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”
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”
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”
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”