I was on Facebook Saturday night when I ran across a video. As I watched the clip my heart was moved by what I heard. In the video was Christian Claudio and he was speaking, telling an audience about how Christ had changed his life. I left him a comment below the video clip, wrote in my cell number and asked for him to call me, as I wanted to interview him for an article on my blog. Within minutes my phone rang, and on the other end was Christian Claudio. As I spoke with him for almost an hour my heart was stirred within me, as he shared with me the wondrous, miraculous story of how God changed his life…Below is that story.
Christian Claudio was of the most powerful Latin Kings in New York City. He controlled over 14,000 prisoners as “Supreme Crown,” of the Almighty Latin King Nation on Rikers Island. He was a drug-lord criminal, he had been the target of numerous homicide investigations and had been convicted of Conspiracy to Commit Murder in the Second Degree. He had operated a major drug network that expanded into all of New York City, upstate New York, and throughout the U.S. He was dangerous, he was powerful, and he knew it.
Claudio was born in the Carver Projects in Spanish Harlem, a tough neighborhood known for its poverty and drug-abuse. He began experimenting with witch-craft and cult religions. Trying to fit in to his surroundings, he soon was a cocaine addict. As his drug use increased he started dealing drugs to fund his addiction. But while selling drugs he developed an addiction stronger than the drug itself, an addiction for making illegal money. That money soon replaced his drug addiction, and became his God. He became one of New York’s largest drug dealers by applying a simple principle, “You don’t get high on your own supply”. Claudio said “I was making more money than Wall Street executives were making!” Gaining power and respect on the streets of New York, and with loads of cash, confident, he stepped up his operations and became involved with organized crime. His organization, power, and criminal enterprise grew. He learned how police surveillance operated, and avoided being arrested by moving around, covering his tracks and assuming different names. He thought he knew how to stay a step ahead. Satan had a grip on him, lying to him about his life and his future. But what Christian did not know at the time was that God had a plan for his life instead,
But like all drug dealers do, Christian made a mistake. He unknowingly began selling narcotics to undercover DEA agents. After a long and intensive investigation, the DEA and the NYPD finally had enough evidence to arrest him. In 1989, he was arrested by NYPD Det. Sgt. Jimmy Peterson. He was arrested as a drug lord, the head of drug syndication. Awaiting trial, Claudio was incarcerated at Rikers Island, the largest violent criminal institution in America.
It was at Rikers Island that he became involved with the Almighty Latin King Nation, a violent gang that originated in the streets of Chicago in the 1940s. By 1989 the Latin Kings had evolved into a large crime syndicate, and began spreading across the nation. It prided itself on being infamous for drugs, racketeering, murder, and other violent crimes. Luis Felipe (a.k.a. “King Blood”) firmly established the gang’s presence in New York City. Today, the Almighty Latin King Nation is one of the most well-organized and violent gangs in the United States. In 1989, as Claudio began learning about them, the Latin Kings were just beginning to creep into New York City’s prison system.
Claudio was being charged with a class 1-A felony, the most serious charge a criminal can face in New York State. His charges were eventually reduced and Judge Sterling Johnson Jr. gave him only two to four years in a prison upstate. He celebrated his light sentence, but other crimes he had committed, and was yet to be convicted for would soon come to light. He was shipped to upstate New York to serve his time.
While in prison, Claudio became deeply involved in the Latin King culture. He immediately got involved in the gang hierarchy. Because of the large scope of his criminal enterprise, the task force continued investigating him, even though he was in prison. In 1991 he was returned to Rikers Island to face new charges, brought to light by the investigation. There he became acquainted with “King Blood” himself. King Blood authorized Claudio to establish the Latin Kings on Rikers Island.
Using his experience, leadership and networking abilities, Claudio became the “Supreme Crown” over the entire prison system. The Latin Kings teach Latino pride and all members are encouraged to live in accordance with the principles of KINGISM, a moral driven awareness of social oppression and the desire to uplift their people to their rightful place: “amongst the thrones of Kings and Queens”. As Supreme Crown he oversaw 14,000 prisoners on Rikers Island. He translated the Latin King Indoctrination program into Spanish and began distributing the lessons throughout the jails. As his power and influence grew, he began developing relationships with correction officers and prison officials, exploiting them for his own profit and gain. Even his violent behavior worked to his advantage, for every time he misbehaved, he was reassigned to another section of the prison: “I was always bouncing around. I never lasted in a housing unit more than a month, sometimes a day, sometimes just a couple of hours…just because I was really stressed out, really violent.” This allowed him to exert his authority as “Supreme Crown” over almost every section of the prison, firmly securing Latin King Dominance. However, his violence lifestyle soon got the best of him.
In 1991, he assaulted another prisoner with a secretly obtained weapon, nearly killing him. As a result of his actions, he was thrown into solitary confinement for a year. His went on trial for “Attempted Murder, Conspiracy to Commit Murder in the Second Degree, and Criminal Possession of a Weapon in the Second Degree.” He was also being investigated for about twenty other homicides. Claudio began contemplating suicide: “I felt alone, by myself. I’d always prided myself on my strength, my contacts, but isolated into solitary confinement, I couldn’t do anything. I couldn’t make anything happen, and I wasn’t in control. I was just so desperate, and I just wanted to escape everything. I just wanted to end it .But what he didn’t know God still had a plan for his life.
While he was awaiting trial, his co-defendant accepted Jesus as his personal Savior. Claudio thought he had completely “lost it.” Claudio didn’t know much about Jesus. He thought Christians were a lot of tie-wearing, white-shirted, rich people, who walked around with huge Bibles and said, “God bless you! Jesus loves you!” So when his co-defendant became a Christian, Claudio thought he was nuts. None of it made any sense to him.
While in solitary confinement, he found a small Gideon’s New Testament that was left in the corner of a locker in his cell. He began to read in Matthew, and began reading that someone begat someone, and somebody else begat somebody else. It made no sense at all to him. But he continued to read. And as he read, he said” I began to read about hope, love and faith. God began to speak to his heart and the truth of the scripture and the Gospel started make sense to him, as God began speaking to his heart. “I started questioning a lot of things in my life, and it didn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that I was a sinner, and here I was in prison doing things my way – and it was my way that got me there in the first place!”
On July 20, 1992, at 11:25 in the evening, in his own words, Christian says” I surrendered”. He sat alone inside a 6×9 prison cell and surrendered his life to Christ, and the name Christian that his mother had prophetically given him at birth now became who he was. Claudio said, “I surrendered, and Jesus transformed my life. He changed my heart . . . He knew if he had to spend the rest of his life in prison, he would live with more freedom as a Christian than most people will ever experience. In his words, “It was incredible, I had Christ”.
Shortly after his conversion, Christian was sentenced to 37 more years in prison for his other crimes. Facing a lifetime in prison, he still believed in his heart that God had a plan for his life. He was certain that the Latin Kings would kill him when they heard of his conversion.
In spite of facing possible death, he began talking to gang members, sharing his testimony, and declaring the love of Jesus in his life. He told everyone that would listen about the Lord. Everyone saw the miraculous transformation taking place in his life. Many wanted to know more. Correction officers approached him asking for prayer; prisoners abandoned their gangs, seeking the peace and happiness they saw in Christian.
Claudio’s entire family accepted the Lord through his testimony. When Sergeant Peterson, the man who arrested Claudio in 1989, heard that Claudio had converted to Christianity, he could not believe it. “I’m a cop,” he said, “and cops pretty much are skeptical about everything. So he decided to go and visit Claudio himself. When he saw with his own eyes what God had done, he was amazed. God had changed his life and who he was.
Claudio spent the next few years in prison studying God’s Word and witnessing to fellow inmates. Facing almost 40 years in prison, he still trusted God that he would be released from prison. But if he had to spend the rest of his life in prison, he would accept whatever God ordained. In 2002, he prayed to the Lord and said, ‘Lord, if you’re not going get me out of here, please just get me through. But amazingly five years later, after serving only fifteen years of his sentence, God worked a miracle and Claudio was released on parole.
Retired Det. Sgt. Jimmy Peterson says of Christian, He is the radical exception. He called upon the grace of God to deliver him from his sins, and God delivered. “Everybody deserves a second chance,” comments Peterson, “Chris has a second chance to do something positive with his life, and I think he’s taking advantage of that.”
In 2007, Claudio was baptized and shared his testimony with the church. Those in attendance we amazed to see God’s grace unfold in such an amazing way in a person’s life.
With so much baggage in his past, one might wonder how Claudio could ever lift himself up and press onward. Claudio has a great testimony . . . a unique brother in the Lord.” Says Detective Peterson “He’s really truly passionate about what he says and wants to do . . . and when you’re passionate about something, nothing can stop you.”
Upon his release, Christian Claudio committed himself to furthering God’s Kingdom. Today, he is the director of the Long Island American Chaplain’s Association, dedicated to reaching people with the gospel of Christ. He has a heart for gangs and for the kids swallowed up by them every day. “Says Claudio, “if we can save one, then it’s a blessing.” He currently hosts anti-gang workshops, crisis intervention workshops, hospital as well as community outreaches, and a thriving prison ministry.
He refuses, however to take any honor for what he is doing – “No one can get the glory for me being here but God.”
As Claudio now lives his life in Grace, he knows that God has a plan for his life.
Jeremiah 29:11 For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the LORD, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope.
With this truth of God’s Word working and living inside of him, Christian can confidently approach life, facing both his past and future, knowing that God had a plan for him through it all.
I urge you to watch a 9 minute video of Christian’s testimony he recently gave in front of 4000 attendees, from over 100 counties. He spoke at the Gideon’s Int. Convention in Columbus, Ohio at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RxGXwKfKyoQ Just copy and paste the link.
If you would like to hear this amazing story of God’s grace, a life transforming testimony, you can contact Christian at (646) 842-0701 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. He is available to speak for your organization or church. Your life and heart will be touched and you will truly be blessed. Feel free to invite him to be your friend on Facebook, he will be a blessing to your life.
My sources for information in this article were Christian Claudio, and Bridget Degnan.