Jerry and Tanya: Turning despair into hope on Flint’s Eastside

Jerry Hodges, 63, and Tanya Cox, 43

Jerry is originally from Mississippi before moving to Detroit, MI. After college Jerry found himself in Flint, MI. Tanya is Pastor of Eastside Church of the Nazarene and has been on the eastside of Flint for 8 years.

March 1, 2018

“Peer pressure just kind of flowed through me. For about 20 some years or more I was into drugs, being around people doing drugs. It didn’t just become a little play thing it became my whole life style.”

We met Jerry and Tanya at Eastside Church of the Nazarene. Jerry walked slowly but met us with a smile. Jerry had a gentle spirit and spoke with so much authenticity that you couldn’t help but be drawn to his story and his words. Jerry and Tanya’s story together was filled with love, hope and a lot of humor. We smiled, we listened, we laughed (a lot) and we were honored to hear their stories.

Jerry and Tanya

Jerry and Tanya outside Eastside Church of the Nazarene

Jerry’s story is filled with a lot of soul searching and trying to find his way to God. Until October 2016, Jerry was a very well-known drug dealer on Flint’s Eastside, involved in more than $1 million worth of drugs in the community.

Everyone knew who Jerry was, many referred to him as the Mayor of the Eastside. He was lost, sad and depressed, but he put a smile on and pretended he was happy, like he had everything he ever wanted. Drugs, opiates, lying, dealing, women, feeling powerful. All those things took over Jerry’s life for more than two decades.

His life now shows a completely different life. It shows a life of hope, purpose, testimony and Jesus. He now helps make life better for those living on the Eastside. And it’s all because life took a dramatic turn on Oct. 10, 2016.

“I will never forget that day. The world around me had me, but I was so unhappy. What happened to me, it was a dynamic answer to prayer. God came to me and showed me a new path with a police raid,” Jerry said, laughing. “Not the script I wanted. But God knew I was sad and wanted a changed life. Not just anything would work for me, because I was slick and crooked.”

So on October 10, the police rammed his door. A sound Jerry will never forget. They charged into his house and knocked him to the floor, yanking his arm behind his back – a pain he still feels today.

He knew his life was about to change forever. Sitting in his jail cell, he began to pray.

“I used to think to think I was the hottest guy out there. They used to call me the Gingerbread Man. Run, run, run just as fast as you can. Police used to say ‘You’re the hottest guy over here. We can’t catch you.’ But I don’t brag nothing about that anymore, because the wages of sin is death but the gift of God is eternal life. And I know today my name is in the lamb’s book of life,” Jerry said. “My God has written it. I have a peace that God gave me, that no artificial person in this world could give me. And when he saved me out of jail, he really saved me. He delivered me. He changed my life.”

This may seem simple or not possible, but for Jerry it was a miracle.

The path to drugs, destruction

When asked how his life was overtaken by drugs, Jerry’s answer was simple. He was just trying to fit in. He was trying to find a place where he was accepted.

Jerry went to Central Michigan University for college alongside his brother and they both discovered football there. Not many people know who Jerry was at first, but football brought him some recognition. His brother was a football star, so Jerry was too by association. But when his brother left CMU, Jerry lost his identity. He never finished school.

“I was kind of lost and didn’t know what to do,” Jerry said, talking about what took him to drugs in the first place. “If I was telling the truth and humbled myself I was just trying to belong. Everyone just tried to fit into something. I was just trying to find happiness of who God wanted me to be, without God. And that’s why I dabbled in this and dabbled in that. When the devil sold me the deal about drugs, I thought I had found it. I thought if I had drugs, took drugs and sold drugs, I would be somebody. It fueled me.”

After he left CMU, he moved around and found himself in Flint. After a few broken relationships and a divorce, Jerry found himself a girlfriend that worked at a strip club and was involved in drugs.

“That’s where my falling down the mountain started. I got involved in the relationship. In getting involved in the relationship I got involved in drugs,” he said. “Peer pressure just kind of flowed through me. For about 20 some years or more I was into drugs, being around people doing drugs. It didn’t just become a little play thing it became my whole life style. I thought about it for awhile about getting out and not doing it anymore but I could not as a grown man get out of it.”

When he lost his job, he got more involved in drugs, prostitution, gang fighting and guns. Some of his drug deals even involved cars and homes.

“I was caught up in the whirlpool of the drug game,” Jerry said.

He was in jail multiple time for drugs. One of those times, he was charged with a felony and given 50 days in jail. During that time he slipped on a wet floor while mopping and seriously injured his back, thinking he might be paralyzed.

That injury left him feeling not good enough and beat down. It also pushed him toward drug dealing again to make money and find purpose.

Looking back now, he knows that does not define him. He might walk a little slower. He might need the help of a cane. But Jerry’s worth does not come from how he looks, walks or how much money he has from selling drugs.

“I thought I had status. But now I’m nothing. But I’m with Jesus. I was lost and now I’m found,” Jerry said. “I used to think I had it going on because I had a police record. I thought that was cool. How could you be poor and say you’re ballin?”

A powerful testimony of hope

When Jerry got out of jail four days after the major raid at his house, he made a promise to himself. He started attending Eastside Church of the Nazarene in Flint. And right away he met Pastor Tanya Cox.

It’s safe to say it was not love at first sight. Tanya and Jerry will quickly tell you, it was a relationship that formed over time. They laugh and joke about their first encounter.

“Everyone finds Jesus in jail,” Tanya laughed. “I still didn’t believe he wanted to change.”

But Jerry kept coming back. He was there to learn and be a part of the church community. Tanya was married at the time, going through a divorce. Jerry was focused on Bible studies and encouraging those around him. But in the end it was ministry that brought them together.

They make quite the team.

“I’ve been on the Eastside for eight years. I love people. But my testimony is never as loud to people out here as his testimony,” Tanya said. “He gives hope to people who feel like it’s grace in living color. Anyone can have hope when they see someone who’s like them, who’s been involved with the same things they’re involved in. And now God really loves him and is using his life and transforming his life. You can’t argue that. You can say the Bible isn’t true. You can say God’s not real. But you can’t say Jerry’s life isn’t different because they know what his life was like. And they know what his life is like now. He went from being in jail October 2016 to Thanksgiving handing out dinners with the state troopers, which was kind of funny. You can’t argue with somebody’s testimony.”

Tanya jokes that she might be seen a white country girl that doesn’t understand life on the street. But she can cry with those she meets, drive them to get help, get McDonald’s for kids whose house is getting raided.

But it’s Jerry’s testimony and life that really brings hope. Together, Jerry and Tanya do Bible studies and ministry at Jerry’s house and the Eastside Mission. They lead a recovery program at the church and are working on creating the Now House, which is currently being restored.

The Now House will give an opportunity to get people off the streets the moment they make the decision to get clean and start a new life.

“Because right now what happens is if someone comes in here tonight and says ‘I’m done. I want help right now.’ Then I can make a phone call and I can make them an appointment and then I have to send them back out on the street for three days at best,” Tanya said. “They have to be clean for a few days before they can go to rehab or a recovery facility. So the Now House is a bridge. I see a lot of women I work with and they come and have a moment of desperation where they want help right now. And I can’t give them that.”

Not yet, at least.

They also do what they call “Ministry on Jerry’s Porch.” Everybody knows him on the Eastside so people stop by often. Everybody knows why they come by. They are still looking for drugs. But now Jerry gives them something else. He gives them an opportunity for a different life.

“To hear Jerry say ‘I know what you came here for and that used to be something I had for you, but I don’t do that anymore,’ is great,” Tanya told us. “He said, ‘But I would love to tell you about Jesus. I would love to pray with you.’

“They came for drugs but they got something different. Now people know that’s where they come if they are upset or if they need prayer.”

Jerry will tell you all about how God is bigger than all his mistakes, all the bad decisions he has made in the past. His story is now one of restoration. A story of hope, change and God’s love. From a life of drugs and crime to a life where he hopes to bring a chance for love and restoration to others.

“The Lord reminds me I am beautiful in Christ Jesus. I try to have my excitement and joy in Christ. It’s the Peace of God that passes all understanding. I used to think I was peaceful, but I was just high I found out,” Jerry said. “What I have is not for sale. It’s free. What motivates me is I have hope in God and I’ve never had that. Jesus is the fixer.”

To learn more or donate to the Now House, visit here.

This is the 13th story in the Flint Stories Project. Please continue to check back for more stories. Feel free to contact us at

Everyone has a story. We are listening.

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