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A Crooked Cop, an Innocent Man, and an Unlikely Journey of Forgiveness and Friendship

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb
The Truth Network Radio
May 18, 2023 3:01 am

A Crooked Cop, an Innocent Man, and an Unlikely Journey of Forgiveness and Friendship

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb

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May 18, 2023 3:01 am

On this episode of Our American Stories, it all went down in the city of Benton Harbor, Michigan, in 2006. Andrew Collins was a narcotics officer. Jameel McGee was a new father of a baby boy. This is a story about forgiveness, brokenness, and true reconciliation from two guys who should have been hardened, bitter enemies.

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And we continue with our American stories. From two guys who should have been hardened bitter enemies. Without any further ado, let's hear how Andrew and Jamel's unlikely stories intersect, starting with Jamel. February 8th, 2006 was the day that forever changed my life.

February 8th, 2006, really just another day for me. All I wanted to do was go to the store and get some milk for my son. All I wanted on that day was another conviction. So I caught a ride from some guys that I knew that probably would be up to no good. I had caught a guy with some crack.

He knew a guy with some more crack. So we made a phone call. So we get to the store and this guy asked me to use the phone.

At the time, I didn't think anything of it. So I gave him my phone. So I get to the store and I see the vehicle, just like I was told.

One guy in the vehicle and another guy comes out of the store. I'm not sure if he has something to do with it, but I'm gonna make sure he has something to do with it. So I'm coming out of the store and this guy's approaching me talking about he's a cop. Where's the dope? I'm like, what dope? I don't have any dope. I ain't got no dope. It ain't my dope. How many times have I heard this before?

That's what everybody says. So I had him lock him up. How could I be going to jail for some drugs that isn't mine?

How is this possible? Trial. He's gonna take it to trial. The way that I wrote that report, he's gonna take it to trial?

What a waste of my time. Well, I wasn't about to plead guilty to something that I know I didn't do. So I told my story and I got my conviction and Jamel McGee was sentenced to 10 years in federal prison. So Jamel, could you share with us what it was like sitting in jail, sitting in prison, knowing you had 10 years over your head? It was rough. It was tough. It was painful. I became a different person. I became very bitter, very angry.

I mean, frustrated. I can't figure out why am I sitting here? Why am I in prison? I didn't do nothing.

Why am I here? So with that, I became unapproachable. You couldn't talk to me. I wouldn't talk to you.

It didn't matter who you was. I just didn't have no words for nobody. And then if you try to talk to me, that's when the problem came in.

I wanted to fight at that point. So in prison, I'm sitting in prison. I'm just going through the motions. I'm acting out on everything I want to do to Andrew. I'm doing it to other people. So hurt people hurt people. Okay, so I sit here and not knowing, not caring as I was hurting other people because I was hurt. I felt like I had lost everything. There was nothing else that mattered at this point. So my attitude was I don't care.

So sitting in prison, that's why it's really rough. I was becoming the person you didn't want to even come across. Then I had the awakening, like I needed something different. I needed to do something different with my life because everything I've done in my life, I find myself in these very situations. So there's one day, three years into my sentence, it's a Bible sitting there on my desk, on my table.

It's been there the whole time. Never looked at it, gave my life over to Christ at age 18, then again at 21, because at 18, I did it for my mom because I wanted her off my back. So at age 21, I really got the grasp of, I need a relationship with Jesus myself. So I did that, but this time when I went to jail, I was like, you know what? I'm not going to lean on God for this because I did that all my other times. And this is clear, it's in black and white. I should be able to just present this or say this and I can get out of here.

That wasn't the case. I had no voice, nothing I said mattered at all, period. So I'm still sitting here frustrated, man. To the Bible sitting here on my table, I grabbed a Bible. Today, I just said, you know what? I'm going to read the Bible today. Grabbed a Bible, started the first five verses of Genesis. And then my mind just went blank and I was just hit with this message of let it go, let it go, let it go.

And if y'all are familiar with it, this time Frozen was not out yet. So I had no idea where this song was coming, where this thought, this words, where it was coming from. And I wrestled with that like, no, this was done to me. Like, this is my hurt. Like, I need to avenge that. I need to take care of that. I want to put my hands on him. I want to be the one to say I took care of that. So that was my goal for whenever I got home was to find him and hurt him. That was my goal. It didn't matter when, I was going to do it. So after battling with these thoughts, I'm getting headaches trying to block it out, okay?

Because I don't want to hear them. I'm trying to put something else in my head to get this thought out of my head. So later on, I go out and walk on the yard and I'm walking around in a circle and I just began to reflect on my life. You know what I'm saying?

As a whole, as far as I can remember. And I quickly realized that every situation, I had a choice. Before it even happened, I had a choice, but I chose the more convenient, easy way every time, which led me to foster care, juvenile, the links, the boys' homes, the prisons, the jails.

My decisions led me there. So I'm like, you know what? God, it's your way. I'm tired of being in my way. I'm tired of this. My way hasn't worked all these years. So I need something different.

So I kept walking on the track and I'm just like, you know what? I got to change. I got to change my life. I got a son. I want to see him. I want to be able to raise him.

I want to be a part of his life. So I got to do something different with mine. So I get back to my cell and I prayed before I went to sleep. And I was like, you know what, God? I want to wake up tomorrow as if I'm at home.

So I want to live every day after this as if I'm at home. So I got up that morning. My first thing to do was speak to somebody, which was very hard for me to do. And I came out and I was just like, all right, hey, first person I saw, hey, how you doing? They looking at me like, this dude is crazy.

Who is this? Like, but I didn't care at that point what nobody thought. Cause I said, I was going to go through with this. I'm going to, I'm going to adapt this change into my life.

I'm going to do something different. And boom, I started building more relationships, started talking to people. You know, people was getting to know me. And then they was asking me questions like, man, what was so messed up with you all the many months and years ago?

I wouldn't talk about that part because everybody that goes to prison says they're innocent. Yes. So I didn't want to be a part of that. So I was like, nope, I just brushed that part off. So this Wednesday, I go to work this one morning and the people were calling me as soon as I got to work. And I'm like, my attitude was still kind of jacked up. So I'm like, if you want me, you got to come get me. So I got off work and when I got to the unit, the guy was at the door and was like, hey, you know what? They've been calling you all day.

You should probably go see what they want. First thing I thought of like, man, I'm probably going to go to the hole now for some stuff that I did previously. And I was like, well, time to face the music.

It is what it is. And you're listening to Tramell McGee tell his story, thrown in prison for a crime he didn't commit, set up by an officer, Andrew Collins. He tries doing it one way, the hard way, filled with anger and bitterness. And then one day he said, I had an awakening.

I needed to do something different in my life. Their story continues. A crooked cop, an innocent man, and an unlikely journey of forgiveness and friendship.

Here on Our American Stories. And we continue with Our American Stories and we've been listening to Tramell McGee, having served three years of his 10 year sentence, a conviction that was based on a setup by a crooked cop, Andrew Collins. Even though Tramell was innocent, he came to the conclusion that it was his bad choices in his life that had put him in this terrible situation. So he decided, well, to do something different with his life. He decided to follow God.

Here again is Jamell and Andrew. So I go to the counsel office and he was like, hey, where would you go if you was released today, tomorrow or six months from now? And I'm like, hmm, probably my grandma's house. He's like, I need address. He gave him the address and he was like, well, you got 15 minutes to leave. And I was like, I can leave out your office right now.

I didn't actually come in here. And he was like, no, the fax machine beeped and he handed me the paper. And there was a letter from the judge saying my conviction was overturned and I had to leave the premises immediately. Me letting that anger, that frustration go, God opened the door for me to go. So there was some things going on with my life at that time. I had given my life to Christ at age seven in the back of a church. My uncle who's only three years older than me led me to the Lord. I just didn't understand what the heck it meant.

Thank you, Jesus. So I went about my business as a high schooler, as a teenager, as a police officer. The more I was a police officer, the more wrong things I did. The more wrong things I did, the less I felt bad about them.

It's a funny thing about integrity like that. The more you do the wrong things, the less you feel like it's wrong. So February of 2008, I get caught with crack heroin and marijuana in my office. And in one day, my life crumbled. All the money that I was making legally and illegally, gone. Friends that I had built, friends who I thought would be there for a lifetime. Nobody knows a police officer like a police officer. Y'all are my boys, gone, because they were worried about their careers.

Rightly so. My family, having to see my wife's face when I was trying to explain to her that I just lost my job. The day before, I was top cop in the county.

I was a big deal, especially in my own mind. And in a day, it was gone. So I went on a three-day journey. Day one, got caught. Day two, thought about suicide.

There's no way I can get out of this. Day three, went and saw a pastor. Because on day two, my wife came home from work and saw that I was depressed and said, you need to go talk to that pastor that you've been going to.

Because see, that whole being a Christian thing as a youth, God wouldn't leave me alone. So I called that pastor up and I said, I got to talk to you. He said, yeah, you do.

I've seen the news. So I sit down with him and I tell him, I confessed everything. It felt so good to get it out of me. To finally admit what I had done wrong. And he listened patiently and he said, oh boy, you're in trouble. I remember thinking like, you, sir, are a terrible counselor. Like, I know I'm in trouble.

What do I do now? And he said, where are you at with Jesus? I'm thinking, I just told you where I'm at with Jesus. I am a terrible person, man. I don't deserve him. And he said, none of us do. That's the beauty of grace. God's riches at Christ's expense.

He paid it, you don't have to. He said, Andrew, you accepted Jesus as your savior. You've accepted the whole time that he saved you from your sins, but you've never let him be your Lord. Do you want that Lordship? I said, I do, man, I do.

This is my Lordship, 25 years old, in your office, crying, thinking about suicide. He said, let's pray. So we knelt down there in his office and he prayed because I felt like if I talked to God, he'd strike me dead right there.

I still couldn't wrap my mind around grace. And he prayed for me that God would become, that Jesus would become my Lord. We said, amen, I was balling. And I said, what do I do next, man? I'm a man, there's like a list. There's gotta be a list of things I can do. That's how men operate, list.

Give me a list and I'll check off the boxes. He said, read your Bible, that's it. Get to know your Lord. I was like, I don't know if you ever read that thing, Pastor, but it's kind of boring. He's like, no, man, God did something in you today. He gave me a Bible that was a little easier to read for me from what I grew up in and I started reading. I was blown away at all the little bombs that were going off in my soul about Jesus dealing with people that were just as jacked up or even worse than me. And the longer I was away from police work, the less I felt bad I got caught and the more I felt bad for what I had done.

It's a difference, y'all. So I went to the FBI and I said, look, I want to right my wrongs. There's some things that need to be reconciled. So I sat down, they put a stack of reports in front of me and they said, we need you to look through all these reports and we need you to tell us which ones are bad. Highlight the ones that are bad. And I said, honestly, out of these 200 cases, it'd be easier to highlight the ones that are good. My corruption ran deep. And I started working it out one case at a time, one case at a time, one case at a time. And one of those cases was Jamel McGee. I opened it up and I said, that's a bad case.

It's a bad case. So because I gave my life to the Lord and because I did the right things, all my problems went away and I've never had another problem since then. No, that's not what happened. I still had to go to prison, y'all. So January 09, I plead guilty, I go to jail. February 09, Jamel gets out. It's like, tag team, I'm in, you're out.

Switch. But the story don't stop there. 2010, August, I get out. I'm passionate about Benton Harbor. I feel like God's calling me back to the community. So I reached out to a pastor of a local church up there and he says, we're having this thing in August of 11 called Hoops, Hip Hop and Hot Dogs, H3 outreach event. We want you to be a part of it. So I said, I want to be a part of that. So I'm standing in Broadway Park like, okay, where are the people that I need to be reconciled with?

Bring them, Lord. And then all of a sudden I see this man coming at me. Like, he wasn't, he was coming at me. He wasn't running, but he was coming at me. And he reaches out his hand and it looked like he wanted to shake my hand.

I'm thinking, oh, cool, reconciliation. He said, you remember my name? And then he squeezed extremely tightly. I said, Jamel McGee, and he squeezed even harder.

I got the answer right. And I don't know, y'all can, he's got big hands. He ain't letting go if he don't want to let go. And he looks down at his son and he said, I want you to tell my son why he missed out on all them years of his daddy's life. I wished he'd hit me. Hit a hurt worse, hurt a hurt less. I said, look, man, there's nothing I can do to make up for what I did, but I'm sorry. I offer you my apology. He didn't say anything. Could see the little muscle in his jaw clenching. I said, you know what, I got my daughter here at the park too.

Hey, you know what, maybe this'll help. I know what it's like to be away from my daughter too because I spent 18 months in prison. And he said, I don't give a what you had to go through. And I was like, that was the wrong thing to say.

I was glad he could speak, but then I was like, oh, shoot. Because what I did is I took everything away that I had just said. I had just made all these apologies and then I just basically took it right away. That's basically saying, yes, there's a problem, but everybody goes through problems.

So it doesn't really matter that much. I'm about to get on a tangent. Jamel, what was that day like for you in the park? I call that the test because that day was, it was a test. I got out, I got to meet my son for the first time. And he wanted to go to this park. He's seen a lot of people standing out there.

I'm an introverted person, so that was not going to happen for me. So I'm like, uh-uh. And he was like, yeah, I want to go over there.

So I didn't want to disappoint him. So I'm like, all right, come on, let's go. And I said to myself, I'm going to just stay on the sidewalk and let him run through the park. And walking down the sidewalk, I'm like, I thought I seen Andrew up under the pavilion. I'm like, no, that can't be him. Not in Broadway Park. Not at this park.

This park usually don't end well when it's a lot of people out here. And I'm like, that just can't be him right there. And he turned around and I'm like, yeah, that's him. In my mind, the first thing that popped up was get him. And you've been listening to Andrew Collins and Jamel McGee tell the story of how their lives intersected.

And my goodness, the test is what Jamel called it. When we come back, their story continues. A crooked cop, an innocent man, and an unlikely journey of forgiveness and friendship. Here on Our American Stories.

And we return to Our American Stories. Jamel McGee spent three years in federal prison and not a day went by that he didn't think about his son, who he had never seen, and the crooked cop who had kept Jamel from seeing him. For most of those three years, Jamel writes in his book, Convicted, I promised myself that if I ever saw this cop again, I was going to kill him.

I intended to keep that promise. Here's Jamel and Andrew picking up with the moment the two saw each other for the first time in a park back home. Here's Jamel. In my mind, the first thing that popped up was, get him. Get him. Now he's here, he's in front of you. All that I was feeling in the prison was back on my shoulders.

Everything. And now he's in my face and I'm like, oh yeah, it's time, let's get him. So I go over there, beat him out, stuck up my hands. I said, hey, you remember me? And he said, yeah, when he said it, I squeezed him.

And in my mind was two things. It was myself, again, telling me to hit him. Hit him. What are you waiting on?

You're taking too long. Hit him. Then God was like, hey.

God was like, hey, I got this. Get out of my way. I got this. Step out of my way. Let me avenge this for you. I got this.

I can do far more than you ever can. So I'm like, hmm, hit him. Hit him. And my son was right there and I was just like, just explain to my son why I missed out on these years of his life.

His life, because I'm having a hard time doing it. And I was like, I didn't do something first that the world, everybody thought and knew that I probably was going to do anyway. I didn't do it. And I let him go and I walked away. And each step I walked away, I felt lighter. I felt better.

And the closer I got to the curve, I began to think, man, that's over with. I'm going to leave that to God where it was supposed to be. I can't do nothing about it anyway. Forget it. I'll never see him again anyway.

There you go. I still see him. But after that, I saw him every day.

I could leave the store or be walking down the street or riding down the street on my bike. And I would see him everywhere I went. And I'm like, man, God, was I supposed to do something to him?

Like, I don't know what was, why am I seeing him so much? And I found that out later, four years after that. Yeah, so I'll pick back up and I'm going to basically, we're going to give you five years, four years, whatever it was, four years of history in nine minutes and 46 seconds. Ready?

Strap in your seat belts. So I start working for this place called the Mosaic CCDA, Christian Community Development Association. It has three social enterprises, a cafe, a resale store and a full-scale lawn care company.

Cafe Mosaic, if you all have ever been there, downtown Benton Harbor, great place to go get a coffee. So I'm working there as the cafe manager in Benton Harbor, having reconciliation stories with people, feeling like God has called me, this is great, this is awesome. There's another part of the program called Jobs for Life, where people from the community, maybe they've got felonies on their record, maybe they've never had a job before and they need a little bit of hand up. They don't need a hand out, they need a hand up because they want to do something with their life. They graduate Jobs for Life and then they either get absorbed into one of our social enterprises or they went out and got jobs with community people that we had made contact with. Everybody in Jobs for Life, every student, ended up with a mentor.

Anybody putting two and two together yet? One day, Miss Prinsella comes down because she runs Jobs for Life, she says, hey, there's this guy in my class called Zuki. Do you know Zuki? I want to introduce you guys to my friend Zuki. Uh, I said, no, I know the street name, I've heard it, but I don't think I know him personally.

Don't think we ever met. Would you be his mentor? God has laid it on my heart that you should be his mentor.

God's funny, right? So I say, you know my story, Miss P. You know what I've done in this city. I don't know if I've affected his family. Why don't you go ask him what he thinks about it. So, Jamel, in two minutes or less, what did that conversation sound like?

Whew, yeah. It was like she came over and I was sitting in class, everybody had their mentor, and she was like, yeah, we finally got your mentor. She was like, yeah, God has laid it on my heart for you two guys to be mentoring, mentee, and I don't know if you guys had any history together, but yeah, I think you guys should be mentoring. I'm like, okay, get on with it, who is it? And she's like, Andrew Collins, and I'm like, no.

No way, there's no way I'm doing that. And she was like, okay, fine, we'll get you somebody else. And I'm like, wait a minute, Miss P, that was my decision. Let me pray on that real fast, because I don't want no more of my decisions to affect my life. This was my decision.

So I want it to be God's decision. So I prayed and I opened my eyes and there was a book on my desk and there was two figures on a mountain that was written in words, and it was one pulling the other one up. I was like, all right, God, you got it. So it's evident, this is what you want. This is the path you want me to take.

I'm gonna take it. So he comes walking through the cafe doors. I'm like, hour and a half later, hey, Jamel, come on, have a seat. So we sit down and I say, hey, I used to be a police officer in City of Benton Harbor. I did some awful things.

If I've ever harmed you or your family, can you let me know? I'd like to apologize for it. And he's smiling at me the whole time. I'm like, what does this dude smile at me?

This ain't funny, I'm trying to be serious. And I said, so once I got done with my little spiel, I said, look, man, what's so funny? And he just shook his head. He said, man, we already had this talk.

I said, we did. He said, yeah, Broadway Park. And I was instantly flashed back to that moment in the park. And I was like, oh, shoot. I'm a Christian now. And I just went to apologize and dude, I am so sorry.

I felt like God gave me a second chance. I'm so sorry. He said, I know. And he was like offended, I know. I said, dude, there's gotta be something I can do. He said, no, no, no, it's over. It's over. You were sorry then and I trusted that. And I know you are now. You don't have to say it anymore.

It's forgiven, it's done. I was like, dude, can we do this mentor thing? He said, I think God wants us to. I think God set this up. I said, man, this is blowing my mind, dude.

Like four minutes ago, I'm making chocolate chip cookies. And now this, can we pray? He's like, let's pray. So we bowed our heads right there and we prayed that God would bless this friendship, that God would make basically beauty for ashes, that we give to him our ashes.

He gives us back a crown of beauty. And we prayed that. And he got up, we said amen. He got up and walked out because he had an appointment to get to.

And I went in the back and cried like a child because I felt forgiven. And then we were meeting every week and I was like, yo, bro, we need an employee in the cafe and you need a job. Are you, do you need a job? He's like, yeah, I need a job. You know I need a job. I said, well, how about this?

Because what if I hire you or what if we hire you and are you a good worker? Because if I've got to write you up, things are already tense enough. You know, like. And he did that. He just smiled at me. This dude smiled. It was like, it breaks down all borders. He's like, no, man, no, I got you.

I got you. And he started working. He was the best worker I had ever seen. I worked so hard.

I'd never seen somebody work so hard in that cafe. So every day I say, thank you, Jamel. Thank you so much for putting your all into this. And this is amazing.

Thank you. Do you want to hit me? He'd be like, what? I'd be like, I just want to check.

I just want to make sure, because I don't want to be at the cash register someday and then just get the big old, I want to make sure I know it's coming if it's coming. He's like, no, bro, no, we're good. And now it's like every three or four months, I'll ask him while we're on a plane or something. Hey, we still good? Yeah, we're good.

All right. And listen, y'all, we're finding out some stuff about reconciliation as we walk this thing out. Because I don't know if y'all notice it or not, but I'm white.

I mean, I'm a little darker skinned than most, but I am white and he's black. We get this. We get that this speaks to our nation right now.

And we don't think we have all the answers, but we think we have a piece of it. And the piece we think that we're holding on to right now is reconciliation. We met a woman who came down front and said, look guys, I just need you to help me pray because I just need to forgive my mom. She hurt me so bad 18 years ago.

And I'm understanding that if I, I'm starting to treat my child the way she was treating me because I'm holding on to this. And we were like, yeah, yeah, where's she at? Bring her down. Let's get her down here, we'll all pray together.

She's been dead for 18 years. She was holding on harboring that unforgiveness for 18 years and the person couldn't do anything about it. So apology, forgiveness, but that's only two pieces. For reconciliation, you've got to come together. The more I get to know this man, the more I love him as an individual, the more I love him as a person, not as a black man, but as a man. And a terrific job on the production and storytelling by Greg Hengler and a special thanks to Andrew Collins and Jamel McGee for sharing their remarkable journey. And also a special thanks to Torres Montgomery for sharing the audio of this remarkable story. What a story indeed about big things like forgiveness and reconciliation. And what a stud Jamel is, what a man. The story of so much here about God, about faith, about forgiveness and ultimately about racial reconciliation and real human reconciliation. The story of a crooked cop and innocent man and an unlikely journey of forgiveness and friendship here on Our American Story.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-05-18 04:15:51 / 2023-05-18 04:29:40 / 14

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