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Joyce Ann Brown
Joyce Ann Brown led a life that movies are made of. Known around the world, she was a daughter, mother, grandmother, great-grandmother, aunt, mentor, advocate and friend. In the battle of life, many took comfort in having her on their side because she was also a Warrior.
From her humble beginnings in Wills Point, Texas where her parents, Sylvester and Ruby Kelley raised their five children, to stages across the country; the story of her life is filled with intrigue, romance, violence and drama; while also celebrating good, justice, love, faith and honor.
Joyce Ann was a spirited young child, who loved excitement and challenges so when her family moved to Dallas, Texas, the small-town girl was very happy.
She attended Booker T. Washington High School and graduated from Franklin D. Roosevelt High School where she was also a cheerleader. After graduation she immediately went to work and then moved to North Dallas. For a brief time she was married to a local entertainer, James Brown.
From a young age, Joyce loved to have fun. As a young adult, she was known around town at all the nightspots and for dressing stylishly as she partied with two of her “running buddies” Gwen and Eva. She also was known for the love and care she showed to her daughter, Koquice, and sons Lee Jr., and Mygeish.
Taking seriously her role as a responsible adult she made a career change that ultimately was life-changing.
While working at Koslow’s Furs, she found herself in what would become the first of thousands of headlines and news reports when she was arrested, charged and found guilty of aggravated robbery. Joyce always maintained her innocence in the May 6, 1980 robbery and murder at another furrier, Fine Furs by Rubin.
Although there were several witnesses to say that Joyce was miles away at work; the victim’s wife provided an eyewitness identification, another inmate told of a “jailhouse confession” by Joyce and there was a rush to prosecute attitude. Consequently Joyce was taken from her family to spend her life behind bars, ineligible for parole for at least 20 years.
Admittedly Joyce was angry when she entered the Texas Department of Corrections. She was a God-loving woman who felt that only the guilty went to jail. She also had a praying mother and family who along with her church family, at Bethlehem Christian Church, McKinney, TX, under the leadership of Rev. Travis Lee and Kavin E. Brown continued to lift her up in prayer.
Joyce always said she did not commit the crime and she shared her plight with everyone who would listen. Unfortunately behind bars her plea was a familiar one that fell on deaf ears.
In her biography, Joyce Ann Brown: Justice Denied, written with journalist Jay Gaines, Joyce’s poignant words tell a story of a woman who was at first confused, disappointed, and yes, angry at a system that failed her.
Fortunately she had a family, led by the matriarch, affectionately called, MaDear, who believed Joyce and was committed to standing by her until her freedom was gained, regardless of how long it took.
While incarcerated, she thought about when, or if, she would ever be free to do as she pleased, sleep in her own bed, wear the clothes and shoes she loved so much, and most importantly spend time with her family whenever she desired!
A low point during her incarceration was when her son, Lee, Jr. died. Unable to attend the funeral only frustrated her even more. But she was a praying woman and her faith helped her endure.
Determined to do the time and not let the time do her, Joyce enrolled in college, receiving her bachelors degree while continuing to write letters professing her innocence and seeking assistance. She prayed often, making a commitment to help others in the same predicament if she was ever freed. Although there was no guarantee that any efforts would result in her freedom, Joyce was ecstatic when Jim McCloskey and Centurion Ministries took up her case.
In October 1989 millions saw Joyce’s story on the award-winning CBS newsmagazine show, 60 Minutes, where correspondent Morley Safer laid out the facts of the case, showing just how far-fetched the idea was of Joyce being able to leave work, commit the crime and return to clock back in at work 36 minutes later. Also, Dallas Morning News staff writers Steve McGonigle and Steve Blow’s coverage of Joyce’s plight helped call attention to the travesty of justice.
The future started looking even brighter when the request for a new trial was granted and a date set. Hundreds gathered, along with MaDear and Koquice as Joyce was released on bond on November 3, 1989.
Joyce had spent nine years, five months and 24 days in prison for a crime she didn’t commit! But now she was home.
And Joyce’s story continued to dominate headlines, but all she was concerned with was going home and climbing into the bed with MaDear, spending time with Koquice and Mygeish and becoming acquainted with her granddaughter, Brittany.
It would take a few months more of “posturing” by a district attorney whose office would gain a reputation for misconduct, for charges to be formally dropped.
When Joyce finally went back to court her attorney Kerry Fitzgerald told her something she was longing to hear for quite some time, “It’s over, Joyce. You can go home. You’ve won!”
But Joyce was a realist, she had a promise to keep and she needed to earn a living. Sure folks were there with promises as long as the cameras were live but for a minute the future didn’t look too promising because of the hollow offerings of support.
However, at a live broadcast on Soul 73 KKDA-AM, she met Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley Price and once again came an offer of support. Smiling as she always did, Joyce didn’t let her skepticism show on her face, but she was really getting tired of the posturing.
Much to her surprise, unlike others, the Commissioner’s offer of help was sincere and resulted in her working almost a decade in his office and gaining a friend for life.
While still working with the Commissioner, she founded MASS, Inc. — Mothers (Fathers) for the Advancement of Social Systems, and eventually left Dallas County to run the non-profit full-time, working to benefit the wrongfully convicted, formerly incarcerated, and their families.
People from all over wrote and called Joyce for help with their problems. She also received requests to speak at colleges, churches, community events, conferences and on talk-shows.
Joyce’s speeches were profound and captivating. She would begin: “I’m Joyce Ann Brown and I spent nine years, five months and 24 days in prison for a crime I didn’t commit.”
She would go on to talk about how she was not bitter and she always managed to bring her audiences to tears. More importantly people had a clearer understanding of how injustices are being perpetuated daily and innocent people are being incarcerated.
Joyce is the face of the wrongfully and unjustly accused. She gave a voice to the voiceless. And she was about family.
Joyce dealt with some health challenges over the past few years but she still remained active. Whether she was working with legislators or partnering with other agencies to deal with issues, she was serving and helping.
Joyce remained involved with Centurion Ministries working to free other wrongly convicted persons and challenging unjust laws. Joyce was always on the forefront helping the formerly incarcerated to make the transition and hopefully avoid returning to prison.
In 2014, Joyce, along with Koquice, joined Friendship-West Baptist Church, Dallas, TX, under the leadership of Pastor Frederick D. Haynes III.
Joyce also made sure that her family members were never far away. She had an open-door policy at her house and the MASS offices–for family, supporters and constituents.
Joyce loved rounding everyone up for family nights and excursions to Oklahoma. It wasn’t uncommon to find a gathering either at Joyce’s or MaDear’s, where it always seemed like a family reunion was in progress.
And the official family reunions were also a highlight for Joyce because they were a big production, full of performances, fun and games, and good food. A highlight of these events had to be her show-stopping performances as Aretha Franklin, Etta James or Monique.
Joyce leaves a legacy of love and commitment. She looked for the best in everyone and gave her best in all that she did. Joyce believed that the justice system could be fixed and that this world could be a better place and she was doing everything she could to assist.
She was preceded in death by her father Sylvester Spencer; son Lee Viser, Jr.; brother James Clayton and special friend Lee Viser, Sr.
Left to celebrate her life and cherish her memories are: Parents Robert and Ruby (MaDear) Kelley and Addie Mae Spencer (Sylvester); Daughter Koquice Spencer; granddaughters Brittany and Jereny; Great Granddaughters Jhmia Spencer and E’Myia Davis; Son Mygeish and grandchildren Christopher Miller-Dennis, Mygeish Dennis Jr., Joshua Dennis, Destinae Dennis, Cree Cook Dennis, Aleea Walker, J’Kedrian Fields, Mya Dennis, Gianni Sneed and MiCah Dennis; Stepdaughter Shannon Anderson; Brothers Robert Spencer (Barbara Ann); Horace Spencer (Donna); John Spencer Sr. (Mayme), Sylvester Spencer Jr. (Debra), Marvin Kelley (Barbara), Jimmy Dell Spencer (Brenda), Lago Spencer (Taneicesaya); Sisters Mary Black (Benny), Vickie Wilson (William), Jean Reed (Richard), Judy Jones (John), Tangila Thomas (Walter), Addie Spencer, Stacy Spencer, Debra Lyons and Patricia Wright; Special Grandchildren Dwight Kennedy, Andre Smith, Alayna Smith, Annya Smith, and Ayanna Smith; Godchildren, Eric Proctor (Myshia), Valencia McBride, LaTonya Roque, DeAmber Nelson and thousands of other relatives, supporters, MASS members and friends.