He was a so-called "street god" who once sold millions of dollars worth of drugs and hatched an elaborate plan to run from the law, but a chance encounter with three women — and the Almighty — eventually changed all that.
Dimas Salaberrios grew up in a beautiful suburb in Queens, but his path in life ended up taking him far from the picket fences and family atmosphere that had been fixtures in his childhood.
Salaberrios, the author of the forthcoming book "Street God" who is now a pastor working to save lives and souls in the inner city, once found himself swimming in a sea of crime, as he bounced in and out of jail, embedding himself in the dark throes of the criminal underworld.
It all began at age 11 when Salaberrios tried mescaline, a hallucinogen, for the first time. Before long, he was selling the drug — an experience that set him on a path toward personal destruction.
"It came at a very young age and set me off from that point on to start dealing drugs," he told The Church Boys podcast of the experience.
Listen to Salaberrios' redemption story below:
Before long, he was pedaling marijuana as well, though his foray into the drug world didn't end there.
"One of my friends told me about crack, so I dipped and dabbed with selling crack," Salaberrios continued. "And at age 13 we had a number of different fads when my friends started stealing cars."
He found himself in legal trouble over these latter acts, but his mother hired a paid lawyer who helped get him out of it.
Still, Salaberrios continued his criminal activity, getting arrested for selling marijuana and crack at age 15; he then spent five days in New York's notorious Rikers Island prison — which he said was a terrifying and memorable experience.
At age 16, Salaberrios was sentenced to a year in prison, but when he was released and found out the hard way that making money the legal way was difficult, old habits once again took hold.
"I tried to go and get a job, and the only job I was able to get was to work at White Castle," he said. "I said, 'You know what, this is not cutting it. I'm going back into that world."
Salaberrios continued selling drugs into his 20s, regularly cooking up cocaine, while still trying to put up a front to convince his parole officer that he was on the straight and narrow.
"I started to become a street god. That meant high-level running two or three or four operations on different drug blocks," he said.
Salaberrios had gunman and other staffers working under him to assist in facilitating illicit activity, but as he continued to shield his activities, he didn't realize that the cocaine was actually seeping into his pores.
"I was turning in dirty urine, so I finally went to the parole officer," he said. "She handcuffed me."
When the officer confronted Salaberrios about his failed urine tests, he jumped up and fled in an elaborate effort to evade authorities.
"I leapt up, grabbed the door and started leaping down flights of stairs, while all of the parole officers were coming after me ... when I hit the first floor, there was no guard," he said. "I escaped out of there, went to a location, got this friend of mine, paid him money to get my handcuffs cut off."
From there, Salaberrios bought a wig and some women's clothes and proceeded to leave town.
"I dressed like a woman, got on the Amtrak train with pounds of marijuana and crack on me and road all the way down to Winston-Salem," he said.
It was there that he continued his illicit activity with the sale of millions of dollars worth of drugs, but something changed one day when three women approached him and prayed for him — an event that he said ushered in a "crisis moment" in his life.
"When they had prayed for me it was like the power of God came on me," Salaberrios said. "I fell on the floor at that moment. I lifted my hands up to God and I said, 'I'm finished. I'm never selling crack again."
He continued, through, with a chuckle: "I said, 'I'm only going to sell weed, God, because it's natural.'"
Salaberrios, who said he hadn't yet fully grasped Christianity at the time, kept selling marijuana and started giving the money to a local church.
It wasn't until he met a youth pastor who set him completely straight that he stopped pedaling the drug; the preacher also encouraged him to return to New York City to turn himself in — an act that Salaberrios agreed to.
And it was there as he stood before a judge that another surprise unfolded.
"The judge saw the transformation on me ... she released me and said, 'Jail would ruin you,'" Salaberrios said. "She liked the person that I became and that's unheard of — like a real pardon from a judge."
From there, Salaberrios never looked back. He began going to churches and his charismatic personality soon led to leadership positions. Before long, he was preaching, and after meeting famed megachurch pastor Tim Keller, he planted a church of his own in New York City.
At the time, Salaberrios said that he could have launched his ministry anywhere in the city, but he chose to target an area that was plagued by violence and crime — the Bronx River Housing Projects.
Through his Infinity Bible Church, Salaberrios has targeted drug dealers and continuously worked to change hearts and minds.
"I've led hit men to Christ, I've led drug lords to Christ, I've led prostitutes to Christ," he said.
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