Meet the ex-hustler who Andy Mineo wants to make a movie about
Andy Mineo’s bucket list includes filming a flick about an ex-hustler, Raymond Rivera, founder of Grateful Apparel.
“This guy has so many stories that we need to make a movie about this guy’s life,” Mineo told Rapzilla. “That’s one of the things I want to see done before I’m done.”
Rivera, who met Mineo in 2009, once suffered from cocaine addiction and alcoholism.
Today, Rivera owns transitional homes called 3Sixty Houses that help addicts recover.
“His story is so motivational to me,” Mineo said. “To see the Lord transform that dude’s life, and for him to use the gifts that God’s given him to now do something beneficial is crazy. The same people he might have been dealing drugs to, now he’s opening up these 3Sixty Houses for them to come and be recovered.”
Rivera couldn’t remember any clients who recovered in his 3Sixty Houses, but Mineo was onto something.
Rivera once forgot cocaine in the bathroom of a motel when a younger neighbor of his, Ricky Santana, came to pick him up. Santana found the cocaine, and, curious, used for the first time. He eventually became addicted.
Santana said he and Rivera had gotten into a fight over a girl and stopped talking. By the time they reconciled a decade later, Rivera had changed.
Ray Rivera: From selling cocaine to Christian T-shirts
Rivera shared how he changed with Mineo in a short video, which Reach Records released as an example of living uncomfortable for the sake of others, as the release date of Mineo’s album Uncomfortable approached.
“My whole life is uncomfortable basically,” Rivera told Rapzilla.
Rivera grew up in Queens, New York with no mother and an alcoholic father. He dropped out of school in eighth grade because he suffered from anxiety. Drugs and alcohol ruled nearly the next two decades of his life.
Then at age 32, at the end of a five-day coke binge, Rivera’s empty pockets made him realize he needed to change. Thanks to a narcotics anonymous program, he stopped using drugs. He still sold them, though, and quickly learned that, when selling cocaine, cocaine is not a performance enhancing drug.
Drug free, Rivera became a more responsible hustler, and “empty” never again described his pockets.
“If there are three hustlers in the neighborhood,” Rivera said, “and there are a thousand people who need to contact a hustler, they’re going to probably call the guy who says he’s going to be there at 10 o’clock, and he shows up at 10 o’clock.”
Rivera was that guy. But while he had become rich, something inside of him remained just as empty as his pockets used to be. Rivera discovered that he wasn’t alone in experiencing this phenomenon from a guest speaker at an NA meeting, Pastor Raymond Ramos.
“I was a drug addict,” Ramos said. “I thought that my problem was drugs and, if if I were to stop using drugs, all my problems would be gone. I got clean off of drugs, but I still had a lot of problems … Abstinence doesn’t equal deliverance. You need Jesus to be delivered.”
This message inspired Rivera, but he repeatedly declined Ramos’s invitations to attend church.
“I thought I’d be a hypocrite to go to church still doing the things I was doing,” he said.
He eventually expressed this to Ramos, who had an answer that convinced him to attend: Just come as you are. Rivera did. And it wasn’t instantaneous, but he became a Christian, quit dealing and became what Pastor Ramos was to him for hundreds of other addicts.
One of those addicts was Ricky Santana.
By his mid-30s, Santana had used drugs for 28 years of his life. (He smoked marijuana for the first time at age 5). He didn’t desire change, though — as evidence of conversations he would have with an alcoholic friend of his.
“I would sit there and do drugs, and this guy would sit there and drink,” Santana said, “but I would tell him that he had a problem, and he needed to get help.”
The alcoholic did get help. He called Rivera, who let him live in a 3Sixty House. Through this connection, Rivera and Santana reunited, and Rivera offered him the same help.
Santana accepted it, in spite of his resentment toward Christianity. He attended a Catholic school as a child, and the experience left him bitter toward the church.
“We were preparing to do communion,” Santana said. “I remember the principle saying, ‘I want you to wear your best clothes to come to church on Sunday.’ Now, my best clothes were probably a suit, but I had friends who grew up on my block who had holes in their sneakers, who were wearing second-hand clothes, couldn’t afford things, and I felt offended.
“I thought to myself, ‘So, you’re basically telling me, because my friends dress the way they do, they can’t come to church.’ That’s the way my 10-year-old brain interpreted what the nun said. I decided to not go back to church that day.”
The church members who Rivera introduced to him were different than the ones Santana remembered.
“They were happy,” Santana said. “I was seeing guys who came from where Ray and I came from, had been through probably things worse than we had, and they were so excited about church. And it took a while. I didn’t go in there and, within a week, I wanted to go back to church. It took some time.
“I kept seeing them happy. I could see their spirits were just so healthy. They were so enthusiastic about what they were about. Eventually I said, ‘You know what, I got to go see what these guys were doing.’ And that’s when it happened. That’s when I decided to change my life and not go back.”
Santana lived at the 3Sixty House for about a year and a half. Today, he said he has a wife and two-year-old boy, is the No. 1 bus driver for his company and has a relationship with Jesus. And without Rivera, Santana added, he would have none of it.
“[Rivera] is a person like me who did crime for an extreme amount of time,” Santana said, “and jail time was probably minimal. If you’re doing crime for a long time and you’re not doing time, 10-15 years, it’s real easy to believe there’s no reason for you to stop because you’re, in a twisted sense, successful.
“When Ray decided to turn his life around, he really had no reason to. There was no investigation going on. Most people go to jail, they end up doing time and, when they’re in a cell, they want to turn to God. [Then they] come out and maybe — maybe — stay honest a couple of years before they go back. That hasn’t been the case with Ray.”
In 2008, Rivera founded Grateful Apparel, a clothing brand for which proceeds fund his 3Sixty Houses. Andy Mineo’s Sin Is Wack shirt is one of the many collaborations that Rivera has done with Christian hip-hop artists.
“I think gratefulness is something that everybody can gravitate toward,” Mineo said. “For me, as a Christian who’s in the world and tries not to be of it, I love double speak. That’s why a lot of my music has shifted to a style of being able to encourage the Christian, but also invite, welcome and challenge the non-Christian.”
In addition to his return to church, one challenging moment played a key role in Santana not going back to drugs.
The first week he lived in a 3Sixty House, Rivera also stayed there, so Santana assumed it was his home.
“Then one night, I see him packing a bag, and I tell him, ‘Where are you going?’”
Rivera told him home.
“What are you saying you’re going home?” Santana said. “You’re going to leave all these dope fiends and crack heads in this beautiful house? I don’t understand. What do you mean? You trust these people?”
“Don’t worry about it,” he said. “It’s going to be alright. God’s got us. God’s going to make sure that this thing works.”
“And I never forgot that,” Santana said. “I carry with me. It was that little conversation years later that helps maintain my trust in God. It really does. It’s amazing, man.”
Santana paused to gather his thoughts.
“It’s very difficult to put into words when such extreme things happen with the spirit,” he said. “When I came in, I was broken, man. I was broken — broken. It wasn’t even about getting high. It wasn’t about money. It wasn’t about anything anymore. I’m hurting, I got a hole in my spirit and nothing I do — nothing I know to do — is removing that.”
Then Santana put his trust in the source of Rivera’s trust. Now they’re both grateful.