With 51,500 followers on TikTok and more than 249,400 likes, a father-daughter duo from Tuscumbia has inspired thousands with their close relationship and loving ways.

Jamiel and Julianna Cantrell have a close bond. They enjoy time together and appreciate every minute. Whether they are at Walmart or home doing nothing, the two are sure to find fun in the moment.

But things weren’t always easy for Jamiel and Julianna. A long stint behind bars and fighting addiction threatened not only their relationship but also Jamiel’s life.

Father’s Day is a special time for all fathers, but Jamiel is thankful to be a father and to have a Heavenly Father who has shown him so much grace.

“Greater is He that is in me than he that is in the world,” Jamiel said in an interview with 1819 News.

While 1 John 4:4 is one of Jamiel’s favorite Bible verses, he said another one sticks out when he thinks of the day Julianna was born.

“The very first thing she ever heard out of my mouth, and I was very specific on this, I wanted her to hear John 3:16 because I knew that was the most important thing she would ever know the rest of her life,” said Jamiel. “So, that was the first thing she ever heard from her daddy was John 3:16.”

After his new baby girl started crying, Jamiel remembers he sang “Jesus Loves Me” to calm her in the delivery room. That’s why even though he got into big trouble when she was young, it remained a priority for him to expose her to faith.

“I just know that I wanted to have that basis for her,” Jamiel explained. “I always wanted her to be able to say, ‘You know, my daddy did all these bad things but one thing about it is he made sure that we went to church and he told me about the bad things he did, why he did the bad things he did, and he was never perfect but he always admitted his wrongs.”

@jamielcantrell FATHER DAUGHTER DUO Established Sept. 11th. 2003 #fatherdaughterduo💪 #fatherdaughterduo #vanillagorilla73 #manymybreedfewmykind ♬ My Little Girl - Tim McGraw

Just before Julianna went into first grade, Jamiel was arrested for his involvement in a horrific robbery and home invasion. His addiction had taken over, and due to a habitual offender ruling, Jamiel was sentenced to decades behind bars.

“I ended up doing some horrible crime,” he remembered. “I was involved in a very bad robbery and I ended up getting 55 years – two 20-year sentences and a 15-year sentence. So, I was gone when she was going into the first grade.”

His despair was great, but thanks to Jamiel’s brother, he was able to have visits from little Julianna during his time at Elmore Correctional Facility. While he was thankful for those visits, he worried Julianna would be negatively impacted by being around one of the most violent prisons in the state.

“When I was in prison, I was a gang leader,” he admitted.  “And so I was in some very violent, rough places. So, she had to go through some things, but I'm going to tell you this about her. She never trembled. She never was scared.”

Julianna told 1819 News that while her experiences were unusual, she wouldn’t trade them for the world because those things made her stronger, like her father.

“With him being away, it formed me into the person that I am now,” she said. “I would not be as strong as I am now, and I wouldn't be able to deal with things how I deal with them. Actually, I give him a lot of props in my life because without me having to go through that, I wouldn't be able to face some of the things I face today.”

Those bad experiences for Jamiel are also still being used in a positive way.

“I've been in the world more than most people have been in the world and I've been in some really bad places and I know how hard it is to do things on your own without anybody's support,” Jamiel said. “So, when we talk, I listen. She has said that nobody can beat me as far as listening to her and trying to give her advice.”

In October of 2016, things changed. Jamiel got out of prison early, and the father-daughter duo picked up where they left off.

Jamiel is now living a clean and sober life.

The two are able to spend more time together, and one of the things they like to do is make TikTok videos. Jamiel is known as “Vanilla Gorilla,” a prison nickname he picked up while participating on a powerlifting team. Standing at 6’1” and weighing 260 pounds, the Vanilla Gorilla looks tough. But this self-described “hypersensitive man” has a big heart, according to his daughter.

“He's really a big teddy bear but he doesn't play when it comes to anything about me,” Julianna said. “He's very protective over me.”

And the feeling is mutual.

“She's very protective of her dad, and I'm very protective of her,” Jamiel added. “And I think that's the way it should be. But my main thing is to talk, spend time, take pictures, because one day I'm not going to be here.”

In 2021, Julianna made a video that would catapult the two into the spotlight. Julianna was 16 years old, and the video was made during a basketball game at the University of North Alabama. Jamiel is in the background and looks intimidating but, at the end, gives a quick grin, exposing his softer side. The video quickly hit 300,000 likes, and the rest is history.

@jamielcantrell POV: Julianna! #vanillagorilla73 #DADMOVES #justshowup #fypシ #fatherdaughterduo #fitover45 @julianna_cantrell ♬ Red Lipstick - Speed Gang

The two were shocked at the reaction to the video.

“I just thought it was just going to be a little fun joke for us to do something together and then overnight, it just became something big,” Julianna remembered. “And we've done it ever since and we've enjoyed making videos together.”

Jamiel and Julianna hope to continue to make videos and bring smiles and inspiration to others.

While the two have become more like friends than father and daughter, Jamiel said Julianna will always be his baby girl, and he will continue to show her an example of what a Christian man looks like.

“I know the beast that lives inside of me and I keep him starved down,” Jamiel said. “I know the bad I've done in the past. I know what I'm capable of. So, I have to have church. Greater is He that is in me than he that is in the world.”

To connect with the author of this story or to comment, email erica.thomas@1819news.com.

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