Brian Brown-Easley is a name that might not be immediately recognizable to many, but his life story has inspired a film called ‘Breaking.‘ Today, we’re here to delve into the true story of Brian, the military veteran whose experiences became the bedrock for the story behind the movie.
His Early Life
Born in 1982 to a humble background, Brown-Easley had a family of eight siblings and two parents, Barbara Easley and Bobby Lee Brown. Growing up in Williamstown, New Jersey, he was the youngest of his siblings.
Brian was largely introverted and preferred staying indoors to play video games. He also enjoyed reading, particularly Tolkien novels, and according to John Boyega, his ex-wife told him he was soft-spoken:
“Brian’s ex-wife mentioned his voice, the softness of his voice. His voice would always be quite low and quiet. Sometimes even hard to hear, it was quite soft-natured and would look down often through his glasses and peer up, crack a joke.”
Military Service Years
Enlisting in the military at the age of 18, Brown-Easley began a journey that would define much of his life. He joined the Marines and underwent 12 weeks of training, and served as a warehouse clerk in Iraq with the 2nd Supply Battalion.
Post-Military Life and Inspiration for ‘Breaking’
After retiring from the military, Brown-Easley struggled to readjust to civilian life and had mental health issues, including PTSD, paranoia, and schizophrenia. Living with his mother, he married Jessica Tate and had a daughter, Jayla.
However, Brian still had struggles with physical injuries, mental health issues, and adapting to a life outside the military’s rigid structure. So, he checked into a VA mental hospital in 2008 and fled home.
Disappearing for three years, Brian reappeared in Georgia in 2014. He moved in with his brother in New Jersey and kept his VA appointments. However, enrolling in computer classes at Lincoln College of Technology in 2017 had him headed to homelessness.
As it turned out, Brian suffered from the VA law that allows recouping money if a veteran stops attending classes, owing $1,163 to the VA. He realized that after taking his July $892 payment, his balance was only $271.
Promising the VA he had a payment plan; Brian disappeared again.
The Bank Incident
On July 7, 2017, he held up a Wells Fargo bank in Marietta, Georgia, claiming to have a bomb. Declaring that he did not intend to rob the bank or harm anyone, Brian demanded his $892 disability payment from the VA.
Sgt. Andre Bates negotiated with him and created a rapport. Brian then got ready to release one hostage in exchange for cigarettes. However, the process turned out longer than expected, so Officer Dennis Ponte fatally shot Brian.
Ponte’s decision to shoot Brian was against the assistant SWAT commander’s order. Later, a grand jury found Ponte’s actions legal, but many believed the shooting was unnecessary.
The Story of ‘Breaking’
‘Breaking’ aimed to depict Brian’s story, with John Boyega portraying him. Filmmaker Abi Damaris Corbin based the movie on actual events without amplifying conflict. She was drawn to the story due to her father’s struggles with the VA:
“My dad’s a Navy guy, so I lived through a lot of the VA struggle with him. And it’s a story that a lot of friends know intimately. It’s the kind of story I don’t want to hear again in 30 years in the next generation.”
According to Military.com, Corbin learned about Brian’s story through an article on ‘Task & Purpose.’ The production team worked closely with Brian’s family for accuracy, holding interviews and consultations with Brian’s family, friends, and military colleagues.
The impact of Easley’s story extends beyond the screen. Since the release of ‘Breaking’ last year, there has been increased attention on the challenges veterans face, leading to more public discourse and support for veterans’ mental and physical well-being.
Below, you can watch the trailer for ‘Breaking.’