NEW BRITAIN - When Justin Santiago was 19 years old, he was a gang member. Now, he is the pastor of a church on Arch Street and wants to use his past experiences to tell people that the street life is fruitless.
Santiago moved from Puerto Rico to Talcott Street in 1976.
“Years ago, it was a pretty bad neighborhood,” Santiago said. “It was a pretty bad environment at that time. I saw a lot of violence.”
When Santiago was a teenager, he was part of a group called “The Jungle Brothers,” through which he sold drugs, got into fights and at times even shot people.
At age 19, Santiago was incarcerated for the first time, and faced charges for selling illegal substances. He was in an Enfield prison for one year.
“When I went to prison I got introduced to the family, Latin Kings,” Santiago said. “My older brother was already a member.”
When Santiago came out of prison, he thought of leaving the streets behind.
“When I got out it was tough to get a job as a convicted felon so I turned back to selling drugs,” Santiago said.
He was part of both the Latin Kings and another local gang called “One Mean Crew,” for which he was in charge.
A year later, Santiago went to prison again for another two years and he later spent seven months in a rehabilitation program.
“I actually think that was what really helped me because I had to get a job and when I got out I was working, I had been able to save money,” Santiago said.
Sometime later, Santiago was still selling illegal substances; however, he met a woman who introduced him to church. After going to church for a year, he decided to leave the life he was living and stopped selling drugs.
“I had this feeling, if I went back to the streets, it was either I was going to get killed, or I would kill someone because of my lifestyle,” Santiago said. “I knew there and then that I needed this change to make me a better person.”
Santiago said that changing his life helped him feel free. Three years later he felt the call to become a pastor and for 12 years he was the co-pastor of a church in the city. After those 12 years, Santiago was called to become the pastor of a church in Waterbury. However, about two years ago, he felt the need to build a church in New Britain. The church was first located on Dwight Street, and is now located at 296 Arch St.
Santiago told The Herald that no matter what he did in his younger years, his purpose in this life was to become a pastor.
“I should have been shot many times, I should have been stabbed many times, and in God’s mysterious ways my other friend would be shot, he would protect me because with the purpose and the calling he had for me.”
For more information about Second Pentecostal Church, “Fuente de Salvacion,” call 860-538-7017.
Karla Santos can be reached at 860-801-5079 or firstname.lastname@example.org