'Exactly what I needed': From life of crime to life of faith, man looks to help those in dark places

Published: Sunday, Feb. 10 2013 7:05 p.m. MST

Gregory Brown has lunch with Troy Leedom, left, and Elmer Morris in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, May 30, 2012. Brown goes downtown twice a week and talks with homeless people. After having some interesting conversations, Brown took the men out to lunch at McDonald's.

Laura Seitz, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Something about the meeting felt wrong.

It wasn't that the place chosen to exchange drugs for a gun was near a police station. Gregory Brown didn't even know that at the time.

"I just had a horrible feeling," he said.

Looking back, he thinks the feeling that struck him was an inkling of what was coming: an intervention from God that would eventually push him in the right direction by scaring him straight. It was a warning before a night of crime that would change his life forever.

At the time, Brown was a 19-year-old punk with a propensity for dealing drugs. Before night's end, he would have attempted three armed robberies as part of a crime spree that included the murder of his friend. Yet less than a year later, he would feel a deep need to make a change and start reaching for a higher power. Soon after, he would read scriptures in jail and then started praying for his enemies.

Now, at 23 and an active Mormon, he seeks to help others in dark places.

Today, he might have listened to the pang of premonition. On the afternoon of Feb. 5, 2009, he did not.

"I just brushed it off, thinking it was normal nerves for buying a gun for the first time," he recalled.

When the group he was waiting for arrived, he got in the car. No one said hello or asked how he was doing.

"I start getting that bad feeling again, and that's when they actually drive away from the Wendy's into a apartment complex right behind it," Brown recalled. "That's when Sano said, 'green light,' which started the whole events of the day."

Three years later, Brown stood in a courtroom and heard himself thank the teenager who threatened to kill him during a terrifying crime spree. The events that night forced him to change his life.

But back then, he was desperately doing everything he could to just stay alive by doing exactly what Shardise Malaga, Antonie Hunter Farani (known as Sano), Jeremiah Williamson and Spencer Cater asked him to do — whatever it took to get rid of the gun that was cocked and pointed at his waist.

They asked for his backpack and everything inside. Brown handed over the bag, carrying some marijuana, cocaine, a scale, his wallet and some cash. But Farani, the ringleader, wanted more.

"For some reason he was expecting $2,000 and he didn't get that, so now he's getting frustrated," Brown recalled. "He says, 'You need $2,000 for your life before it gets dark, or we're going to kill you.'"

Brown hadn't been in Utah two years when he found himself in the deepest trouble he'd ever been in. He grew up in his native California, mostly in group homes, where he was confident, outspoken and wary of authority. He often ran away but said he could do well when he wanted.

He attended a school for others like him, where earning "diamond" status meant more freedom and responsibility. When he was 9, he decided he wanted to be a "diamond" student and he was.

At 17, he got out of the system and moved in with his brother. It was a "sketchy neighborhood," and Brown said he quickly learned that he could make good money selling drugs. He had earned his GED and was planning on going to college, but he said his "entrepreneurial mind" went to work.

"I started a little business you could say, but a bad business," Brown said of his start selling methamphetamine and marijuana. "It was just the greed for money."

The drugs were easy to come by, though Brown said he didn't use them.

"I didn't believe in using my own product," he said. "That was just a way to lose money."

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