Police don't become friends with the men they arrest. But that's exactly what happened to Reggie Graham and Cory Long.
"I prayed on it," said Graham, "and realized I had to stand up."
He called the federal prosecutor in the case, Thomas Perricone, and received the attorney's blessing first. Then he called Philadelphia Police narcotics inspector Aaron Horn. His history in the department helped.
"Reggie had a reputation for bringing in multi-kilo jobs that resulted from good investigations," says Horn, "so if he wanted to lay his reputation down on the other side of the tracks, so to speak, he had the credibility to do that."
Graham knew he was taking a big risk, forever hitching himself to a man with a history of making bad decisions. "If you take this kind of step," says federal prosecutor Curtis Douglas, "you kind of put your reputation on the line with the people you work with every day. So if this person on whose behalf he testified doesn't live up to what he says, the police force pretty much has to look at him with a jaundiced eye. The deduction if [Long] doesn't make it is, 'maybe you're involved in this somehow.'"
|Preacher man: David Gaines grew up with Reggie Graham and now serves as his pastor.|
Long says he didn't know Graham was even thinking about testifying on his behalf until a couple of weeks before his sentencing. But even today he understands the risk the cop took for him. "This guy really stuck his neck out for me," says Long. "He went to his supervisors, man, for me."
But he laughs when asked if his recovery is something he takes one day at a time, or if the confidence Graham showed in him helps him stay straight.
"I think, for anybody who grows up in the kind of environment I did, there's a kind of mindset that can take hold," he says. "I mean, when I went into the music business, I was gonna make it by any means necessary, you know? That was just my new hustle. So when you live that way for so long, it's only natural for a bad thought to flash into your mind. But I haven't thought about doing any crimes. That's over."
For both Long and Graham, their unlikely friendship is the product of divine intervention--of supernatural grace.
Long speaks of his time in jail in terms of voices and visions--of a 40-foot-tall God who told him everything was going to be all right. Asked about his friendship with Graham, he turns to the spirit world for an explanation. "I believe it's the faith in both of us, that inner knowing that there's something that connected me with that guy. I got off the phone literally 10 minutes ago with Reggie. And it's like--we're brothers, man. We're brothers."
Graham views what transpired between him and Long in similar terms--as word made flesh, in a biblical sense, or an idea made real. "I always believed in redemption," says Graham. "And when I started I'd hoped to see it. But I'd been at this a lot of years, man, and never had. And honestly, I didn't really think I ever would."
Today, 471 days after Graham spoke at his sentencing hearing, the cop seems to have judged Cory Long's character correctly.
"I saw the changes in Cory right away," says Bernard Resnick, who served as Long's entertainment lawyer during the years of Long's relative fame. "When he got out we weren't meeting late at night in clubs anymore. He was calling me and making daytime appointments to come to my office and see me. That was a big switch, a signal something had changed."
Long is also mentoring others now, working with an aspiring rapper named Mont Brown. "He's like a big brother," says Brown, a 21-year-old from 54th and Trinity in Southwest Philadelphia.
Brown's father was murdered long ago. His mother has been in prison for a decade. In some respects he's a typical Philly kid. "He saw me rapping, and we started talking," says Brown. "I wasn't a churchy type of kid, but he got me coming to church now. He got me seeing there's more to life than jewelry, cars and clothes ... He meets me out for breakfast on Fridays. It's changed my life and made me see the big picture."
Marrea Walker-Smith, a Chester City Councilwoman, is also a fan. "I know he's turned his life around," she says of Long. "He's been an example here for the city, and built a wonderful relationship with elected officials. He does a great job of relating his history and his past to children here who might be faced with the same situations."
Walker-Smith says she and Long are planning a series of antiviolence assemblies in the Chester schools, and looking for ways to fund and implement the programs Long wants to start--teaching kids about music production and engineering.
All of it, of course, stems from what happened in court on Oct. 17, 2005. On that day defense attorney Marc Neff came into federal court with a package of letters from community members attesting to the changes in Long. Then there was Reggie Graham, whose testimony lasted less than a minute but had a profound impact on everyone in the room. The prosecutor Thomas Perricone spoke after Graham had finished.
"The government doesn't believe further incarceration would serve any purpose," Perricone told the judge.
The words--unexpected and rarely uttered by a federal prosecutor--left Legrome Davis silent in his robes for a few seconds. "I've heard extraordinary testimony today," he said. "I've been involved, professionally, with the courts, since the mid-'70s, and I can't recall ever hearing testimony of that magnitude or impact. The arresting officer testified today on behalf of the defendant--on behalf of his character. The arresting officer, by very definition, is someone who'd be suspicious of your motives, suspicious of your character.
PW's Taste of Philly 2014
Election Day 2014: Tues., Nov. 4