Andrew Collins, a corrupt white police officer, told deliberate lies that sent Jameel McGee, an innocent African American man, to jail for four years. The two men should be enemies. So how did they become the best of friends?
On April 8, 2006, Collins was working as a narcotics officer in Benton Harbor, Michigan, and he genuinely wanted to help get drugs off the streets because of their destructive effect on the community. But he also wanted a boost in his career, so he was gung-ho to arrest a dealer that was on the FBI’s radar. An informant had told Collins that the perp he wanted would be driving a silver Dodge Durango and be at a local convenience store.
That same day, McGee needed to go to the store, but couldn’t drive himself due to a suspended license. He asked his cousin’s friend to give him a ride, not knowing he had crack cocaine in the car, the silver Dodge Durango in question.
When Collins arrested McGee as he was coming out of the store, he assumed he was the perp he wanted, despite his denials. Most people who got arrested claimed to be innocent, after all, so why should this case be any different, Collins thought. He soon learned it was different, however. The FBI’s fingerprint check revealed Jameel wasn’t the dealer they were after.
Collins could have revealed the truth at this point, but he feared losing credibility with the FBI, so he lied to them by saying McGee was the real dealer, not the original target. During a “Christopher Closeup” interview about their Christopher Award-winning memoir “Convicted: A Crooked Cop, An Innocent Man, and An Unlikely Journey of Forgiveness and Friendship,” Collins said, “I lied in front of a judge, in front of a prosecutor, and in front of a jury. Jameel was eventually convicted on my words alone.”
From the day of his arrest forward, McGee recalled, “I became angry, bitter, upset…Nobody wanted to listen. They just threw me away.” A video that could have exonerated him wasn’t even looked at.
Whatever affinity McGee had felt for God disappeared after this injustice. He entered jail full of anger and thoughts of revenge. He lashed out at others, envisioning Collins was the man he was hurting. But McGee was also the father of a young son, and he wanted to be a part of his life. The love that he felt for his child eventually helped him decide to move beyond hatred and allow God back into the picture.
McGee said, “If I wanted to be in my son’s life, I needed to get myself together. I had to stop doing what I was doing. I was controlling everything, and it was getting me deeper and deeper into my hole…Even though I said when I went in prison that I wasn’t going to lean on God at all, this time I said, ‘You know what, God? I’m done. I’m going to give you my all today, from this day on.’ Things started to drastically change for me. That grew me more and more closer to God. I’ve learned now that I was depending on the wrong people. I was depending on humans to come and save the day. I just needed to put my trust in Him.”
Though Collins had been nominally Christian since childhood, God worked His way into the officer’s life in a serious way when his corruption was discovered and he faced a federal prison sentence. He explained, “Like many people that I’ve met now in my life, when I got to the end of myself, the only person I had left was God. At that point, between being caught in February and being indicted in December of 2008, is really when my life started to fall under the Lordship of Christ and when I started to seek Him out and chase after Him for strength for what I was going to have to walk through. Also, He really caused me to start to walk through repentance. The longer I was away from being a police officer, the more I became regretful and filled with sorrow for what I had done…God challenged me in ways that I had never been challenged before. But, it was like this beautiful, loving challenge where every time I would have these convictions about the things I had been doing, He would show me, ‘You need to make these things right, but know that I love you and the work is already done.'”
Collins did go to jail, but considers it a blessing since a hunger for power and “selfish ambition” had taken over his life. He said, “I think the only way my career was going to end was being caught or being killed. I’m just happy that God allowed it to be through incarceration instead of through a box in the ground.”
When Collins’ crimes came to light, McGee was finally released from jail. Time passed, and Collins was released as well. The ex-cop got a job working for the Christian non-profit Mosaic, running a job-readiness training program. Since this was the same community in which he had worked, he knew that he would likely run into people he had unjustly hurt or sent to jail. Collins vowed to approach each one he encountered with genuine humility and repentance.
Sure enough, McGee saw Collins in a neighborhood park one day and his feelings of hatred and vengeance were quickly reawakened. McGee approached Collins with intent to harm, while Collins started apologizing immediately, realizing this situation could take a bad turn.
McGee recalled, “[Then] God stepped in and asked me, ‘What are we doing here? We left this back at the prison.’…[I decided] I’m going to adopt God’s choice because my choices haven’t been working…I let [Andrew] go. I said some real mean things, and I let him go and walked away. When I got to the curb, I turned around and said, ‘You know what? I’ll never see him again anyway. God’s got this situation.'”
And God did have the situation well in hand. He also had something else in mind.
Several years later, Collins’ supervisor said she felt God had put it on her heart to have him mentor a new person looking for employment. In walked McGee.
Collins didn’t recognize him at first, so he started explaining his past and apologizing if he’d done anything wrong during past run-ins. McGee just smiled and told him they’d already had this discussion in the past. That’s when it dawned on Collins who he was talking to. He started apologizing profusely again, but McGee responded, “It’s all good. God forgave it.”
Humbled, Collins asked if they could “do the mentor thing.” McGee answered, “I think God wants us to.”
The two men prayed together that God would bless their friendship. One week later, they were working together. McGee said, “There were so many things happening that I knew God was giving me confirmation that this is what I should be doing…This stuff was just lining up too good to be anything but God.”
Not only did the unlikely duo’s friendship blossom, they started giving talks around the country about repentance and reconciliation. God has been using their story, says Collins, “to motivate people towards love and towards forgiveness.” When Jameel talks to crowds about letting go of his anger and giving it to God, individuals who have been holding grudges because of some past hurt or injustice often come up to him afterwards to acknowledge that’s what they need to do in their own lives.
The two men are happy to let God continue guiding them in a way that they can serve as a light to others. Collins concludes, “Jameel and I travel a lot together…He’s going through a lot of the same stuff that I’m going through, having to rehash this pain from the past. I think we understand each other on a level nobody else can.”
Jameel adds, “I look back on how far God has brought me from where I was…I know His power – what God can do.”
(To listen to the full interview with Jameel McGee and Andrew Collins, click on the podcast link):