By Samantha Rea
Cody Huff took marijuana at the age of 12 and spent 40 years of his life selling and using drugs, including heroin and crack cocaine. Residential burglaries and a hit-and-run resulted in prison sentences. Counterfeiting saw him named as one of the FBI’s most wanted – and led to more time locked up. At his peak of criminal activity, he made $1,000 a day. At his lowest point, his addiction to crack led him to living on the streets, and he spent a year homeless in Las Vegas. Huff’s life turned around when he discovered God and he’s now an ordained pastor, running his own ministry to help the homeless.
At your most infamous, you were on the FBI’s wanted list. How did you first find yourself on that path?
My mother was violent towards me – as far back as I can remember, she whipped me with belts and tree branches. She’d say she wished she’d never had me. When I was 12, I began to rebel by smoking marijuana – I started hanging out with the wrong crowd and cutting school. When my mom found out about that, it led to more abuse so I ran away to San Francisco. I lived with hippies and sold drugs to pay my share of the food and rent. The police caught me several times – they’d bring me back to California and put me in juvenile detention. Then when I was 15, I got into a hit-and-run when I was driving someone else’s car. Another car pulled out in front of me, I hit it really bad, then just jumped out of the car and took off. I was later identified, and they sent me to a prison for kids called California Youth Authority. I was there for a year, and most of the kids were older than me, so I got a criminal education.
How did your time in the juvenile prison influence what you did next?
Inside, I learned a lot about criminal enterprises and how to spot undercover police. When I came out, I was mostly in the drug business, because that was really my forte. I continued doing drugs until later in life, when I got into residential burglary and spent one year in prison for that. Then I moved to Las Vegas and I got into a counterfeiting ring. We made our own silver dollars and took them to the casinos, trading our money for theirs. We were robbing the casinos of up to around $8,000 a week – every week. Casino surveillance put my picture up all over town, and I ended up wanted by every law enforcement agency you can think of, including the FBI. The counterfeiting led to another year in prison. In all, I’ve spent eight years of my life locked up.
How did you turn your life around?
When I became addicted to crack, I was evicted from my house, because I wasn’t paying the bills. I didn’t have anywhere to go and nobody would let me stay with them, because of my addiction to drugs. I was actually homeless on the streets of Las Vegas for a year, doing whatever I could to survive. It was summertime and I hadn’t had a shower in three months. Summertime is hot in Las Vegas, so I went to the Central Christian Church, which is the biggest church in Las Vegas, because they would let you take a shower and give you clean clothes – that’s how I became a Christian.
What happened when you visited the church?
Well, at that point, I didn’t want to hear anything about Jesus – I just went there for the clean clothes. But this lady walked up to me and – I almost cry at this point – she told me that “Jesus loves you”. That touched my heart deeply, and my reply to her was: “Man, you don’t understand. Jesus can’t love me because I’m an ex-con, I’m an ex-felon and I’m a drug addict. I’m so addicted to crack that I would really hurt somebody.” And she said, “Cody, you know what? Jesus loves you, and his mercy and forgiveness and grace is available to you right now.” And you know what? Something happened inside of me.
My whole life I had gone without true love, and these people at the church loved me. They didn’t even know me, but they loved me. Instead of a handout, they gave me a hand. From that point forward, I couldn’t get enough of reading the Bible – I couldn’t get enough of the Word of God. And the more I read the Bible, the more I began to understand what Christ’s death on that cross meant to me – that he died for all my sins and I would never have to stand before God with that whole mountain of sin that I had created my whole life. That’s the moment that my life [had] a drastic turnaround. In the Bible, it tells us, “be not conformed to [this] world, but be transformed by the renewing of [your] mind” [Darby]. That’s when my mind began to transform – I began to look at things differently, and to understand that I was listening to the wrong voice.
How was your life different from that point?
I kept going back to that church, and those people wrapped their arms around me and loved on me like I had never felt loved before. I was living in a dirt field – I was still homeless and messing around with crack – but I had begun to taper it down. One day I came back from church, and I got on my knees. I prayed to God to forgive me for everything I had done that I knew was against the will of God; I tried to name everything. I even asked God to forgive me for all the things I didn’t even know I’d done that were against his will. I prayed for probably 20 minutes – and I was Mr Tough Guy; I didn’t cry – but I began to cry. I’d held all this inside me so long. There I was, in a dirt field – with my tears making a mud puddle. There was a big mud puddle in front of me, and the minute I said “Amen” and stood up, I didn’t want drugs anymore. God took that from me. And that was 13 years ago.
So you haven’t touched drugs since that moment?
No. The minute I said “Amen” and stood up, I was delivered from drugs. There were 40 of us sleeping in the field and that night, my friends kept waking me, saying, “Here Cody, I’ve got some crack, man.” And I said, “Get that stuff away from me, I don’t do that anymore.” They kept doing this all night, until finally I stood up and said, “The next person who offers me any kind of dope, or wakes me up again, we’re going to get into a fight” because this was on a Saturday night, so I was going to church the next morning. Never before, in my whole year of being homeless on the streets, had anybody offered me free crack. The way I see it is, I had just given my heart to God and this was the enemy’s way of trying to pull me back into that realm. Thank God, God gave me the strength to say no. I haven’t done drugs since then.
Did the church help you in any practical way?
When I started going to church and the church saw that I was being serious, I came up with an idea, because I didn’t want to be out in the world, tempted to buy drugs. So my idea was, I would go to the church every day and volunteer – I’d do whatever kind of work they had for me. They wouldn’t pay me anything, but they would give me a free lunch every day, and I would rather be there because people loved me. I would stay till 5 o’clock at night, when the church closed, then they would take me down to the food pantry and let me put as much food as I could in my backpack. So I’d get all of this food and I’d go back to the park and I’d make a meal for all of my friends. The people of God were so loving and helpful. They didn’t give me a lot, but they gave me enough to survive, until I reached the point where they thought I was employable and doing the right thing and not playing a game with them.
You’re a pastor now – how did that come about?
I continued going to church, and I could not get enough of reading the Bible. They had told me to start on the New Testament and if I had questions, to write them down and they would answer them for me. About a month after that, I was baptised, and I’ve never been the same since. A man at the church offered me a job on a rock crusher – it came with a 25ft trailer that I called the Taj Mahal because I wasn’t homeless anymore. From crushing rocks for $8 an hour, I started working for UPS for $25 an hour. My wife and I have been married for over ten years now – we run a homeless ministry in Las Vegas called Broken Chains, and I’m actually an ordained pastor now – I’ve been ordained … for six years.
How does Broken Chains help homeless people?
Our number one priority is to connect them to Christ. Our ministry is just a tool that God uses to connect people to Jesus. We don’t actually have a church – we meet in a local park. There’s a gazebo and we normally get 50 to 60 homeless people show up every week. We bring them clothes and socks, have a one-hour Bible study, and then we have a barbeque. We have chicken, fruit and vegetables, and sweets. In the wintertime we have coffee and in the summertime we have colas. We step in where Social Services fail. We make sure they’re fed and taken to the doctor. I have dentists here in town who help us if they get problems with their teeth. When my wife and I first got married and started doing this, we paid for the ministry out of own pocket. Now we’re a non-profit, charitable organisation. We rely on donations, and I’m proud to say that no one, including myself, takes a salary.
Are people happy to donate to you, or does your past mean that trust is an issue?
No. In the Bible, it says that God shall supply all of our needs, according to his riches and glory [see Philippians 4:19]. We don’t go out, we don’t have fundraising campaigns – we’re really big in the city now, so everybody who has anything to do with the homeless knows who we are. We operate on $50,000 a year, and we spend every penny on the mission. We know people think we must be taking something from this, and so we have our books audited every three months by an accounting firm in Las Vegas.
What’s the most rewarding aspect of what you do?
It’s my joy to run into one of these homeless guys that are in the same shape I was in, and see them go into rehab, and get their life back together. To see them get their first job and get an apartment and a car and a girlfriend – and then all of a sudden they’re married. There’s no better thing. For me, that’s my payment.
Is it possible to get someone on the straight and narrow without connecting them to Jesus?
I don’t think so. I think it’s pretty much impossible to get someone off … drugs without Christ. There is no way that I would be where I am without the Lord.
Pastor Cody Huff’s autobiography, Handcuffs to Broken Chains (Colossus Publishing) is available on Amazon. www.vegasbrokenchains.org/2015/10/pastor-codys-new-book-handcuffs-to-broken-chains-is-now-available-to-purchase/