When Antoinette Brown saw the news that three UCLA basketball players were arrested for shoplifting in China, her heart sank. She thought about the pain their parents would go through.
“I felt bad for them because I know what we’ve been through,” she said. “I thought, these poor guys and their families are going to go through hell.”
Antoinette’s own son, former Ball State linebacker Wendell Brown, has spent the past 14 months in a Chinese jail.
The three UCLA players were back home in Los Angeles within 2 weeks, after the President of the United States and billionaire Jack Ma intervened on their behalf.
One of the players, 18-year-old LiAngelo Ball, is the younger brother of LA Lakers rookie Lonzo Ball.
All charges have been dropped against the UCLA players and they are welcome to visit China anytime.
“Their daddy, what’s his name, LaVar Ball?” said Wendell’s father, Travon King.
“Their daddy said, ‘It ain’t no big thing,’ and I thought, ‘He knows they’re going to get out.'”
Antoinette and Travon are aware that it’s who you know that opens doors in China.
“So many sleepless nights,” Antoinette said. “It never makes sense. I stay up all night emailing people in China because their time is 12 hours ahead, so it’s daytime. You can never get an answer.”
When she read that President Trump demanded a thank you from the UCLA players, she said, “I’ll thank him.”
“If Trump helps us, if he helps Wendell, I won’t stop thanking him. He helped get three basketball players who were guilty get out. I pray he’ll help get my innocent son out. And if he does, I’ll thank him and thank him and thank him.”
In 2015, Wendell traveled to Chongqing, China to play professional football. After suffering an injury, he accepted the opportunity to coach in the American Football League of China.
While there he taught English to adults and football to kids. At 6-foot and 225-pounds, Wendell was a well-liked gentle giant in China.
On Sept. 24, 2016, he attended a birthday party for a friend at a bar. According to Wendell, some men wanted to drink with him, but he declined. A fight broke out and Wendell raised his arms to deflect a thrown bottle.
He claimed he never hit anyone. But he was arrested for assaulting a man.
An hour later, he sat in a cell at the Chongqing Jiangbei detention center.
Wendell’s criminal trial was held in July. His defense lawyer presented surveillance video that backs up Wendell’s claim that he never touched anyone.
Despite a lack of evidence that he ever hit the man, the judge has refused to render a verdict.
Chinese officials reportedly suggested the family come up with $100,000 U.S.D. as restitution.
But the Browns are a low-income family who work long hours. They can’t afford to pay restitution.
Months later, Wendell still sits in jail waiting for the wheels of justice to budge.
His case received a mention in The Wall Street Journal‘s coverage of the UCLA boys, and there was some local news coverage about him.
In letters home to his family, Brown says he has tried to find peace with everything.
“God will assure that the truth will come out,” he wrote to his mother.
Antoinette says he is visited once a month by the U.S. Consulate to make sure he is not being mistreated.
The judge has also stopped by the jail four times to check on Wendell.
“That tells me that she knows that there is an innocent man in there,” Antoinette said. “I wish she would just rule that way.”