ENSLEY, Ala. (WIAT) — Through a friendship that would seem unlikely to some, three men have built a bond on acceptance and redemption.
Now, they’re sharing their powerful story in the hopes of helping others who come from different places, but can find common ground.
Gerrel Jones is the common thread in this brotherhood.
“This is not a ‘There are good white cops or good white people out there, there are good black people out there,’—this is there are good people,” Jones said.
One by one, the three men showed up to a building in Ensley to share their story of a bond that began back in 1992. That’s when Dana Marsh, then a Georgia police officer working in College Park, arrested Jones during a domestic dispute.
“I told him that night, I said ‘Look, there’s some things you’ve got to change and if you don’t, you are going to be homeless, maybe in the hospital, maybe in jail, maybe dead,'” Marsh said.
Jones started a lawn service with equipment Marsh bought for him, but he spent the next few years on the streets of Birmingham and Atlanta, using and selling drugs, then eventually committing a murder in Birmingham.
“It was a homicide that I wasn’t being sought after for that I basically had gotten away with,” Jones said.
Fed up by his own troubles, Jones turned back to Marsh.
“So I hitchhiked all the way back to Atlanta and called him up and said ‘I got this body in Birmingham,'” he said, “I just didn’t want to be who I was anymore and the last person who really loved me, I wouldn’t called it that then, but the only one who seemed to care about me was this white police officer from Fayetteville, Georgia.”
Marsh testified to help Jones get a reduced sentence.
“It came out that he had in fact turned himself in freely and voluntarily,” Marsh said. “He still got a life sentence and it looked like he wasn’t going to get out, never.”
During his time locked away, Jones was up for and denied parole five times. Through another inmate, Jones met Doug Wanniger, who told him that God wanted him to help him get out of prison.
“When the time came and it was right, I knew in my heart [and told him], ‘you move in with me, you live with me,'” Wanniger said.
Wanniger’s house was the first stable home Jones had been in after spending more than 20 years in prison. Wanniger not only took Jones in, but he also officiated Jones’ wedding.
“It was just a God moment, complete blessing, complete rightness of life—and he got lucky,” he said.
“My experience with these two men reaching across racial lines, reaching across social lines between police and criminal and saying ‘Hey, I’m going to love you and this is what it looks like,’ their love reached out to me when I was unlovable,” Jones said.
After being released from prison, Jones enrolled at UAB, became a counselor, a violence reduction specialist and mentored troubled youth across racial lines. He now runs a nonprofit and is dedicated to uplifting the community.
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