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How an Innocent Man Befriended a Crooked Cop

WRONGLY CONVICTED
When Andrew Collins was 5 or 6, he decided he wanted to be a cop.  By the time he was 25, Andrew had been a police officer for a couple of years in Benton Harbor, MI. On February 8, 2006, Andrew, who recently promoted to narcotics officer, woke up determined to make a drug arrest that day.  He had already made a name for himself as one of the most aggressive narcotics officers on the force.  “I bragged that I could tell if someone had drugs on them just by looking at them,” he says. When he started his patrol that day, Andrew headed off to a street where drug activity often occurred.

That same morning Jameel McGee headed to the grocery store to get food for his new baby.  Jameel’s ex-girlfriend had taken off after she found out she was pregnant, and he didn’t know she had the baby until long afterward.  So Jameel was excited about meeting his son for the first time.  A friend gave him a ride to the store and once they parked, Jameel ran inside for what he thought would be a quick shopping trip.  When he came outside, Jameel saw a crowd of people.  A man walked up to him.  “He got right in my face,” Jameel says.  The guy was Andrew and he asked Jameel where the dope was.  Jameel told him he didn’t know what he was talking about.  Andrew proceeded to arrest Jameel.  “I did not see my baby son that day,” says Jameel.  “I didn’t get to see him until he was four years old.”

Jameel had been in and out of foster care and juvinile centers. He was in prison at 15 and always blamed others for what happened to him. He had grown up hearing the Gospel but was able to strengthen his relationship with God in prison.  “Everytime I got incarcerated, I would read the Bible but nothing in my life would change,” he says.  “This time, I read the Bible and wanted to do something different.  I gave it all to God.”  Then he got a letter from his attorney saying his appeal was denied.  “Every other denied appeal left me boiling,” says Jameel.  “This letter was my test.  Had I truly surrendered my situation to God?  Then I remembered the verse from 2 Chronicles: The battle is not yours, but God’s.”

GETTING CAUGHT
Andrew continued to make arrests and wrote false information on his reports.  “I loved the attention I got when I made a big bust,” he says.  He had no trouble amending Jameel’s arrest report to reflect what the feds needed to bring an indictment against him.  Not long after Jameel’s arrest, Andrew was doing a lot more than falsifying facts on reports.  Soon Andrew started confiscating drugs and not arresting anyone.  Then Andrew began using his stash to pay informants.  “Throughout this process, I found myself changing,” says Andrew.  “My marriage also started slipping.”  One day his captain found Andrew’s stash of drugs.  “I was just one more person caught with drugs in Benton Harbor,” says Andrew. “I knew what the future held and it wasn’t going to be good.”  Andrew went through each of his case files with FBI agents and told them which ones were falsified. Nearly 60 cases were dropped or convictions overturned.  One of those was Jameel’s.  

A few days after he received notice that his final appeal was denied, Jameel received another letter informing him that the federal prison system was moving him to a lower risk level.  Jameel started driving a truck for the landscaping crew.  Wild thoughts crossed his mind, like driving straight home. Who was going to stop me? One day he prayed, God, I’m tired.  Nothing I’ve done has worked.  God, it’s your way.  Soon Jameel was notified by the warden that he had 15 minutes to vacate the premises.  His conviction had been overturned! “The only explanation for my release was God,” says Jameel.  “The timing also had His hands all over this.  The day was February 4, 2009, my son’s 4th birthday.” Jameel nearly danced out of prison and down the sidewalk.  “I wasn’t just free.  My conviction had been overturned.  I was an innocent man.” Once he was out of prison, Jameel tried to piece his life together.  Life wasn’t easy and though he knew God set him free from prison, Jameel pretty much left God there.  “I guess I felt as though I didn’t need him on the outside.”  Two years after he got out, Jameel still had not seen his son as he could not locate his ex-girlfriend.  One day in 2011, while Jameel was living with his brother, his ex showed up with his son and left him with Jameel for the summer.

In 2009, Andrew, who spent 18 months in jail, was released to a halfway house where he was prepped for life after prison.  Then after 6 weeks, he returned home to a town not far from Benton Harbor.  Andrew started working in a farm and he and his family attended church regularly.  “During my first few months back home, I felt that God still wanted to use me in some way in Benton Harbor,” says Andrew.  When he started running into people he had put in prison, Andrew was initially nervous, but initial encounters left him pleasantly surprised.

It was only the second day with his son and Jameel walked with him to the park.  Then Jameel spotted someone near the swings: Andrew Collins.  “The moment I laid eyes on him, all the anger and hate I had felt in prison came rushing back,” says Jameel.  Right then, Jameel took his son and headed towards Andrew.  When he reached Andrew, Jameel stuck out his hand.  “Remember me,” he asked Andrew.  “Jameel McGee,” Andrew said.  Jameel knew what he needed to do; he rehearsed it in his head in prison so many times.  The message in his head resonated: Let it go.  Andrew apologized and owned up for his mistakes.  Jameel squeezed Andrew’s hand harder and fought the thoughts in his head. Then Jameel heard God say loudly, Let me handle this.  Let it go.  Jameel finally let go of Andrew’s hand.  “The moment I did, I was free,” says Jameel.  The anger evaporated and just like that, God took it all away.  “This was my chance for revenge, but I let it go,” says Jameel.  He believes it is one thing to say you’ve released something, but it’s another thing when tested with it. “When I let go of his hand, I had truly forgiven him, says Jameel.  “I nearly flunked my test, but God didn’t let me.  I thought I’d left him back in the prison, but He was right there.”

Jameel went on with life but by 2013 his life spiraled out of control.  He lost his job, a new girlfriend stole his identity and took his settlement money, then he lost his body shop business.  Jameel began talking to God.  He promised God he would live for Him.  Andrew started working for Mosaic Christian Community Development Association which included a café and used clothing store.  They provided job training and entry-level jobs for people in the community.  After a couple of years, Andrew took a job as the manager of the café.  At the same time, Jameel was being offered a job through Jobs for Life program.  He would work at a café and discovered that the manager, Andrew Collins, agreed to mentor him. Jameel was floored!  No one realized Jameel and Andrew had history together, but Jameel knew he needed to take the job.  They worked closely together and without realizing it, the two became friends.  One day in 2015, their church produced a video of their reconciliation story.  CBS News picked up the story in 2016.  Jameel moved into a house of his own in February that year.  He started an afternoon mentoring program called Jameel''s Ultimate Mentoring Program (JUMP), and currently works with a program that helps homeless find housing called Americorps.  Andrew left the café and started working at Young Life.  He works with local schools to reach at-risk kids.  Andrew and Jameel spend a lot of time together.  They tell their story to organizations across the country.  Today, they are best friends.

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Guest Info

Credits

Authors: Convicted, Waterbrook 2017

Jameel:

works for Americorps, a program to help the homeless find sustainable housing

Son: Jacarius, 12
 

Andrew:

Works with Young Life to reach at-risk kids

Married to Krissy

Daughter, Kiya, 11

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