The intricate layers of the juvenile courts system have failed yet another Black woman.
Cyntoia Brown was 16 in 2004 when she 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 new 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. During Brown’s testimony she revealed her boyfriend at the time ordered her to go make money. After venturing out, she met Allen who offered her money in exchange for sex. What transpired was physical and emotional abuse, according to Brown. 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.
Ina n 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, 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 on how sex-trafficked teens are prosecuted.
Brown’s case is similar to Bresha Meadows, an Ohio teen who was 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., Angela Rye and Kim Kardashian were among the many vocal influencers who posted about Brown. A Change.org petition is currently circulating, asking the Tennessee courts to consider 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 a degree at Lipscomb University.
SOURCE: The Tennessean