Cyntoia Brown has been released from prison early after receiving a life sentence for killing a captor after being forced into prostitution as a child. Learn more about the young woman failed by the justice system.
After 15 years in prison, Cyntoia Brown, 31, is a free woman. Cyntoia, who was found guilty at 16 years old of murdering a man who bought her for sex in 2004, was granted clemency by then-Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam in January 2019; she walked out of prison after nearly half her life behind bars on August 7, 2019. Cyntoia’s sentence stipulated that she would be eligible for parole after 51 years, but her controversial case got widespread attention after high-profile support from celebrities like Rihanna and Kim Kardashian, and a 2011 PBS documentary called Me Facing Life: Cyntoia’s Story.
1. She was forced into teen prostitution by her boyfriend: Cyntoia Brown, 28, was the victim of sex trafficking by the hands of her then-boyfriend in Tennessee. She was a sex slave, who was forced to sleep with different men as a minor, including Johnny Allen, the 43-year-old man she killed when she was 16, in 2004. A post floating around social media states that Cyntoia was the victim of a pimp named “cut-throat,” and was repeatedly drugged and raped before being “given” to Johnny. “[There’s] no such thing as a child prostitute or a teen prostitute. I think we’ve had to have a cultural mind shift,” said Derri Smith, the Founder of End Slavery TN, to local Fox17 News.
2. She was sentenced to life in prison for Johnny Allen’s murder: Cyntoia has been convicted of first-degree murder in the 2004 death of Johnny Allen after being tried as an adult. In 2004, the real estate agent solicited Cynotia for sex, and she got into his pickup truck to head back to his home. When they got in bed, Cyntoia shot him in the back of the head with a handgun. She didn’t deny the shooting, and told the court that she feared for her life and that he was reaching for the gun. Prosecutors argued that it was a robbery, since she took his gun and wallet with her.
Despite the fact that she was a minor forced into sex slavery, and solicited by a 43-year-old man, she was sentenced to life in prison at the Tennessee Prison for Women, with the chance of parole when she’s 67. Cyntoia has already served nine years in prison. She’s worked on her education in lockup, graduating from college, and is currently working on her master’s degree.
3. She had celebrity support behind her: Stars like Rihanna and Kim were (and are) appalled at what’s happened to Cyntoia, and spoke out about it online. Kim vowed to get her lawyers involved in the case in 2017, and Rihanna demanded her release in a lengthy rant on Instagram. “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!”
4. The PBS documentary followed her case, from her conviction, to her day-to-day prison life: Filmmaker Daniel Birman followed Cyntoia’s case for six years to create the movie Me Facing Life: Cyntoia’s Story. Per the film’s description, “Cyntoia is tried as an adult, and the cameras are there when she is convicted and sentenced to life at the Tennessee Prison for Women. After the verdict, Cyntoia calls her mom to tell her the news. In the end, we catch up with Cyntoia as she is adjusting to prison, and struggling with her identity and hope for her future.”
5. Her life sentence created a push to change Tennessee law: Cyntoia’s sentence has drawn scrutiny in Tennessee — and nationwide — about the practice of trying children as adults, and handing them life in prison. Some scientific studies have shown that children’s brains are not developed as adults, and therefore they have less control over their behavior (such as understanding long-term consequences). They’ll grow up in prison. Advocates are calling for the abolishment of life sentences for minors after what happened to Cyntoia.