Forgiveness is a rough thing. God forgives perfectly; His children do not. We hold grudges, mouth the right words, withhold our trust, and seek revenge. Of course, when we are wronged, we expect immediate forgiveness, but it’s still a rough thing.
Zookie McGee knows. He was sent to prison for nine years for a crime he did not do. And he was sent there be a dirty cop, Drew Collins. Yet, Zookie found it in himself to forgive Drew and the two are now friends. But it was a rough road.
The Detroit News told the story of “forgiveness and redemption” this week. Collins was a cop in Benton Harbor who found himself (along with his partner Bernard Hall) lured by the power, the money and he says, the attention.
The end came in 2008, when Collins’ supervisors, acting on a tip from Hall, found a cache of marijuana, cocaine and heroin in a lockbox under Collins’ desk, according to court records.
Collins confessed everything and worked with federal prosecutors to separate his good arrests from the bad ones.
When the FBI gave him a list of 200 drug-related cases and asked him to highlight the bad ones, he said it would be easier to mark the good ones because they were fewer.
“It just eroded into an all-out free-for-all,” said Collins. “I did some really stupid things.”
In a plea deal, Collins was sentenced to 37 months in a federal prison after pleading guilty to the same charge McGee had been convicted of — possession of cocaine with intent to distribute.
But what of McGee? He still sat in prison, knowing he should be free. And he was released after serving four years of his sentence, nine days after Collins was incarcerated in the same prison.
Friends said that McGee, before his arrest, was a kind and soft-spoken man. But the false arrest and his imprisonment hardened him. His anger, by his own admission, was out of control and he swore revenge on Collins.
About two years after his release, he took his young son to a festival in a Benton Harbor park. Collins was there as a volunteer.
McGee walked up to Collins and asked if he remembered him. Collins did and the two men shook hands.
McGee gripped Collins’ hand tightly and wouldn’t let go. All the anger he felt in prison came flooding back.
“His whole countenance changed,” said Collins. “I thought, this is about to get bad.”
McGee told Collins to tell his son why McGee had been missing from his life for four years.
Collins apologized profusely but McGee didn’t want to hear it. He grabbed his son and walked away.
Yet, McGee kept seeing Collins in town. Over and over again. Both men were involved in local churches by this time, and McGee had enrolled in a job training program sponsored by the churches. He was assigned a mentor.
It was Collins. The program director was unaware of the two men’s past.
Collins, who didn’t recognize McGee, explained he had been a police officer and that, if he had ever had any dealings with McGee and mistreated him, he was sorry.
McGee said they’ve already had this talk, referring to the meeting at the park.
When McGee said who he was, Collins began apologizing, but the smiling McGee cut him off.
“That’s already forgiven,” he said. “God has that.”
When joining the program, McGee had resolved to make changes in his life.
The two men now work together and travel, sharing their story of forgiveness and redemption. Clearly, they have figured their way through the rough thing that is forgiveness.
Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. Stop judging and you will not be judged. Stop condemning and you will not be condemned. Forgive and you will be forgiven. (Luke 6:36-37)
(Photo of Collins and McGee courtesy of Katy Batdorff/The Detroit News.)