Imagine being arrested for a crime you didn’t commit. Imagine being convicted for that crime, and serving four years in prison for it. And imagine finding out after that time served that the police officer who arrested you had admitted to falsifying evidence in order to frame you.
Now, imagine finding yourself working alongside that same, now-former officer.
Jameel McGee doesn’t need to imagine it. In 2005, he was arrested in Benton Harbor, Michigan, for possession of drugs with the intent to distribute. The arresting officer, Andrew Collins, falsely identified McGee as a drug dealer, and later altered his report to hide evidence that could have cleared McGee.
“Basically, at the start of that day, I was going to make sure I had another drug arrest,” Collins tells CBS News reporter Steve Hartman.
Collins was later convicted for multiple instances of filing false reports, planting drugs on suspects, and theft. “I was the lowest of low,” he reflects to the Benton Harbor Herald Paladium. “In my mind now, as I look back, I was as low as you can get as a police officer.”
McGee, along with several other victims of Collins’ rogue policing, were released from their sentences, while Collins himself was sentenced to 18 months behind bars.
But while McGee was now free from his incarceration, he continued to struggle with anger and resentment toward the man who had cost him four years of his life.
“My only goal was to seek him when I got home, and to hurt him,” McGee says.
Eventually, McGee enrolled in the “Jobs for Life” program run by the Mosaic Christian Community Development Association. He was given a job at Cafe Mosaic, where his manager was none other than Andrew Collins.
While few would have faulted him for walking away from his new job, McGee says he felt his Christian faith compelled to stay and offer his forgiveness to the officer who had taken away his freedom.
Collins apologized to McGee. “I said, ‘Honestly, I have no explanation, all I can do is say I’m sorry,'” Collins remembers.
“That was pretty much what I needed to hear,” says McGee.
The two men have become fast friends since being reunited. Their kids often play together, and McGee and Collins often speak to groups about the importance of forgiveness and reconciliation. In June, they will be sharing their story at the Wesleyan Church General Conference in Buffalo, and Collins is studying to become a pastor in that church body.
Collins remembers his response when McGee told him he loved him. “I just started weeping because he doesn’t owe me that. I don’t deserve that.”
As Christians, we have all received forgiveness for the unforgivable. And it is through God’s forgiveness that we are enabled to forgive and restore others—even in instances as egregious as Jameel McGee’s. As God has restored us, let us seek to restore others who are in need of mercy.
To learn more about Prison Fellowship’s work to restore men and women to their communities and their families, visit our Reentry Support page.