Letters and commendations in Brown's parole file, several inches thick, go back to the 1970s. There are impassioned letters from his wife to then-governor Ray Blanton, asking for a reduction in sentence. As his parole hearings approached in 1993 and 2003, letters of support piled up from pastors who worked with the religious man, community members offering jobs upon his release and those he touched during his imprisonment. Page after page came on Tennessee Department of Correction letterhead, from corrections officers, counselors and even a warden of his facility.
The common refrain was, "I don't usually write letters on behalf of an inmate, but I had to make an exception for John Brown."
The rest of the file marks his activities behind bars. He started a program to raise money for orphans in Africa. He achieved a silver ranking as an advanced Toastmaster. He got his GED and an associate degree from the University of Tennessee. He took anger and stress management, carried the prison softball team, and led the prison chapter of Alcoholics Anonymous.
Even the board members at the hearing, board chairman Charles Traughber and James Austin, acknowledged the contrast with the crime.