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. 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–one filled with tragedy and circumstance.
Brown was 16 years old when Johnny Allen, a Nashville, Tennessee real estate agent bought her to his home on August 5, 2004, the AP reports. Brown revealed that her boyfriend at the time assaulted her and ordered her to go make money. After venturing out, 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. Prosecutors argued in court that Brown was complicit in theft.
A recent documentary titled, Me Facing Life: Cyntoia’s Story by 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.
In a June interview with Refinery29, Birman said that he has every reason to believe Brown’s testimony after spending so much time with her during the making of the documentary.
“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–the same system where a recent study shows that the prison population of Black women is on the rise. 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. 183 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. 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 continues to advocate to change the criminal justice system and even completed her associate’s degree at Lipscomb University during her sentence.
Her story is one that many women know all too well and 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.