After 15 years, Cyntoia Brown was released from a Tennessee prison on August 7. Brown was imprisoned on a life sentence after killing a man when she was forced into prostitution as a teenager.
Former Governor of Tennessee Bill Haslam granted Brown clemency in January after her case reached national media attention. This visibility was propelled by celebrity support, including Rihanna and Kim Kardashian West and continued by a general push by the public to free her.
As a victim of trafficking, Brown’s case rose awareness of the issue in Tennessee and the nation. Brown ran away from her adoptive family home at age 16 and was forced into prostitution by a pimp. In a threatening situation with a man who solicited her for sex, Brown shot the man out of self-defense. Brown was tried as an adult and received convictions of first-degree murder, first-degree felony murder, and aggravated robbery with a life sentence. She would have only been eligible for parole in 2055 when she would be 67 years old.
In prison, Brown was described to be a model prisoner who furthered her education, receiving her Associate’s and Bachelor’s degrees, as well as her GED. She has also partnered with Tennessee’s Juvenile Justice System as an attempt to help young people at risk.
“I learned that my life was, and is, not over,” Brown said over the phone in a clip from filmmakers of her 2011 documentary. “I can create opportunities where I can actually help people.”
Since Brown’s sentencing, laws about trying teenagers as adults have changed, pushing Governor Haslam to grant her clemency, saying in a statement, “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.”
Brown’s release from prison on August 7 has prompted celebratory posts across social media from her supporters as well as the announcement of a new documentary coming next year.