Wendell Brown sits in a Chinese prison cell. The cell is about 30 feet by 15 feet and has around 30 other men in it.
While sitting there, he takes out a small sheet of paper and writes down some goals to accomplish when he is released.
The paper likely looked something like this:
Start a nonprofit organization for young people.
Write a book about being imprisoned.
Make a film about imprisonment.
Brown now has three nonprofit organizations.
The book he wrote, NFL To Prison Cell, is available for pre-order.
He currently is the strength and conditioning coach at Martin Luther King High School in Detroit and is also the linebackers coach.
"Some of the most influential people in my life have been my coaches," he said. "I wanted to be able to reach back to help some young people. The easiest way for me to do that is through coaching."
Goals were accomplished but getting there was anything but easy.
Getting Through It
It's been three years since Brown was released from the Chinese prison, after his 2016 conviction for assault after a fight in a bar, a situation Brown has always maintained was self-defense.
Brown's book is a project he has been working on since he was released. In it, Brown details how he made it through those desperate years behind bars.
"We were raised in the church, so we've always, always been heavy with scripture and belief or faith in God," Brown said. "But you know, when you experience certain things, there are times to actually witness for yourself the power of God and to grow your connection with the highest personally."
More than anything else, he said it was his faith that helped guide him through prison.
"Finding myself on the other side of wrongful imprisonment and knowing the tough time, conditions, the treatment before all those things," he said. "I wouldn't wish on anyone."
His mother, Antoinette Brown, was one of his biggest supporters throughout the whole process.
"I am extremely proud of my son for remaining calm and keeping his faith," she said. "Wendell knew we were fighting for him on the outside. During the pandemic, he had time to put everything in writing. He worked hard for years to rebuild himself and tell his story."
Antoinette Brown and other members of the family worked with the U.S. Embassy staff to get letters regularly delivered to Wendell. The family's efforts, and Wendell's situation, drew the attention of several Ball State alumni.
One of these people was director and producer Matt Liston.
Liston, who has worked on programs such as ESPN's "30 for 30" and Lebron James's "Uninterrupted," saw a story that someone had written about the incident, and the fellow Ball State graduate started to work.
"I reached out to his family and friends and wanted to learn the real story," Liston said. "Once I did, I was compelled to help out. You know, I wanted to help spread awareness for Wendell. I had done some other social media campaigns and other traditional media campaigns to help people inside the world of sports in the past, nothing on the level of Wendell, but I really felt compelled in this one."
Liston tried to do many things to help Brown, including traveling to Washington D.C. with Brown's family.
"I actually went … to try to get some political support," he said. "And then I went back to Los Angeles, and I just tried to use some of my contacts to spread the word through social media and traditional media that he needs help."
Jason Whitlock, former Ball State football player and current sports journalist and analyst, contributed $40,000 to bring Wendell Brown home.
Brown played middle linebacker at Ball State and, after graduating, went on to get his masters in political science and public education, and he was scouted for the NFL before his time coaching in China.
Not surprisingly, Brown tries to make the most of where he's been and where he's going.
"Just being grateful for every second that we have," he said. "Being grateful for the freedom to be able to feel the sun on your face, to be able to feel that way and to be able to smell flowers. Or to be able to spend time with our families, to be able to have access to them with ease, you know. To not be able to have a phone call or not be able to see or have a visit, you know, and we're such a tight-knit family, and all that's taken away [in prison]."
After being released, Brown took speech and writing classes and listened to authors who've done this type of work to prepare for his own book.
During the writing phase, Brown's family was a big part of the process.
"Some of the things that I was writing, and some of the conversations we went through," he said, "they were still learning some of the things that I experienced. It was therapeutic. My family needed it as well."
The book is currently in production and is being prepared for release. Brown hopes the pre-orders will be ready sometime soon. Every hard copy that has been pre-ordered will be autographed.
Contact Zach Carter with comments at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @ZachCarter85.