Things That Matter

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.

Read: Cyntoia Brown Will Be Released From Prison Next Week And Supporters Have Already Started A GoFundMe

An Ohio Cheerleader Is Only Going To Get Three Years Of Probation For Killing Her Newborn Daughter

Things That Matter

An Ohio Cheerleader Is Only Going To Get Three Years Of Probation For Killing Her Newborn Daughter

A young woman accused of killing her newborn baby and burying her in the backyard of her family’s Ohio home two years ago was found not guilty of murder, USA Today reports. On Thursday, 20-year-old Brooke Skylar Richardson was acquitted of aggravated murder and involuntary manslaughter for the May 2017 death of her daughter. The former cheerleader was instead found guilty of abuse of a corpse and sentenced to seven days in jail and three years probation. 

However, the judge said that Richardson, who was behind bars for most of her eight-day trial, was free to go home for time served.

The young woman, who said she had learned and grown over the past two years, was mostly silent throughout her trial, with the exception of her repeated apologies.

“I am forever sorry,” she said. Moments later, she turned to the late baby’s father’s family adding, “I’m sorry.”

In July 2017, when Richardson was a senior in high school, she was accused of killing and burying her newborn baby days after her prom. Prosecutors allege she did not want to be an 18-year-old single mom. They pointed to circumstances like Richardson not returning for an ultrasound, bloodwork or any other treatment weeks after learning of her pregnancy and ignoring calls from the doctor and assistants. She also told police that she looked into an abortion, but it was too late to have one. However, she has adamantly denied that she administered an abortion on herself.

Assistant prosecutor Steven Knippen said in court that days after the baby’s death Richardson sent two text messages bragging about her weight loss.

“Shortly, after murdering her daughter and placing her daughter in the dirt, and not even having the decency to cover it with a blanket, she sent two elated text messages: My belly is back, my belly is back,” Knippen said, as reported by NBC News. According to Richardson’s attorneys, the baby was stillborn, meaning she did not meet the legal criteria to be considered a child. They allege that the young woman, scared, buried her baby, who she named Annabelle, in her backyard.

The baby’s remains weren’t found until two months after the birth. During a news conference on Thursday, Warren County Prosecutor David Fornshell said it’s still unclear how the newborn was killed because of decomposition.

“Brooke Richardson created the situation that prevented us from being able to conduct an autopsy on that baby girl,” he said. He added that he was “absolutely convinced she caused the death” of the child.

Richardson was up against charges of aggravated murder, involuntary manslaughter and child endangerment.

 After deliberating for four hours and 25 minutes, the jury found her guilty of only gross abuse of a corpse. Judge Donald Oda released Richardson but informed her that she had acted with “grotesque disregard for life.” 

“In all of this mess that we have in this, what often gets overlooked is how precious life is. It should be protected. It should be guarded,” Oda said, adding that the law restricted the sentence he could pass down. Oda also ruled the baby’s remains would be turned over to the Richardsons after the young woman’s father, Scott Richardson, promised to give the late infant a proper burial that would also be accessible to the family of the baby’s father, Trey Johnson.

The past couple of years have been emotional for the relatives involved as well. 

Before the sentencing, Johnson’s mother, Tracy Johnson, spoke in court. 

“Two years, four months and one week,” she said through tears. “That’s how old my granddaughter would be if she were here.” Tracy, who noted that the experience has made it difficult for her to hold babies anymore, also said that her son is a “totally different person” now. “I’ve watched my son become a different person,” Johnson said, according to PEOPLE. “I won’t disclose his medical diagnosis because she’s done enough to him.  I can personally tell you that I’ve personally been seen for depression, panic attacks, and I’m a shell of the person I was.”

She also said that while Richardson knew that Johnson, the young woman’s ex-boyfriend, was her baby’s father, that the Johnson family wasn’t aware until six months after her son took a DNA test.

“I would have taken her in with Trey without a question,” Tracy said. “Now, instead, every May 7, I don’t get to have a birthday party for my first grandchild. Instead, I send her balloons to heaven, to tell her how much her daddy loved her, and how much I loved her.”

Before the sentencing, Richardson’s father also addressed the court and discussed his daughter’s own mental health. 

“My daughter is suffering from an eating disorder and we are concerned about her health,” he said, asking for Richardson to be released. Richardson is currently free but on probation. If she violates her probation, she can spend up to a year in jail. When she completes her three-year sentence, she could be eligible to remove the charges from her criminal record.

Read: A 23-Year-Old Latina And Her Baby Died During Labor, Now Her Parents Are Suing Her OBGYN

A New Ben & Jerry’s Flavor Takes A Direct Bite At Republicans And Our Government’s Messy Criminal Justice System

Entertainment

A New Ben & Jerry’s Flavor Takes A Direct Bite At Republicans And Our Government’s Messy Criminal Justice System

@benandjerrys / Twitter

There’s no doubt that the United States criminal justice system is broken. It’s proven to be racist and geared towards punishing rather than reforming. Brown and Black communities more than any other are often victims of this biased institution. Unfair sentencing and the school to prison industrial system keep mariginalized communities at the prison system’s mercy. To put it simply, the criminal justice system needs to be reformed. With this in mind, multiple organizations dedicate themselves to fixing this broken system.

However, the newest company to get involved with criminal justice reform is better known for their tasty treats.

Recently, ice cream giants Ben & Jerry’s announced their newest flavor and it’s inspired by this much-needed call for reform.

Twitter / @benandjerrys

Named “Justice ReMix’d,” the new ice cream is being touted by the company as “a sweet swirl of justice under the lid.” The new flavor features cinnamon and chocolate ice cream with gobs of cinnamon bun dough and spicy fudge brownies in the mix. According to Ben & Jerry’s, the new flavor was created as part of an effort to support social change.

“Our approach to creating social change is to raise up the work non-profits are doing on the ground,” shared Ben & Jerry’s Co-Founder Ben Cohen. “We bring every resource we have to support them—our business voice, our connection with fans, our Scoop Shop community and of course, ice cream.”

Proceeds will go to the Advancement Project National Office, a national, multi-racial civil rights organization working to end systemic racism. The organization also works towards accessible education, immigrant justice, and voting rights.

The new, limited batch flavor was unveiled at a launch party in Washington, DC.

Twitter / @benandjerrys

Founders Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield were there for the unveiling party as were members of Advancement Project National Office and criminal justice activists. Judith Browne Dianis, executive director of Advancement Project, also attended the DC party,

“We work with communities across the country that are trying to change the systems of oppression,” Dianis shared at the new flavor’s unveiling. “We need a remix.”

This isn’t the first time Ben & Jerry’s has used their ice cream to bring light to an important cause.

Twitter / @benandjerrys

Over its long history, the ice cream company has launched other flavors with important activist agendas. 2015’s “Save Our Swirled” was released to bring awareness to the threat of climate change. During the same year, Ben & Jerry’s launched its “I Dough, I Dough” to support the Human Rights Campaign and marriage equality.

In 2016, the company released “Empower Mint” to commemorate the anniversary of the historic Brown vs. Board of Education ruling. “Home Sweet Honeycomb” was launched in 2017 to support the International Rescue Committee to help refugees relocating to Europe. That same year, “One Sweet World” was released to honor the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Poor People’s Campaign.

Fans of Ben & Jerry’s were supportive of the ice cream company’s attempt to take on this important social issue.

Twitter / @NerdGirlPink

We love a company that prioritizes the social issues that impact our lives. Not many companies prioritize disenfranchised people over their bottom line. When a company supports those impacted by the unfairness of the social and criminal justice systems, we have to take notice. Plus, this ice cream just looks really yummy.

The new flavor is available now at local stores and scoop shops or you can search here for availability near you.