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The Reverend Art Blajos is a quietly spoken man of God with a terrible past - he was once a feared Mafia hitman.

The preacher, who now tends to the poor in Britain's inner cities, admits he has killed "many" men for his gangster bosses.

He has served time on Death Row, been shot, stabbed and still has a bullet lodged in his knee.

His tattoos include a black hand - the sign of a killer among his Mafia family - on his right arm.

But Blajos, 47, now uses the horror of his past to reform criminals and drug addicts, telling them: "I made it, so can you."

The preacher, who has spent the past five years working for evangelical church Victory Outreach in Cardiff, Edinburgh and London, said: "I tell them about the Mafia, the killings, show them my tattoos.

"People on the street realise I'm for real. They start thinking, `This man was worse than me but look at him now. How did he do it?' "

Blajos' life of violence really began when he made it into the Mafia in his early 20s.

He said: "There was nothing else I ever wanted to be but a gangster They had what I thought was the respect of other men.

"It took me a long time to learn they were not respected, they were feared. There is a big difference.

"At the first sign of weakness your own `brothers' would turn on you and kill you."

Blajos spent four years on Death Row in California before being acquitted of a contract killing.

He said: "When I came out I had maximum respect. It was as if I was invincible, not even Death Row could touch me.

"What followed was a very violent period of my life. We went after another drugs gang.

"We would ambush them, kill them, steal their drugs and take their money. At that time I respected only guns, money and drugs.

"I had homes, a wife, cars, cash and huge quantities of drugs passing through my hands."

The hitman-turned-preacher became a cocaine addict and it was after he was jailed for driving while high on the drug that he made the turnaround in his life.

In the cell next to him was a small-time dealer who had double-crossed his gang and whom Blajos was supposed to kill.

Blajos said: "I planned to stab him in the showers but the night before I could not sleep and stayed up all night reading the Bible.

"The next morning I was in the shower with him and he was in striking distance for several minutes.

"But for the first time in my life I saw a human being, instead of a target - something made me wait.

"At first I wasn't worried, I would get him another day. But I never did. Something changed inside me."

After leaving jail, Blajos pledged his life to God and joined Victory Outreach.

One of the criminals he has helped is London King's Cross "guvnor" Tommy Jituboh, whose record of violence has seen him spend 22 of his 48 years in prison.

Jituboh said: "I was injecting heroin and cocaine, drinking and smoking, I lived in a concrete jungle where violence ruled.

"Now I have become a Christian and lecture about drugs to schools and the police.

"There is no doubt in my mind that Art Blajos and his church saved my life."
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Copyright 1997 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Kellaway, Robert
Publication:The People (London, England)
Date:Feb 2, 1997
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