15 years later, justice has finally been served. Cyntoia Denise Brown, a woman serving a life sentence for killing a man who bought her for sex when she was 16-years-old, has been granted clemency.
At the age of 30, Brown will be released to parole supervision on August after serving 15 years in prison. Before leaving office next month, Gov. Bill Haslam of Tennessee released a statement on his Brown’s case,
“Cyntoia Brown committed, by her own admission, a horrific crime at the age of 16…Yet, imposing a life sentence on a juvenile that would require her to serve at least 51 years before even being eligible for parole consideration is too harsh, especially in light of the extraordinary steps Ms. Brown has taken to rebuild her life.”
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did we somehow change the definition of #JUSTICE along the way?? cause….. Something is horribly wrong when the system enables these rapists and the victim is thrown away for life! To each of you responsible for this child’s sentence I hope to God you don’t have children, because this could be your daughter being punished for punishing already! #FREECYNTOIABROWN #HowManyMore
“Transformation should be accompanied by hope. So, I am commuting Ms. Brown’s sentence, subject to certain conditions.”
In 2004, Brown killed Johnny Mitchell Allen, who Brown said had solicited her for sex and taken her back to his house. During her trial, prosecutors said that Brown shot Allen in the head while he was sleeping, stole money, guns, took his truck, and fled the scene. Essentially, they argued the killing wasn’t motivated by self-defense, but robbery.
Brown insisted that she was scared for her life by Allen’s behavior, and took money for fear of returning empty-handed to her pimp.
Nonetheless, a juvenile court found Brown competent to be tried as an adult. She was convicted of first-degree murder and aggravated robbery, and sentenced to life in prison, leaving her not eligible for parole until 2055.
On 7 August 2019, Cyntoia Brown gets her freedom.
People's activism matters.
People's activism saves lives.
— Ottilia Anna MaSibanda (@MaS1banda) January 7, 2019
Cyntoia was able to recount the night of her attack, and Allen’s death in the 2011 PBS documentary, Me Facing Life: Cyntoia’s Story. Cyntoia explained that she was looking to get a ride to East Nashville to engage in street-based sex work when she met Allen.
Cyntoia characterized her survival strategies as survival sex work or teenage prostitution for an adult pimp nicknamed “Kut Throat.”
The years-old case drew the attention of several high-profile advocates including a US congressman, several Tennessee lawmakers, local human rights groups and a number of A-List celebrities.
Singer Rihanna, comedian Amy Schumer, reality star Kim Kardashian West, NBA star LeBron James, and actress/activist Ashley Judd were among those who called for Brown’s clemency.
👏🏼👏🏼👏🏼 Thank you Governor Haslam 👏🏼👏🏼👏🏼 https://t.co/rAiru84fgn
— Kim Kardashian West (@KimKardashian) January 7, 2019
Lawmakers and civil activists lobbied the governor to grant Brown clemency pointing to the years of abuse and forced prostitution that she endured in her youth. In a statement, Ms. Brown thanked the governor for his actions, she said,
“For your act of mercy in giving me a second chance. I will do everything I can to justify your faith in me.”
Brown’s case is indicative of the need for criminal justice reforms, particularly in the case of juvenile offenders, and especially those who are people of color.
Yet, her case is also emblematic of what activism and social media can do in enabling justice.