On Wednesday morning, sex trafficking victim Cyntoia Brown, 31, walked out of prison after serving a 15-year sentence for murder. Brown’s case was controversial from the start considering she was a 16-year-old child in the foster care system, who had escaped and was living with a pimp before being picked up by 43-year-old Johnny Allen in Nashville, Tenn. He’d encountered her in the parking lot of a restaurant and agreed to pay $150 for sex before taking her to his home
, according to court documents.
On August 7, 2004, Nashville police found Allen’s body, nude and lying face down in his bed after having been shot in the back of the head. The next day, police found Allen’s white pick up truck in a parking lot and arrested Brown in connection with the shooting. At the time, she was staying in a nearby hotel with a man she referred to as “Cut Throat” and had taken Allen’s wallet and some of his guns.
She was arrested and tried as an adult on charges of first-degree murder and aggravated robbery and in 2006 she was convicted by a Davidson County jury of those charges and sentenced to life in prison. She would not have been eligible for parole until 2055. Her case caught the attention of activists who said she was a victim of sex trafficking and had a troubled past that included an alcoholic mother and her running away from her adoptive family. She was raped and forced into prostitution by “Cut Throat”
according to court documents.
Brown’s case even inspired a documentary. Filmmaker Dan Birman released the documentary “Me Facing Life: Cyntoia’s Story”
on PBS in 2011. It explored the complicated aspects of the case particularly the juvenile justice reform and prejudice Cyntoia Brown faced as a woman of color engaging in sex work. Upon the film’s release, prominent national attorney Charles Bone took on Brown’s case, representing her for a 2012 appeal.
However, it wasn’t until 2017 that she garnered the attention of millions after Rihanna shared Brown’s story on Instagram which sparking the hashtag #FreeCyntoiaBrown to start trending. She’d also been commended for mentoring female inmates and earning her high school equivalency diploma and an associate degree through Lipscomb University, the NY Times reported.
“She is light years today, as a woman, different from the traumatized 16-year-old that she was,” Derri Smith, founder, and CEO of non-profit End Slavery Tennessee, said last January according to CNN. “She’s mentoring … troubled youth, working on her college degree, she is planning a nonprofit so she can help other young people.”
As a result of the efforts of celebs and activists, as well as her own model behavior, the state’s governor at the time, Bill Haslam granted her clemency in January of this year, setting her release for Aug. 7.
Brown reportedly wrote a book about her life during her incarceration, which is set to be released this fall though she is not doing interviews since her release. She will also be under supervised parole until Aug. 7, 2029. The Department of Corrections said in a statement on Monday that she had prepared for her release by meeting with counselors to design a “re-entry” plan including placement in a transition center and continuing her studies, the NY Times reported.