I remember the day I met Cyntoia Brown. They had just banned smoking at the Tennessee Prison For Women here in Nashville. Cyntoia was housed on the 2nd level. I was housed on the 1st floor. We both were in Unit 3 East.
I can remember it like it was yesterday. When I saw her I didn’t know her story. However, I knew the little girl must have a sad story. She was as quiet as a little church mouse, shy and OMG scared to death. She was a scared and hurt little girl, and didn’t look to be but 13 years old. And I was thinking to myself, why in the world is she in population? She should have been housed in Unit 3 where they house minors, people with disabilities and those on death row.
When I found out she was 16, I was super surprised. Even though she looked scared, I knew in my heart that she could and would hold her own. I can’t remember how long I was there with her, but it was at least 2 ½ years.
Cyntoia received a life sentence in for killing a 43-year-old man who’d hired her for sex. She had been living in a South Nashville extended stay motel with a drug dealer who she said forced her into prostitution for drug money.
Cyntoia did not have an easy childhood. She had an abusive stepfather and acted out in school. All the things that happened to her as a child had to be building up for years and years. She had no one to share the things that happen to her so she had no choice but to keep it to herself.
Johnny Allen, a 43 year-old real estate agent, picked up Cyntoia on Murfreesboro Road, near where she was living. They stopped at Sonic and then went to his home. She started having a feeling that this man would harm her if she didn’t do as he said. At some point Mr. Allen reached over on his side of the bed, and Cyntoia was in fear that he was reaching for a gun to hurt her. Her first reaction was to get the handgun from her purse and shoot him.
Eventually, she was sentenced to life in prison not eligible for parole until after her 69th birthday.
Cyntoia has never denied the fact that she killed this man. Her words were, “I executed him.”
On Jan. 7, Gov. Bill Haslam granted Cyntoia clemency. I felt relieved when I heard the news. Activists have worked for the last decade to get Cyntoia released, saying her sentence was too harsh for her age. In the last year, her case gained national attention when celebrities (like Kim Kardashian and Rihanna), law makers, and activists brought attention to it on social media.
I’m left wondering, why in the world did it take Governor Haslam so long to grant this young lady clemency? She deserved to be granted clemency. She has been locked up enough. This is a girl who was the victim of sex trafficking and was thrown out there at a young age and forced to be an adult. While in prison, Cyntoia got her associate’s degree through the LIFE program at Lipscomb University. She’s also expressed interest in helping other young girls walking in the same shoes she has walked in.
After having served 15 years in prison, Brown will be released to parole supervision on August 7, 2019. In a press release, Cyntoia expressed her gratitude to Gov. Haslam.
”I will do everything I can to justify your faith in me,” she said. “I am committed to live the rest of my life helping others, especially young people. My hope is to help other young girls avoid ending up where I have been.”
Photo by Alvine