Wendell Brown isn’t quite ready to talk about it yet.

He said he needs time to reflect with his family first — time to focus on the positives of today before reliving his last three years in prison.

“I’m just enjoying freedom and enjoying my family’s presence with the love, the smiles, the jokes and everything I’ve been missing all these years,” Brown said.  

Brown, a Ball State Football linebacker from 2004-07, was coaching abroad when he was imprisoned in China in September 2016 after his involvement in a bar fight during a party, which he said was in self defense.

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One month ago, he returned home.

“Words can’t fully express the joy my heart feels to finally — to finally be home,” Brown said.

When he first learned he would be returning home, Brown said there was a giant weight lifted off his shoulders as he started to feel hope.

“I could actually see the light at the end of the tunnel,” Brown said. “I knew I would go home. I just didn’t know when, so when I finally found out when, it was just a blessing.”

When his plane landed in Los Angeles Sept. 25, Brown’s mother and aunt were waiting for him. Along with his family members, Jason Whitlock, former Ball State Football player and current co-host of Fox Sports 1’s “Speak For Yourself,” and Dante Love, Brown’s teammate at Ball State for three years, were also at the airport.

Prior to that day, his mother, Antoinette Brown, hadn’t seen his face since a 15-minute FaceTime conversation right after a verdict was reached, determining he was guilty of intentional assault.

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For the next two years and two months, Wendell and Antoinette Brown could only communicate through monthly letters delivered by the U.S. Embassy. During the remainder of his sentence, they were allowed one 10-minute phone call each month.

Antionette Brown said she still has every letter she received from and sent to Wendell; she sent about 60 letters every month from family, friends and anyone who wanted to try to lift his spirits. To finally see Wendell Brown, she said, was an amazing moment. 

“Finally, I could hug my son and put my arms around him again,” Antoinette Brown said. “It was funny because his beard was so long and grey to the middle of his chest. I was like, ‘Oh my goodness. What is he going to do with this long beard?’”

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Whitlock said it was a special moment to see Wendell and Antoinette Brown reconnect.

“It’s not just the person in prison that feels like they’re incarcerated; it’s everybody that cares about that person,” Whitlock said. “To see his mom being able to touch her son for the first time in several years and the joy she felt knowing her son was home and safe, that was the overwhelming feeling.”

Whitlock played a large role — a $40,000 role — in bringing Wendell Brown home. Having already spent nearly two years in prison, Brown was sentenced to serve a total of four years in June 2018. His accuser agreed to a financial compensation of $50,000 to reduce his sentence by a year. After Brown’s family and friends raised around $20,000 — about half of which went toward lawyer fees — Whitlock donated the remaining amount owed.  

“I’m just trying to spread that message to everyone — how much pride we should take in Ball State and how we should look out for each other,” Whitlock said. “I’m a Ball State graduate for life. That will be in my obituary. I want other alums to feel that same way, and I think Wendell is a great representation of that.”

Saturday, Wendell Brown returned to Ball State for Homecoming, and an event was held before the football game to acknowledge his journey. He said he was greeted with “nonstop hugs,” and it reminded him of the warm feeling he got from his first visit to campus before his freshman year.

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“They preached how no matter how long you stay, no matter what happens, this is a brotherhood. This is a band of family. The men and women that come through here will always be treated as family,” Brown said. “From my first day arriving on campus, they showed me that, and even to this present moment, they continue to show me that this is indeed a family. So, I’m just thankful to be a part of it.”

Contact Zach Piatt with comments at zapiatt@bsu.edu or on Twitter @zachpiatt13.