The intricate layers of the juvenile court system have failed yet another Black woman.
Cyntoia Brown was tried as an adult and sentenced to 51 years in prison for the murder of a 43-year-old man who purchased her for sex as a child at the age of 16, The Associated Press reported. Now, at age 28, a recent documentary about her case is steadily gaining traction, forcing the public to delve into the young woman’s story, which is filled with tragedy and circumstance.
Johnny Allen, a Nashville, Tennessee real estate agent brought the 16 year old to his home on August 5, 2004. Brown’s boyfriend assaulted her and ordered her to go make money at the time, she said. She met Allen who offered her money in exchange for sex. Fearing for her life, she found a -40. caliber gun and shot Allen in the back of the head, according to the AP. Prosecutors argued in court that Brown was complicit in theft.
A recent documentary titled Me Facing Life: Cyntoia’s Story from producer Dan Birman helped to garner attention as social media users heighten their voices advocating for justice. The film details Brown’s turbulent beginnings, including a mother who abused alcohol and drugs during her pregnancy, adolescent rape and an abusive boyfriend who forced her into prostitution.
Birman has every reason to believe Brown’s testimony after spending so much time with her during the making of the documentary, the producer said in a June interview with Refinery29.
“In my opinion, Cyntoia Brown is not the same girl who was arrested in 2004,” Birman wrote. “We learned that some children – not all – do change. But even though there are systems in place to effectively rehabilitate a juvenile in the prison system, there is no hope under current Tennessee law unless this changes.”
In examining the details surrounding her case, the facts laid bare are hearkening. Brown is one of the thousands of Black women imprisoned by the justice system, which is supporting a rise in the population of African-American female prisoners, according to a recent study.
In the state of Tennessee, Brown will be eligible for parole at the age of 69 because of a mandatory review after 51 years, according to The Tennessean. One hundred and eighty three people are serving life sentences in Tennessee for crimes they committed when they were teens, the outlet reports. However, Birman’s film aims to change this narrative to help turn the tide in how sex-trafficked teens are prosecuted.
Brown’s case is similar to Bresha Meadows, an Ohio teen who was also tried as an adult and sentenced to life in prison without parole after fatally shooting her abusive father. Meadows recently accepted a plea deal and will be released early next year.
Social media users and A-list celebrities helped to bring Brown’s story to mainstream media after the documentary aired with the hashtag, #FreeCyntoiaBrown. Rihanna, T.I., and Kim Kardashian were among the many vocal influencers who posted about Brown on Tuesday. A Change.org petition is currently circulating, asking the Tennessee courts for a re-trial.
Although she has spent the last 13 years in jail, Brown completed her associate’s degree at Lipscomb University during her sentence.She advocates for change in the criminal justice system, which disproportionately labels Blacks as criminals who face legalized discrimination well after releases from prisons.
Her story is one that many women know all too well. It is time that the courts re-examine her case in order to spare her life, one that deserves to be lived outside of the walls of the Tennessee Prison for Women.