Jameel McGee and Andrew Collins have a truly uncommon friendship. Once fierce enemies, the two have reconciled and struck up a deep friendship that now has them traveling around the nation and sharing their astounding story of faith, hope and forgiveness.
Collins, who was once a crooked police officer in Benton Harbor, Michigan, ended up wrongly putting McGee behind bars for possession of crack cocaine — a traumatic event that turned McGee’s life upside down and created resentment and a glacial rift.
While McGee spent three years in federal prison for a crime he never committed, Collins eventually ended up losing his job and going to jail for falsifying police reports. It was during their respective incarcerations that both men came to discover faith — two separate experiences that transformed their lives before bringing them back together and guiding them to forgive.
McGee and Collins, who share their touching story in the new book, “Convicted: A Crooked Cop, An Innocent Man, and an Unlikely Journey of Forgiveness and Friendship,” also recently appeared on “The Church Boys” podcast where they further explained the details behind their fascinating reconciliation.
“I started police work because I grew up in a house of domestic violence,” Collins said of his motivation for joining the police force. “It wasn’t that uncommon for most weekends to be filled with fighting and arguing and one weekend a police officer got called and he brought peace to my home.”
Listen to the stunning story at the 31:00-min mark below:
It was that moment that led Collins on his path to becoming a cop. At first, he climbed the ranks and was what he called an “aggressive officer” who “liked to work.” But by the time his career ended in 2008, Collins was off the rails.
“I liked the thought of bringing peace to people, to ridding the street of drug dealers, but in my aggression ended up coming a lack of integrity, and what started as small integrity issues … back then I would have called them ‘bending the law, creative articulation,'” he said. “Now, I just look back and I say, ‘Man, you were breaking the law. You were being corrupt.'”
Collins recalled how he would sometimes tweak reports if he needed just a little more information to ensure someone’s conviction, speaking to some broader systematic problems that he sees with a system that relies perhaps too heavily on officer testimony, especially when a particular officer might have a bias against a prospective criminal.
Eventually, Collins collided with McGee and the end result was anything but fruitful, with McGee explaining that the clash unfolded between him and the officer he had never crossed paths with before one day when he went to a local store.
“I come out the store, Andrew is approaching me, talking like he’s a cop and, ‘Where’s the dope,'” he said. “I’m like, ‘What dope? I don’t have any dope.’ And from that point on, I was being arrested and carted away to jail.”
Collins told “The Church Boys” that he had caught a guy the same day with crack cocaine and that the accused told him he would call his source and get more drugs and, in exchange for revealing the source of the drugs, the guy would be released. In the process, Collins accidentally assumed McGee was his source.
“So, I approached [Jameel] with that assumption, guilty until proven innocent, and by the end of the day he was lodged at the county jail, under the name who I thought he was, under my target’s name, because Jameel was so angry at me, he wouldn’t talk to me,” he said. “He wouldn’t tell me what his name was. Rightfully so, because he didn’t do anything wrong, and now he’s got handcuffs on and he’s going over to the county jail.”
McGee said he was angry and frustrated in those moments, just thinking and hoping that he could get back home. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen; he was sentenced to 10 years in federal prison.
“It was horrific. You know, sitting in jail awaiting … I got sentenced to 10 years federal prison … going through trial and all that stuff was … hectic,” McGee said. “As you’ll read in this book, ‘Convicted,’ man, it was a rough transition for me.”
He said what happened to him was “harmful” and difficult to process, as he couldn’t fix the situation, despite knowing that he had done nothing wrong.
“You can’t control it or can’t fix it and nothing seems right, so in that I was just literally going crazy in there, because it was something I couldn’t understand,” he said. “Like, how is this happening? You know, this shouldn’t be happening.”
Collins said that he was absolutely convinced that McGee was guilty and he felt compelled to “bridge the gap between the truth” and what he actually saw. It wasn’t until years later that Collins — after he went to jail for keeping drugs that he had seized from other investigations for his own gain — realized he had made a terrible error.
“It wasn’t until we met up years later and we had some follow-up conversation. I went down to the department and purchased the report through the Freedom of Information Act, because I had reconciled some of this stuff within me, and I read the first paragraph of the report and I broke down,” he said. “I called my mom and I said, ‘I put an innocent man, completely innocent man, in prison.'”
Collins also shared details about his own conversion to Christianity, explaining how he thought about killing himself after he was caught with drugs in his police locker, but that he started talking to a pastor and finally discovered the heart of the Christian faith.
From February 2008 on he has been living a Christian life, though his reconciliation with McGee didn’t come until 2011.
“[The pastor] walked me through the difference between lordship and saviorship with Jesus,” he said. “And I had trusted Jesus as my savior for years and years and years, but never trusted him to be the lord in my life.”
When Collins got out of jail in 2010 — one year after McGee was released — he headed back to Benton Harbor and got involved with an outreach at his church. And that’s the day that McGee approached him, shook his hand and asked, “Do you remember me?” Jameel shared what was going through his own mind as he barreled toward Collins to confront him.
“The first thing what come into my mind, ‘Get him. … Now I can act on it,'” he said. “But when I grabbed his hand and was squeezing it, God was clearly like, ‘Man, what are you doing here? We need to let this go.'”
Over time, the two came to forgive and become friends. Now, they’re speaking together and sharing their stunning story, with McGee saying that he believes it’s entirely possible for others who harbor resentment toward people who have harmed them to find the same kind of forgiveness in their own lives.
“You gotta want it. In doing so, you gotta be ready to take those necessary steps to get there. You gotta let go of that vengeful spirit, that vengeful mindset,” he said. “Had I did that to Andrew or tried to retaliate on Andrew, this story wouldn’t be possible. Forgiveness wouldn’t be possible.”
Collins said he’s hoping people read “Convicted” and walk away with a greater sense of forgiveness, not only for other people but also for themselves and the wrongs they’ve done in their own lives.
“I hope that from an individual level, that relationships will be healed,” he said. “We’ve had married couples come to us and just in a very powerful moment after our speaking engagements, you know, confessions of adultery and the beginning steps of reconciliation are right in front of us. … But we’ve seen the power of what God does with the story. That’s what I think we both hope — that individuals will be reconciled, but also that we can step onto a national platform and say if this white police officer, like very white, I’m pasty white, and this African-American innocent man who have this story, if they can get past this and it’s not a polarizing situation, how can we translate this onto a national platform?”
Find out more about their story in “Convicted: A Crooked Cop, An Innocent Man, and an Unlikely Journey of Forgiveness and Friendship.“