In 2004, then-16-year-old Cyntoia Brown was arrested for killing a man in Tennessee. The teenager was a sex trafficking victim who ran away from home and was living with a 24-year-old man, called "Cut-throat," who physically and sexually abused her, according to the Associated Press. Cut-throat made her prostitute herself for money, which is how she met Johnny Allen, 43, who then took Brown to his home and was acting in a way that made her uncomfortable and afraid. So, thinking he was going to attack her, Brown took out a gun she had in her purse and shot him, she testified. After being found guilty in a 2006 trial Brown was sentenced to life in prison. Based on her sentence, Brown will not be eligible to seek parole until she's 67 years old.
Now, her story is in the news again, as Fox 17 Nashville published a new report on Brown's life in prison on Thursday, Nov. 16. The report featured a video from Dan Birman, a professor at University of Southern California's Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, who has been telling Brown's story and pushing for justice. Birman has known Brown for 14 years and made a documentary, Me Facing Life: Cyntoia's Story, about her life. According to Fox 17, Brown got an associate degree from Lipscomb University and is now working on a bachelor's degree while also working as an unpaid consultant for the Juvenile Justice system.
In part because of Brown's story, Tennessee law was almost changed. According to the Tennessean, a 2015 proposal would have required a review of life sentences for teenagers 15 years served. Had Brown been sentenced under those rules, she would have been able to get a sentencing review when she was 31 years old. Instead, she's waiting for possible parole eligibility when she's 67. However, that bill was withdrawn in Tennessee in 2015, and a similar bill was pulled from the agenda in 2017, according to Birman.
A new law changed in 2011 requires that instead of being marked as "prostitutes," teenage girls are classified as "sex trafficking and manipulation victims." That difference could have altered Brown's sentence, but because she was sentenced before that law was changed, she remains in prison.
The Tennessean on YouTube
With Brown's story going around again in the news and on social media, many celebrities are taking up the fight for her freedom. On Tuesday, Nov. 21, both Rihanna and Kim Kardashian West, among many other individuals, shared Brown's story on their social media platforms. They both shared a screenshot of a post about the young woman, explaining her story and asking the reader to imagine being her and being "convicted as an adult and sentenced to life in prison."