Cyntoia Brown’s story is heartbreaking, but not unique. She was born to a teenage mother who had been incarcerated many times through her early life and battled with alcohol and drug addiction. She was also born with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. Brown was adopted at the age of 2, and shared a close relationship with her adoptive mother. In her adolescence, she was lured into sex trafficking by an older pimp.
On August 6th 2004, 16-year-old Brown was solicited for sex by 43-year-old realtor, Johnny Allen, in Nashville, Tennessee. Upon meeting outside a Sonic restaurant, Allen greeted Brown, negotiated on a price for the act, and bought her something from the restaurant. The two headed to his home nearby where Brown later killed him when they were in bed. Brown got scared when Allen reached over the edge of his bed and assumed he was reaching for a gun. Brown used a handgun from her purse to shoot him in the back of the head.
The Medium spoke with Dr. Jerry Flores, an assistant professor in the department of sociology about Cyntoia Brown’s situation. Flores points out how problematic Allen’s initial actions are. “A grown man solicited and negotiated how much he was going to pay a girl for sex. He got her to come down on the price. Instead of focusing on the fact that a grown man is soliciting an underage girl for sex, Cyntoia is being prosecuted for shooting him.”
Brown was charged with first degree murder, felony murder and aggravated robbery—she stole Allen’s wallet and guns after the incident. Brown was held at the Juvenile Detention Centre in Tennessee for one year before the judge decided to try her as an adult and transferred her to the Tennessee Prison for Women. In 2006, she was found guilty of all charges and sentenced to life in prison without parole for the first 51 years.
After spending 13 years in prison, Brown’s case gained media attention when celebrities like Rihanna, Kim Kardashian, and Cara Delevingne called for her release in 2017. The hashtag “#FreeCyntoiaBrown” went viral online. Tennessee’s governor, Bill Haslam, granted Cyntoia Brown executive clemency on January 7th, 2019 and she will be released on supervised parole for 10 years in August 7th, 2019.
Clemency is when the government shows leniency to someone they believe to be wrongfully convicted. Flores describes clemency as representatives at the state and presidential level “overriding what a series of judges decided. It is quite, quite rare and this kind of thing never happens. The government decides this person has been wrongfully convicted and been in jail long enough.”
Flores continues to say that the media attention in this case could have been an influence in her clemency. “Cyntoia Brown’s is not atypical or rare. There are thousands of cases just like [hers]. Women are abused, run away get in trouble and are locked up. The only difference that I see here is the media getting involved. Celebrities like Rihanna, Kim Kardashian … [it’s] surprising that Kim Kardashian got involved. [She] usually doesn’t get involved in this sort of thing. [There is] so much uproar support from everyone.” Flores goes on to say that he is “really happy and pleasantly surprised about this given the political climate of the States.”
However, Flores explains that Cyntoia Brown’s battle to keep her freedom will not be easy. Flores compared parole to a suspended sentence and states that “any small mistake can lead to incarceration. [In Cyntoia’s case] she will need access to toiletries, education, housing, hygiene products in whichever community she lives in. Some women end up getting into relationships with older abusive men, start using drugs, shoplifting to fulfil their needs.”
Flores went on to compare Brown’s case to Khalief Browder who was charged with theft and had a case which garnered a lot of media attention. Browder committed suicide after his release which Flores suggests could be due to being “damaged from being incarcerated and [overwhelmed by] the media attention of his case.”
Reflecting on the situation, Flores also states that he is very concerned about Brown. “She’ll come out and be overwhelmed by being in the spotlight and having all these liberties. She needs someone to guide her and help her get on the path that she needs to be on or she may end up committing another crime, even a small crime, and be re-incarcerated because she is on parole.”