Savior!!!