Art Blajos says his life changed as he sat in a maximum security jail cell, waiting for the appropriate time to kill the man next to him.
The man, whom Blajos called "Eddie," was on the Mexican Mafia's hit list. As a member of the ruthless prison gang, Blajos said it was his job to kill anybody on the list.
"I was an assassin," he said inside a Pasco hotel room Tuesday.
As the two sat in neighboring cells, Eddie talked to Blajos -- known by the street name "conejo" or rabbit for his shiftiness -- about the power of Jesus. Blajos said he was skeptical of what Eddie preached, but he secretly began to pray.
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The opportunity for Blajos to strike finally came when the men were both out of their cells and headed for the shower.
Blajos saw Eddie approaching. As he thought about how to kill the man, something he had never experienced came over him, he said.
"(Eddie) was in striking distance," Blajos said. "I looked at him and saw a man. I saw a brother. I saw a father. I'd never thought like that."
Blajos, 59, calls the moment a "miracle of grace" and credits prayer for saving his life. Now he is reaching out to gang members across the world through a drama based on his life story called Blood In Blood Out. It was adapted from a book with the same title written by Blajos and Keith Wilkerson.
It will be shown today for the first time in the Tri-Cities at Faith Assembly Christian Center in Pasco.
The play will start at 7 p.m., and admission is free. For more information, call 380-0655.
"The play is a hook to see the lifestyle (gang members) idolized," Blajos said. "The curtain will be pulled back and they will see a solution and a way out."
Blajos grew up in East Los Angeles and become entrenched in the gang culture at an early age, he said. He dreamed of being a "shotcaller" and idolized the older gang members.
He worked his way up in the Mexican Mafia, or La Eme, while serving three different stints in prison, including 17 years in San Quentin -- California's most notorious lockup, he said.
His crimes included murder for hire, kidnapping and robbery.
Prison did not deter Blajos from the gang life, he said. It only made him hungrier to work his way up through the ranks. He learned how block out emotions and focus on doing whatever needed to be done to help the gang succeed.
"Prison was a university of higher learning for thugs," he said.
After his decision not to kill Eddie, he joined Victory Outreach International -- a Christian church based in L.A. that was known for helping gang members and rehabilitating drug addicts.
"That was 28 years ago," said Blajos, whose life was threatened when he left the gang. "I haven't been back in jail since."
Victory Outreach was started in 1967 and has churches and recovery homes across the world, said Pastor James Negron, who opened a Victory Outreach church in the Tri-Cities in 2007.
Negron is a former gang member from Long Beach, Calif., who opened the church after he said his life was saved by Victory Outreach in Seattle.
Blajos and Negron know each other through Victory Outreach, and the pastor recruited his friend to the Tri-Cities to help show the play.
Negron believes the play will have an impact on youth in the Tri-Cities and could be a way for gang members to realize the gang life is not glamorous.
"Deep inside (gang members) are looking for something," Negron said. "They want to change. The drama exposes the lie (that is the gang life)."
-- Tyler Richardson: 582-1556; firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @Ty_richardson