MUSKEGON, Mich. — Two teams, one unlikely connection.
Ex-convicts and law enforcement faced off on the basketball court Saturday night at Reeths Puffer High School, but in place of animosity was a mutual respect for men turning their lives around and for those doing their jobs to help them.
On the surface it looked to be just a game, but look a little closer.
"It's unity," Willie Walker said. "Point blank, unity of both sides."
Walker, who was once incarcerated, says he is now a changed man.
"I really wanted to change, so I made the decision while I was incarcerated that this is the new life I want," Walker told FOX 17. "When I came home it was just easy for me to adjust to society."
Walker is a member of the "70x7" program, which rehabilitates individuals getting out of prison and back into society. The program also helped put on the game Saturday night.
"It's our way of helping to mend the relationship between returning citizens and law enforcement," said Nate Johnson, programming director for 70x7.
"In light of everything that's going on inside of the country right now with the police department, it would speak more volumes to do this than probably any words would do standing in front of a camera."
Johnson aims to repair the relationship between ex-convicts and law enforcement with personal experience.
"One of the police officers that helped me out with putting this thing together actually used to chase me around when I was selling drugs," Johnson said. "He and I got connected after I came home. He heard about some of the stuff I was doing and wanted to see if it was really true, so I had an opportunity to sit down and talk to him."
Members of law enforcement who played in the game saw the program turn something negative into a positive, as the two teams competed with each other on the basketball court.
"We want to come out and show that spirit of solidarity that we all have jobs to do, but at the end of the day I want to see everybody succeed," said DJ Hilson, Muskegon County Prosecutor.
The game was challenging at times , but a mutual respect between the two teams helped keep it fun.
"I want to be a part of something that is really trying to help the community make these guys better and to show that we're human beings just like they are and that we're not afraid," Hilson said.
"We made a choice to break the law and they're here to uphold the law," Johnson said. "If we put things in the right perspective and deal with it in reality, then we an adjust our thinking to think properly about the police and realize they're not our enemies. They're here to protect us."
The ex-convicts were victorious in the end with a final score of 37-36.