Antointette Brown had not seen or spoken to her son Wendell Brown in more than two years. Brown, 31, has been imprisoned in a Chinese jail since September 24, 2016 stemming from a bar fight in which he was convicted of assault this past June and sentenced to four years in prison. He had already been locked up for 21 months. Now, he and his family will finally be able to see the light at the end of the tunnel, with his sentence being reduced by one year. His new release date is September 24, 2019.
“The last time I talked to my son was September 22, 2016 and two days later, he was locked up,” said Brown. “Everything stopped after that.”
“Even though Wendell was disappointed with the verdict because we were expecting him to be released, it’s still given us closure and we can see the light at the end of the tunnel. Salvation is clearly there.”
After the new verdict, Brown was able to talk to her son via video call for 15 minutes. Close to a dozen family members gathered at Brown’s home on the east side of Detroit to talk to Wendell. A screenshot of Wendell with a huge smile on his face was shared on Facebook. He was known to carry that smile with him everywhere he went and was the life of the party.
“Just to see his face and how good and healthy he looked was uplifting to us,” said Brown. “He was smiling though the pain and still had his sense of humor, cracking jokes on everyone. I know that alone, not being able to talk to or see anyone for over two years, at least give him some encouragement and hope to fight for the next 10 months.”
Brown was coaching football over in China with the Chongqing Dockers and was enjoying a night out with some friends, when, according to witnesses, he was provoked by a group of locals who were upset that Brown would not party with them. One of the men reportedly escalated the incident by throwing a glass bottle at Brown, who retaliated out of self-defense. The local police were contacted following the altercation, to which Brown was the only one arrested. The man demanded more than $100,000 in compensation for damages to his eye or else he would pursue the case in court. Brown has been in jail ever since. There is a 99.9 percent conviction rate in China and Brown’s trial was in July of 2017, but it had taken a year for the verdict to be announced.
He was also apparently a part of a YouTube web-series called “Black in China.”
Since Brown’s incarceration, his lawyers, family, and friends have been fighting for his release. I first reported on his story in April of 2017. Since then, it has been shared and told by ESPN, Fox 2 News, the Muncie Star Press in Indiana where he played college football, and other media outlets around the world. The family started a GoFundMe page and even reached out to members of the United States government to assist with his release, including President Donald Trump.
“The letters, love, prayers, and pictures that everyone has sent him is what has kept him going,” Brown said her son communicated via video call. “He said the lord knows he would have been crumbled, but he continued to fight because we were fighting for him.”
As happy as Brown was to see his mother, grandfather, and other relatives and friends, they were excited to finally know that he was in good spirits and in good health. Brown’s mother said his situation drained her, knowing what he set out to do with his life, teaching English and football and training and all over the world, only to have his life unfairly halted and sent to prison in an unknown land. But she never stopped praying and fighting for her son.
“My mind was racing everywhere, and I didn’t know what to think,” said Brown about her son being imprisoned on the other side of the world. “It felt so good to see him and talk to him again. It did me a world of good and lifted me up.”
Brown played his high school football at Martin Luther King High School in Detroit, where he was an all-state player at linebacker in 2004. He went on to play at Ball State, where he also received a bachelor’s degree. He has played semi-pro and professional football all over the world and was dedicated to teaching the game he loved, not only overseas, but also at home, in little league, and at his former high school. Brown has a son to come home to as well and his mother said he has already mapped out his plans when he is finally released next year, if not sooner.
“He’s going to write a book and he is getting started on it right now,” said Brown. “He said he knows his book will be a movie and someone sent him a Nelson Mandela book to help uplift him and to help understand the journey that he is on.”
“But we won’t just sit around and wait for 10 months. We are going to continue to work and his lawyer is working on getting him an earlier release based on good behavior. We are looking forward to seeing him way before September.”