Cyntoia Brown: Our Sister In Chains

Thirteen. That is the number I want you say to yourself over and over again as we delve into this story. 13. Thirteen is the number of years Cyntoia Brown has been sitting in prison. Thirteen is the number of birthdays that Cyntoia Brown has missed outside in the sun. Thirteen is the number of years she has gone without justice or receiving the care that our prison system has consistently denied her over and over again. Thirteen.

Cyntoia Brown’s story of a broken system begins on January 29, 1988 in Tennessee. Her birthday. Cyntoia was born with fetal alcohol syndrome and this theme of harm imposed on her would unfortunately follow her for the rest of her childhood. Due to her mother being unable to give Cyntoia the care she deserved, Cyntoia is moved from abusive home to abusive home as a ward of the state until she is eventually adopted. And while there is no discernable reason why, she ran away from the home of her adoptive parents at the age of 16. Cyntoia would then move in with different friends on the street using drugs and alcohol, the only life she knew of. She would soon meet and then stay with her boyfriend: a 24 year-old pimp named ‘Cut Throat’. However, as one could imagine, this was not a relationship of love and respect. In exchange for a place to stay, Cut-Throat would force Cyntoia to prostitute herself and bring all her earnings home to him. This is how life was for our sister until August 7th, 2004. On this day, Cyntoia Brown was bought for sex by a 43-year-old man named Johnny Allan in a Sonic parking lot, then they then drove back to this Allan’s house.

Think back to when you were 16. You were probably in high school, getting your education, thinking about homecoming, dreaming about the future with your friends and wondering what the next day has in store. This was not Cyntoia’s life. This is a 16-year-old girl who has been physically abused since her childhood and has been forced into prostitute for at least a year by her boyfriend. Imagine yourself in that situation. Imagine a man old enough to be your father, buying you for the express purpose of using you for sex and you have no idea what could happen to you. You are terrified. Cyntoia was terrified. And in this moment, she is so scared and so tired, she cannot bring herself to let this man have sex with her. She does not want to have sex with this man in his home. After denying his advances, he begins reaching under the bed for…something. What is he grabbing? What is he planning to do? Her heart is racing. She isn’t sure what to do. She isn’t sure what is going to happen. There are stories that start like this, and they’ve never ended well. In a panic, she reaches for her purse, pulls out her gun, and kills him.

He’s dead. What is she going to do? If she goes back to Cut-Throat without the money and a dead client, he’ll kill her. Cyntoia is done with this life. She wants out of this cycle. What is she going to do? Remember, she is sixteen years old. So Cyntoia takes Allan’s wallet and runs away from the scene.

Eventually of course, Cyntoia Brown is caught by the police and arrested for the murder of Johnny Allan. The proceeding trial is swift and completely unforgiving. Despite being sixteen years old, the state of Tennessee tries her as an adult, due to the severity of the crime. Cyntoia Brown told the court that she shot Allan as an act of self-defense, she never tried to lie about her actions, and was completely honest about the encounter. And because she took the man’s wallet after shooting, the court ruled that this was a robbery and a murder. In fact, Cyntoia Brown would be charged with First Degree Murder and Aggravated Robbery, and then served concurrent sentences with eight additional years.

Cyntoia Brown would be in prison for life.

Originally upon sentencing, Cyntoia Brown was not even eligible for parole. That was until advocacy groups brought the case toward the Supreme Court, who then ruled that it is unconstitutional for courts to give life sentences to minors. Cyntoia will now be eligible for parole when she turns 69.

Cyntoia is giving her life, as payment for killing the man who bought her for sex. Cyntoia Brown is giving the penal system her life for protecting herself at 16.

However, Cyntoia Brown has made the most of her time incarcerated. You see, our sister has made herself a model citizen behind bars, mentoring other women to inspire change and growth. Cyntoia has even earned her associates degree from Lipscomb University. She has shown impeccable strength and grace in the face of an absolute disregard for her well being by government systems and is flourishing in spite of it.

Thankfully, Cyntoia’s story is not going unheard. In 2011, PBS released an entire documentary concerning her case, which I will leave a link for below the article. Between several articles, blogs, documentaries, and now celebrity recognition, Cyntoia’s case is being brought back to the spotlight, and the conversation about sexual abuse and the sex trafficking of minors is now taking center stage. Advocacy groups have gone back to the hill and are demanding justice for Cyntoia and other women like her. Yes dear reader, this is not an isolated case.

Thousands of women and girls all over the United States and millions of people all over the world are being shipped and sold for the purpose of sexual slavery. Children as young as 3 are experiencing the same life that Cyntoia was forced to have as a child. And unfortunately, it is often the women and girls who are punished by the criminal system and not the pimps who turn them out by force. And due to mandatory sentencing, the women sentenced can expect to spend 1-15 years in prison (depending on the state and number of offenses).

So what can you do to help? As always, you can call your senators and congressmen and express your distastes for the current statutes for prostitution. Support advocacy groups that work with women like Cyntoia Brown and bring these issues to the government and will lobby for those who can’t. You can even send a letter to Cyntoia Brown showing your love and support for her and telling her that you are so happy that she is still in this fight. You can address these letters as:

 

 

Ms. Cyntoia Brown #410593

Tennessee Prison for Women Unit

I West D-493881

Stewarts Lane Nashville TN 37218

 

Keep her in your thoughts.

 

Cyntoia Brown Documentary: Me Facing Life http://www.pbs.org/independentlens/films/me-facing-life/

 

 

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