'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

He read that he should love his enemies and pray for those who had persecuted him. He had been baptized into the LDS Church at age 8 and decided he wanted to repent. The first month was difficult. He then decided to try and learn to forgive.

"I thought about it and thought if I'm going to be a Mormon or even a Christian I need to do that," Brown said. "I figure when you pray, you can't sit there and be idle, you have to act, so I said a simple prayer for these guys and I noticed when I took that action I was filled with more love for (his one-time captors).

"I learned to love these guys. They were in my prayers every night and I just wanted the best for all of them."

He spent 13 more months in jail and committed to spending his days, from 6 a.m. until 10 p.m., studying scriptures and reading other books.

"I learned how to write and I learned talents that I never knew I had, how to organize what I did have and use it for my benefit," he said. "I used my time wisely and learned a lot from it."

He got out of jail and went to work being a witness for God, who he said had lightened his load. He did this by starting to write a book about facing adversity with positivity and light. He started to reach out to those in difficult situations, such as inmates and the homeless. 

Brown spent days in downtown Salt Lake City contacting people about what they wanted from their lives and encouraged them with ideas about how they might achieve their goals.

He said the deeper "why?" of his conversion — the desire for a happy and full life — is what has sustained him.

"The 'why' is the driving force," he said. "That's what kept me in the church even now. I've gained a testimony deeper than just reading the book, than all the other things. The things that happened to me and the way things turned out, I know it's true so deeply that I can't deny it and I know what I want is eternal life."

Brown spoke during sentencing hearings for both Cater and Farani. He said he fasted and prayed about what to say and that he surprised even himself when he thanked Farani for being part of what prompted him to change his life.

"You were an aid to (my) change," Brown said in court. "You have an opportunity now. Take it."

"It was an amazing experience for me, forgiving him, as well as getting over this whole situation, this whole incident that had happened," Brown later said of the experience.

He knows some jailhouse conversions can be shallow, but it has been two years and he said he has not let up on doing the little things that changed him. He still reads scriptures and attends church. He is optimistic about his plans to write that book and become a motivational speaker.

He also doesn't worry that he will return to his old ways. His conversations are peppered with scripture and he quotes one about experiencing a mighty change of heart.

"I'm a brand new person. I couldn't even fathom a thought of going back to those old ways. I've tasted of His goodness. Right now, I'm the young men's president. I have the Melchizedek priesthood, a temple recommend. … Those are amazing accomplishments to me and I'm happy to have those."

Brown is currently traveling along the East Coast, exploring, enjoying a change of scenery, continuing to seek inspiration and do research for the book he still hopes to finish. It has almost been four years since Brandstatt was killed, and Brown had to decide what to make of his life that was spared that night.

"It all started with that humbling experience that really brought me low and made me think and it's been a slow, patient process of changing," Brown said. "A lot of this has been about not giving up, continuing to press forward. There have been times that it's been really rough, but I keep having hope and patience with myself. A lot of the credit goes to the Atonement and Jesus Christ."

Every so often, he will be reminded of where he was and has been. He will see someone "doing something stupid" or dressing like he used to dress and it almost hurts.

The feeling isn't for himself, but for the other person. Going back to that place is not an option for him.

"I don't have concerns because I don't look back," Brown said. "I know that my life is only moving forward if I keep up, day to day, with what I need to keep up with.

"That's not even me anymore."

E-mail: emorgan@desnews.com, Twitter: DNewsCrimeTeam

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