College grad: Local woman achieves dream

Nettie Brown beats the odds, overcomes troubled past.
Alissa Widman Neese
Dec 28, 2013


There’s always hope at the end of your road.

No matter the obstacle, you can still persevere and clear a new, smoother path, according to one Sandusky woman.

Nettie Renee Brown, 54, isn’t ashamed to admit her road was once littered with potholes: drug addiction, crime and serious health problems were undoubtedly the largest.

But in recent years, she overcame her criminal record and problematic past to achieve one of her biggest dreams.    

This past weekend, Brown officially obtained a bachelor’s degree from BGSU Firelands.

“I truly believe people can do anything they want with their life, if they’re willing to change,” Brown said, recalling her seven-year journey in her Adams Street apartment. “Education made me a better woman. It was my change. I feel like a new person today”

Troubled past
After six trips to prison for minor crimes and a slew of hospital visits, Brown finally decided in 2006 that “enough was enough”

“I could have been dead,” Brown said. “The same day I was released from the hospital, I’d go do drugs again. It’s surreal to think about it now”

A final trip to the Northeast Pre-Release Center in Cleveland sparked Brown’s desire to change, she said.

In an effort to get her life back on track, she enrolled in an administrative office technology class through the rehabilitation and re-entry center. The tough course required 550 hours of work.

After the first week, and many tears of frustration, Brown wanted to quit.

She credits Billie Sexton, the program’s instructor, with igniting her spark into a flame, which now burns passionately for education and selfimprovement.

“She told me, you can do it, you can do anything you want to do, you’re not a dummy,” Brown said. “I ended up graduating with honors and helping her teach the next class”

Transformed present
After she left Northeast Pre-Release Center in July 2007, Brown headed straight for BGSU Firelands.

She’d sent a letter to the regional college while still in prison, asking its officials for an application. They obliged, and funds from various re-entry programs helped foot the bill.

As Brown trekked the Huron Township campus, the temporary ankle monitor firmly gripping her leg served two purposes: It was a reminder of her past mistakes, and a motivator for her budding future.

She didn’t mind.

“People always asked me, ‘Why don’t you wear long pants? Aren’t you embarrassed?’” Brown recalled. “I never covered it up. I knew I wanted to change my life. I wasn’t embarrassed because I knew I was on the right path”

Despite the stigma of crime, Brown said she never felt judged or looked down upon at BGSU Firelands, which she describes as a positive and helpful place.

“I was nervous when I first started. I thought, ‘I’m too old to be here’” Brown said. “But that wasn’t the case at all. It’s my second home now”

After a few successful semesters, the Teaching and Learning Center hired Brown as a typist and a tutor who mentored younger students. She was the first felon the college ever hired, and the job increased her confidence, she said.

Her expansive support system also encompasses her family — including her son, Demarius Grant, 37; grandchildren, Samaria Rollinson, 18, Daprishion Grant, 15, Jordan Grant, 15, and Demarius Grant Jr., 10; and stepgrandchildren Jakeiyia Polk, 19, and Niaya Polk, 17 — teachers, and the staff of Career Services and the Teaching and Learning Center at BGSU Firelands.

Years later, Brown certainly looks and feels different from the Nettie Renee Brown who first stepped foot on campus in 2007.

She hasn’t committed a crime since enrolling. She’s lost 82 pounds. She became involved with a local church and volunteer groups. She landed a spot on the Dean’s List this past semester.

And most notably, Brown walked at Bowling Green State University’s main campus graduation ceremony this past weekend. She obtained a bachelor’s degree in liberal studies from BGSU Firelands.

“She’s like an aunt to me, and I’m so proud of her,” said Jerome Johnson, a close family friend who founded Generations of Destiny ministry, the church Brown attends. “We were all there cheering her on, and we will continue to be part of her support system. She inspires us”

Promising future
This past week, as she prepared for her college graduation, Brown also finalized paperwork to begin pursuing her master’s degree.

She’ll likely pursue a degree in liberal studies with a concentration in criminal justice, which she’ll obtain through an online program from the University of Toledo.

Brown will also continue to share her story with others in an effort to change lives.

Once she obtains her master’s degree, she aspires to someday work for a re-entry program, similar to the one that helped her reclaim her life, she said.

Her advice to anyone in a similar rut: Surround yourself with a positive support system and never give up hope, because “there’s always hope at the end of your road” as she puts it.

“I’m still the same Nettie Renee Brown, but I’m on a different path in my life now,” Brown said. “Now I’m going to reach out to people like me, to make sure they get on their good path, too. I want to be there for them”



I am proud of you.

The right path is not easy. A better life is available to those who put forth the effort.

Ms. Brown is a shining example.

Life begins a new. Congratulations.


Congratulations Nettie! You are a wonderful example to many others!


Congratulations, Nettie! What a great example you are that people CAN change their lives if only they choose to do so. Good luck (though it doesn't sound like you'll need it — a great attitude and a strong work ethic are better than "luck" ANY day). I hope you're proud of yourself. If anybody deserves that pride, it's you!


Congrats I have known you all my life and has seen you at your lowest. Once again a prime example for all that say people can't overcome drugs you have proved them wrong.

Coram Deo

What an inspiration you are to so many in our community! ^5 You by all accounts should have been a statistic but you determined the outcome by saying "ENOUGH!", and by putting one foot in front of the other in a new direction day by day. You are my hero. May God continue to bless your endeavors.


What a great accomplishment. Also, being a role - which you will quickly become - is a challenging task but you have shown that you are certainly up to the job! You've walked the walk and can now talk the talk.


Raoul Duke

Thumbs up!


What job will be available for this person? How many hundred of thousands of dollars of taxpayers' money was she rewarded with for making wrong choices? So this is a feel good success story? Talking about throwing away thousands of dollars so a felon can take 7 years to finish a 4 year degree. All paid for by the government. 18 trillion in debt and we have money to burn like this. I just feel sorry for the people who have to work with her when she someday graduates and an employer gets a big tax break for hiring her. Do you think she has any concept of pulling her own weight and doing her share of work in a timely fashion. Yet they just push them on through the system and ultimately someone has to cover for them when they go and get a job based upon their inability to perform rather than merit.


Pyrkins, JUST when I thought I would actually be able to read through the comments of an article without reading a negative one, YOU have proven me wrong!
How dare you judge this woman for getting up off her a** and actually doing something positive to turn her life around!
Would it have made a difference to you if she wasn't an ex felon or ex drug addict how much of "your" tax dollars were wasted on her education? I'm sure if it was yourself or a family member who had received grants, loans, or anything in between from the government to get an education, you wouldn't be complaining one bit!
Just because someone made mistakes in their life in the past, does that mean that they are doomed to stay in their rut for the rest of their life!?!? This woman deserves a chance at life just like the rest of us!
If she didn't go to college, and instead , continued down her destructive path, chances are "your" tax dollars would have been spent supporting her in some way, shape, or form, whether it be welfare checks or prison costs!!
I personally congratulate you Nettie, and wish you nothing but success in your future!
Maybe you, Pyrkins, should apply for some grants to go back to school and take some psychosocial classes to learn how to be nice to the rest of the world!!!


I am not trying to be mean but we are not the sort of people who got Financial Aid. For us filing out the FAF was tantamount to reducing oneself to begging on a street corner. From what my father's CFP told him a family had to be in pretty dire straits and on the verge of poverty to qualify for any sort of aid anyways. So there.


Did you know that a very large percentage of the american people is at or below the federal poverty level guidelines?? So, basically what you are saying, is that you have had a silver spoon in your mouth all of your life, and have been able to afford to pay for college out of pocket, that is of course, if you even went to college!
Just because YOUR family can afford it, doesn't mean that the average Joe can!
Again, instead of congratulating this woman and thanking her for not wasting "your" tax dollars by paying for her welfare checks or prison costs, you drag her down into the mud a little further! It's no wonder that some people can never get ahead, and its because of the mindset and thinking that people such as yourself display!
How about if you have nothing nice to say, you just keep it moving!
You asked where she was actually going to be able to get a job with her background, but you obviously did not read or comprehend the article, because it clearly states that BGSU hired her in a position, and she is the first felon they have ever hired. She must be doing SOMETHING right!!!

J. Hartman

PP, I am going to say this very politely. The fact your mind processes the way you stated above, I want and need to apologize because someone along the line has failed you. I'll let you figure out who those people are. However, I can tell you this right now. Any CFP who would make such a statement should be ripped of all certifications. Very ignorant advice and I hope someday that person and yourself understand not everyone is born with a silver spoon, not everyone is mistake free, and yes every now and than that street corner beggar will make a complete stranger proud of them because they succeeded when others claimed they could not. I won't end with a "So There' statement as you did, because that proves to me the maturity level. I will end with this however, I will say a prayer for you and those who have failed you along the way tonight. PS, if I could have the name of the CFP you cited, that would be great!

J. Hartman

First and foremost, I don't know you Nettie, but I am extremely proud of you! Imalley77. I do share your comments, but returning ignorance with anger is not the answer. It only gives those engulfed in ignorance with a method to build their personal self-esteem. Again, I do agree with you. The original poster fails to realize and understand what this whole article is about. It's about an individual who faced challenges, fought demons, and has persevered and overcome. She is a role model for anyone facing similar struggles today and she's also a damn good example of how one can turn their story of doom into a fairy tail ending. The original commenter also fails to understand, that Nettie can be such a huge asset to help the community because she has been there. Congrats again Nettie and to all others, It's never to late to become the person you were meant to be! Best wishes in the future Nettie and as always, S.M.I.L.E.


J. Hartman, you are absolutely right! I don't know why I let Pyrkins take me out of my element when I responded to their post!
Thank you for pointing out what I had already thought after I posted my comment, I have gone back and adjusted my original comment so to not stoop so much to their level! Thank you!

J. Hartman

All good and I have made plenty of ignorant statements in the past as PP did. But through our ignorance and mistakes, we learn and we grow because we gain wisdom from those mistakes. Hopefully we can prevent others down the line from committing the same errors we have. Big factor here, let others voice their opinion, but don't hate them because they have a separate view. However, this has side tracked from the articles intent and that is one of Sandusky's own has given us something to be proud of even though we probably didn't play any direct role in Nettie's success. Hopefully, people will also get out of the article to never count out or underestimate what the individual has within their heart.


Look, PyrkinsPyrate, I sympathize with what you're saying. Anybody who's seen many of my comments at all KNOWS how I feel about government handouts and the spending of taxpayer dollars! But here's the deal with the woman in this story: We have a choice, just like she did.

1. We can spend taxpayer dollars to send her to treatment over and over and over again, followed by spending taxpayer dollars to incarcerate her again and again, commensurate with spending taxpayer dollars to support the family that she isn't; OR

2. We can spend taxpayer dollars helping her get an education that turns HER into a productive taxpayer.

Gosh, which do you think is the better investment?

I grant you that not every person who gets the opportunity to get ahead is willing to do the work to do so. But those who ARE willing deserve the respect their hard work warrants.


Leaving her to wallow in the entitlement filth and mentality with her major concern in life being her finger nails or how many minutes are left on her Obama phone is the correct course of action. The thing is people who are useless and then are "given" an education often are given jobs they do not deserve and it becomes everyone else's problems to accommodate them. People who are actually out there, working and trying to earn a living know exactly what I am talking about because they have seen it first hand. It is not the exception but the rule. When a corporation has new hires calling a phone number and answering questions to see if they get a tax break for hiring a loser....well it just goes down hill from there. It is really pointless to try to sway people's opinions while there are people out there that think some life long welfare recipient's doing a few hours of make-work, work study nonsense somehow is evidence of rehabilitation.
The ultimate question is whether or not dumping money into people who have a generational disdain for work and productivity is a better value to the taxpayer than subsidizing the educations of hard working people who make the right choices. But if spending a few hours in an office shoving papers around redeems a person for a lifetime of disgusting conduct.....what's the point.

Simple Enough II

I understand your frustration, only time will tell. I wish here well, but now time for "the rubber to hit the pavement ".


Nice move forward! Nice looking family. Dreams belong to everyone and are achieved only by those who face up to the daily challenge that college life brings. It takes alot of determination and patience and trying times. Congratulations for making a positive move in your life and next your career. You've positively impacted your peers, Family and now your community. Thanks for making that difference. There are still challenges after you finish, but you will handle those just as you have with finishing your educational goal. Again, Congratulations! and Don't forget 50 is the new 30! You've got alot of time and alot to give.


You are awesome! Way to be an inspiration for all your grandchildren. Reach for the stars!


What a wonderful story of self motivation and a passion for learning. I see more than my share of casual learners at college. They are there because......well everyone in high school was going there....or I wanted to be part of the in crowd and go.....or my parents said I had to at least try it. Those kids way too many times get there and give a half effort to all the work. Way to many have financial assistance handed to them on a silver platter from mom and dad too.

Congratulations to Nettie for finding her dream and working to achieve it and never giving up no matter how difficult the road !!!!


Wanted to add how fortunate we are to have Firelands College right here in the immediate area. We too have advanced learning enhanced by places like Terra State in Fremont, LCCC and others but Firelands is fairly close for so many students. Not everyone can be a BGSU main campus learner in Bowling Green. Many thank yous to the folks who too dreamed of a regional college for our area back in the mid 60's. The big contributions and the downright small contributions who made the first building possible back in 1968 when it opened it's doors. To all the contributions big and small who continue to add more facilities along with state funds for more buildings. I am confident a lot more people in our 3 county area have a college education because Firelands College was so close at hand. I see an increasing number of students attend Firelands for their first two years of college and than transfer to main campus or OSU, UT, CSU, etc where they finish college and attain their degree,,,,,,,,,,,why ??? because Firelands affords them college at a lesser cost.


Great story! I'm glad she was able to get it together. PyrkinsPyrate isn't all wrong though. She is one out of millions. A drop in the bucket.


Just for the record anyone who even briefly considered subtracting ages of the various persons from one another to see how old they were when reproducing is a racist.

There you go again

Lots of work to get a "liberal studies" degree. I wish I was reading where Ms. brown earned a nursing, business, or tech degree. Great job and proud moment!

Pterocarya frax...

To Nettie Brown: Congratulations!! You earned it. Now...go on to even better things, and help others. I am sure you will.

To PyrkinsPyrate: I really feel sorry for you. It must be miserable to go through life with so much hate inside. I hope someday you get it. Maybe you just need to sit down for coffee sometime with someone like Nettie. I will buy.


If I wanted to have some drinks with that sort of person I wouldn't sit down for coffee, I would just go to DJ's at about 3AM.

Pterocarya frax...

Forget what I said the first time about feeling sorry for you. I don't feel sorry for despicable racists.

Dr. Information

Good for her, but a drop in the bucket. This isn't proof that rehab works because the majority of the time it doesn't. This is proof that if one really wants to change their life, they can.


every time I read comments from hateful idiotic people I want to scream. I want to leave comments for them that are as equally stupid as what they posted. then I erase it because people that are vicious and close minded wont understand any way.
upper echelon wont have the time or desire to sit and write foolish faceless comments. but go ahead anyway and tell yourself how great you are.


Best wishes Nettie. You showed them. pattie you are right 2.

J. Hartman

I am far from perfect and I can't change a damn thing I have done in my past. The only thing I can control is how I conduct myself moving forward. Although two different situations, Nettie has as well took control of the only thing she or anyone else can have actual control of moving forward, HER OWN ACTIONS! We as a city, community, and as a nation beg for the positive story. The stories that give reason to hold onto the hope America is the greatest nation, that all others should emulate. Maybe we have lost our values, no longer are concerned about humanity, or envy another overcoming obstacles. No matter how they got there, what enabled them to overcome, or how long it took, this is a REAL story about what is good about America! You can make mistakes, except for a few, you have the opportunity to redeem and prove yourself. The only dialogue on this article should have been of celebration, congratulations, and who can WE help next achieve the same. Be positive people, support others, and you may find out it's actually kind of fun! Congrats again Nettie!