Cyntoia Brown Was Finally Released From Prison After 15 Years– This Is What Resistance Looks Like
After spending almost half her life behind bars, Cyntoia Brown was released on parole early Wednesday morning, according to the Tennessee Department of Corrections. Brown, who was sentenced to life in prison when she was 16 years old after killing a man who allegedly forced her into sex, served 15 years in the Tennessee Prison for Women.
Now, at 31, she is slated to begin her life on parole for the next 10 years.
As part of her parole, Brown is required to maintain employment or educational enrollment, participate in regular counseling sessions and perform at least 50 hours of community service, including working with at-risk youth.
Brown earned her associate degree from Lipscomb University in 2015 with a 4.0 GPA, obtained a bachelor’s degree in the Tennessee Prison for Women in May and has regularly worked with the state’s juvenile justice system to help counsel young people at risk. Her case gained national attention last December when a Tennessee Supreme Court ruled she would have to serve 51 years in prison before being eligible for parole. High-profiled celebrities like Rihanna, Kim Kardashian West, Lebron James and Cara Delevingne joined choirs of activists and outraged citizens advocating for her release and funding legal support.
“Something his (sic) horribly wrong when the system enables these rapists and the victim is thrown away for life,” Rihanna captioned a post on Instagram in November 2017.
Kardashian West shared the pop star’s post on Twitter
“The system has failed. Its heartbreaking to see young girl sex trafficked then when she has the courage to fight back is jailed for life! We have to do better & do what’s right,” she added.
With mounting pressure, former Gov. Bill Haslam took the rare step of commuting Brown’s sentence earlier this year.
In January, Haslan called the sentence “too harsh,” especially considering the “extraordinary steps” she had “taken to rebuild her life” while incarcerated.
“I thank Governor and First Lady Haslam for their vote of confidence in me and with the Lord’s help I will make them, as well as the rest of my supporters, proud,” Brown said in a statement released Monday, as reported by USA Today.
Before her release, which occurred at 3 a.m. on Wednesday, she met with counselors to create a plan for her life outside of prison. According to Tennessee’s Department of Corrections, the proposal included joining and participating in a transition center and continuing coursework with the Lipscomb University program. Brown, who was recently married while in prison, also has a book deal. “Free Cyntoia: My Search for Redemption in the American Prison System” will be released October 15.
In the years leading to her release, advocates have referred to her case as an example of the “sexual abuse-to-prison pipeline,” which represents the unjust imprisonment of child sex trafficking victims and survivors of sexual abuse, particularly girls of color, to rally lawmakers and juvenile justice reformers to push for anti-trafficking laws and more support, rather than incarceration, for child survivors.
As a teenager, Brown was forced into sex work by a 24-year-old pimp named “Cut Throat” who used to verbally and physically abuse her.
On Aug. 6, 2004, court documents note that she met 43-year-old Johnny Mitchell Allen, a Nashville real estate agent, in the parking lot of a Sonic Drive-In. After agreeing to be paid $150 for sex, the two went to his home. There, Brown said that Allen showed her multiple guns in a cabinet. At one point, she alleges that the man reached under his bed, seemingly grabbing a firearm. Frightened by the thought that he was planning on killing her, Brown said she took a gun out of her purse and fatally shot Allen.
While Brown has always claimed she killed Allen in self-defense, the prosecution argued that because she took Allen’s wallet after she shot him in the back of the head at close range, that the motive was robbery.
She was convicted of first-degree murder, first-degree felony murder and aggravated robbery, which carried, in total, two concurrent life sentences and eight additional years.
However, because Gov. Haslam used his exclusive power to grant executive clemency toward the end of his term, Brown’s sentence was commuted.
Last week, the former Tennessee governor said his decision was based on the state’s evolving approach to juvenile justice, an understanding of Brown’s troubling background and her growth behind bars.
“She, in her own words, did something horrible. She made a really bad decision as a very young woman,” Haslam told USA Today.
Brown, who has expressed gratitude to Haslam and her supporters, who last week started a GoFundMe campaign that as of Wednesday afternoon has raised more than $23 thousand, said she feels blessed and ready to use her story and experiences to help others.
“I’m blessed to have a very supportive family and friends to support me in the days to come. I look forward to using my experiences to help other women and girls suffering abuse and exploitation,” she said.