Monday, Nov. 30, 2015 | 2 a.m.
Pastor Cody Huff wrote a book about his experiences. For more information about "Handcuffs to Broken Chains," visit www.vegasbrokenchains.org.
Pastor Cody Huff was once on the FBI’s most wanted list and was barred from every casino in Las Vegas because of his role in a counterfeiting ring.
Now, he works with local law enforcement, feeding and clothing the Las Vegas Valley’s homeless population.
First incarcerated at age 15, Huff spent decades abusing drugs and avoiding the law. Now 64, he runs the Broken Chains Ministry, which provides clothes and food to the homeless and hungry.
Every week, Huff and a team of volunteers barbecue meals for the homeless at a park and hand out clothing and blankets. They bus people to Sunday morning church services, connect addicts with intervention services and pick up meals from schools to distribute to the hungry.
Huff spoke to The Sunday about the transformation that took him from living on the streets to being a community voice for the homeless.
You were abused as a child?
As far back as I can remember, my mother was extremely violent toward me. She whipped me with belts and tree branches. She called me names and said she wished she’d never had me.
I never knew my father. I contacted him as an adult and asked if he ever wondered what happened to me. He said, “No, not really.”
My mother has passed away now. When I became a Christian, one of the hardest things I had to do was ask God to forgive her. She was only 13 or 14 when she had me, and a girl that age doesn’t know how to be a parent. I think she had a difficult childhood herself; the abused often become abusers.
How did you become involved with drugs?
I started smoking marijuana when I was 12. At 13, I ran away to live with hippies in San Francisco. I sold drugs to pay my share of the rent, and I made good money. At that time in San Francisco, it was all about drugs and rock ’n’ roll. For me, it was an escape from the abuse.
How did you become involved in crime?
When I was 15, I was sent to the California Youth Authority for a hit-and-run. Most of the kids were older than me, so I got a Ph.D. in crime.
I continued taking drugs and later became addicted to heroin and crack cocaine. That led to counterfeiting and burglary. I had periods where I wouldn’t use hard drugs, then something emotional would happen and I’d go back to them. Until the age of 52, I was the guy your mother warned you about.
Did you spend time in prison as an adult?
I spent a year in California State Prison for residential burglary, then moved to Las Vegas and got into a counterfeiting ring. We made silver dollars and took them to casinos, trading our money for theirs. We did it three or four times a week, making $1,500 to $2,000 each visit.
I was wanted by the FBI, the Nevada Gaming Commission, every law-enforcement agency you can think of. My picture was all over town. I contacted an attorney, who advised me to turn myself in, so that led to another year in jail.
How did you become homeless?
When I came out of prison for counterfeiting, I began to use heroin again, then I traded that for crack cocaine. Within a year of smoking crack, I went through $300,000 and lost everything I owned — my house, my motor home, my boat, my brand new Harley. Nobody would let me stay with them because I was so addicted to drugs, so I spent a year homeless on the streets of Las Vegas.
Why did you start doing crack?
I was at a friend’s house, and they were smoking crack. I asked them for a hit because I felt horrible; my withdrawal from heroin was severe because I was using so much of it. Another friend tried to talk me out of taking crack. He said it would destroy me, and it did. Once you’re addicted, you want more and more. I reached the point of using $1,000 a day.
What motivated you to stop taking drugs?
It was summer, and I hadn’t had a shower in three months, so I went to a church because they’d give you clean clothes. I didn’t want to hear about Jesus. But the people at the church gave me so much love, I started reading the Bible and kept going back.
One day, I prayed for God to forgive me. When I stood up, I didn’t want drugs anymore, and I’ve never taken them since. That night, my friends kept offering me crack. I saw it as the enemy trying to pull me back in, but God gave me strength.
I spent a month volunteering at the church. They gave me lunch, and at the end of the day, they let me take food back to the park where I was sleeping, to make meals for my friends.
One day, I was in the church cafeteria, and a man offered me a job on a rock crusher. It came with a trailer I called “the Taj Mahal.” From there, someone else at the church offered me a better-paying job with UPS. After that, I became a pastor.
In the past, you had a difficult relationship with the police. What’s that relationship like now?
The police used to be my enemy. I carried a gun, and contact with police usually meant I ended up in jail. Now, I work hand-in-hand with them.
When I’m out and see a cop at a gas station, I pull over and thank them for the work they do for the community. I’m all tattooed because I used to run with biker clubs, but when I thank them, they’re so nice. I say, “I got tired of you guys chasing me, so I’m a good boy now.”
Tell us about “Two Lunch Tuesdays.”
We partner with the Clark County School District and the PTAs. We have 25 schools where the kids bring two lunches and donate one to the ministry. The program has gotten so big, we now supply Catholic Charities, the Rescue Mission and a host of other organizations. We have a team of five guys who pick up the lunches. On Nov. 10, we collected 4,277 lunches.
We started six years ago with one school making us peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Now, the kids try to outdo each other to see who can bring the best lunches. They write notes for the homeless people. The little girls color the bags. It’s priceless.
Do homeless people trust you more because you’ve been through a similar situation?
Absolutely. When I’m working with an addict or an alcoholic, I always hear the same thing: “Cody, I’ve been to rehab, I’ve talked to doctors and I’ve been to psychologists, but you know what you’re talking about because you’ve experienced it.”
Your ministry offers people help, but do people have to want to help themselves?
Yes. The longer someone is homeless, the more resistant they are to getting help. They don’t want to go into a program and live by rules. If we can get them off the street in their first year of homelessness, that’s our best odds. I have contacts to get people into a program and rent them an apartment. I tell them, “If I could make up your mind for you, I would accept the help.”
Given your background, do you have to work to prove yourself?
We have our ministry’s books audited every three months by an accounting firm, because we know people are thinking, “They’ve got to be taking something from this.” I’m proud to say nobody in our ministry, including myself, accepts a salary from Broken Chains. We wouldn’t be able to do all the things we do if we paid people.
What do you say to people who come to you for help?
I tell them the same thing that was told to me: “We’re here to help you, but we won’t play games.” A lot of people try to take advantage of us, but our ministry is there for people who really want help.