Bossier City family details son’s horrifying experience being imprisoned in China for nearly a decade

Nelson Wells Jr. has been imprisoned in China for nearly 10 years, and now, his Bossier family says they've suffered in silence too long.
Published: May. 23, 2023 at 6:36 PM CDT|Updated: May. 24, 2023 at 6:42 PM CDT
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BOSSIER CITY, La. (KSLA) - We often hear of high profile Americans detained in overseas prisons. Most recently, WBNA star, Brittney Griner, was released in a high profile prisoner swap with a Russian arms dealer that had been detained in the United States. Paul Whelan is another American imprisoned in Russia.

But chances are, you haven’t heard of Nelson Wells Jr. He’s a Bossier City man whose family is ready to go public after suffering in silence for nearly a decade. His family has been trying to get their son back on American soil to help with his medical needs.

It began with a call in the middle of the night that woke Nelson Sr. and his wife, Cynthia Wells, from a deep sleep.

Nelson Wells Sr. and Cynthia Wells
Nelson Wells Sr. and Cynthia Wells(KSLA)

“It was a guy on the phone and he said Nelson was incarcerated in China. ‘Hurry up, get money. They are going to kill him.’ And the phone hang up,” Nelson Sr. said.

It was an unknown voice on the other end of the line talking about their son, Nelson Wells Jr. Finally after a year, they heard from the younger Nelson.

“He said, ‘Ma, I didn’t do this. Help me get me out of this place.’ And then the phone went ‘click,’” Cynthia said.

The family had no idea where he was or why he was in trouble. Finally, former U.S. Congressman Cedric Richmond of Louisiana found Nelson and made sure to have him registered on the rolls of overseas detainees.

Nelson Sr. says they’ve suffered in silence long enough.

Nelson Wells Jr. and Cynthia Wells
Nelson Wells Jr. and Cynthia Wells(Wells family)

“For the first six years, we were sharing this burden on our own. It got to the point it was overwhelming, falling into a deeper depression, trying not to expose his situation,” he said.

Cynthia says she was confused.

The Wells family had a healthy retirement fund they burned right through trying to get their son removed from death row. Eventually, lawyers were able to get him off death row, but he was later sentenced to more than 20 years. The six years he’d already served were thrown out and his time started over. The family says they know little about the sentence handed down after the Chinese government said he had a large amount of drugs. The family says the government has never produced evidence, the indictment is full of holes, and the lawyers rarely put on a defense in fear of being disbarred or arrested; the family says no defense witnesses were allowed.

Peter Humphrey, a British journalist and former Chinese inmate, says he’s all too familiar with the way the Chinese government operates.

Peter Humphrey
Peter Humphrey(KSLA)

“Every trial is decided… the Communist party does not lose. Ninety-nine percent of appeals are rejected and the judge is not an impartial judge and court is not an impartial court,” Humphrey said.

Another concern is Nelson Wells Jr.’s health.

“For the first several years, Nelson has had a very, very high blood pressure. It is in the twos. He has a very bad sore in his month. He has been bleeding a lot and it is suspected of prostate cancer. And he has had some chest and heart pains,” said Nelson Sr.

“I believe the prisoner authorities lie all of the time to families and they without tests results… we only have one record MRI scan. They keep withholding blood pressure and PSA,” Humphrey said.

Nelson Wells Jr.
Nelson Wells Jr.(Wells family)

Joi Chaney is a strategist who has been working with Humphrey. Chaney says they have been silent for too long.

“Told in beginning don’t raise the profile because you don’t want it to become political, but without raising the profile, no one knows you are over there and it is political pressure that can get you out,” Chaney said.

Peter Humphrey and Joi Chaney
Peter Humphrey and Joi Chaney(KSLA)

Humphrey says the Chinese medical system does not take medical complaints seriously, thinking prisoners are faking illnesses as a get out of free jail card.

“He is in a very crowded cell with about 18 to 20 people. In China cell and very little space and the only toilet is a hole in corner of cell. They will have absolutely appalling food. It is gritty rice and vegetable stir fry and you are lucky if you see any sliver of protein,” Humphrey said.

The senior Wells says his son went into that Chinese prison weighing 170 lbs. At last check, he says he weighed less than 100 lbs. But Othello Totimeh, 35, a former Chinese prisoner who spent time in the same cell as Nelson Wells Jr., estimates he weighs even less than that now. Totimeh, who is now back in Liberia, spoke with KSLA News 12 via Zoom. He shared the horrific details of a frail and ailing Nelson. Totimeh says before his release earlier this year, Nelson was taken to District 10, an area in the prison for the elderly and the sick.

Othello Totimeh
Othello Totimeh(KSLA)

“He’s got some kind of convulse and all of his body gets stiff like when he closes his hands, you can’t open it. His body is very stiff,” Totimeh said.

Totimeh was in China with his Liberian soccer club when he was arrested for covering and concealing. He says Chinese officials believed he knew information he was not revealing. He says before he left, Nelson Wells Jr. appeared to be suicidal. The family is asking the state’s legislative delegation in Washington to intervene. Less than 24 hours after this article was published, U.S. Senator Bill Cassidy’s office reached out to the Wells family to start discussions on ways they can try to help their son’s case. We have not received an email reply from U.S. Congressman Mike Johnson of Benton or U.S. Senator John Kennedy’s office.

Nelson Wells Jr. is a Bossier City man whose family is ready to go public after suffering in silence for nearly a decade.

More information about Nelson Jr.’s story is available on a website set up by the family. They have also set up a GoFundMe.