Cyntoia Brown, a sex trafficking victim turned convicted killer who was recently released from prison, says there are so many others like her behind bars.
Brown, now Brown-Long after a post-prison marriage, was granted clemency earlier this year after spending 13 years for killing a man when she was 16. She was released from prison in August and in one of her first interviews since her release, she said her story is not special.
During an interview with “NBC Nightly News," she said, “There's nothing special about me. There's, I can't tell you how many Cyntoia Browns still in prison. The women who helped me get to this point, they're still in prison for 51 years and up with ridiculous sentences. And they don’t have hope right now. The system strips them of any personhood, of any voice and I feel like in seeing me, you’re able to see them because they are just like me.”
As a teen, Brown-Long was living in a Nashville hotel with a 24-year-old pimp called “Kut Throat” who allegedly forced her into sex trafficking.
In 2004, when Brown-Long was just 16, a 43-year-old real estate agent Johnny Allen paid for sex with her. After going to his Nashville home and getting into bed together, Brown fatally shot Allen with a handgun she carried in her purse. She said she was acting in self defense and shot him because she thought he was grabbing a gun when he reached his hand under the bed. After she shot him, she took his wallet, his truck and two firearms, according to court documents.
Though the murder happened when she was a teen, Brown-Long was tried as an adult and convicted of first-degree murder, first-degree felony murder, and aggravated robbery. Depicted by prosecutors as a cold-blooded killer, she received a life sentence in 2006.
During her NBC interview, Brown-Long said that at the time she didn’t see herself as a victim. Now, she sees both Allen and herself as victims.
"For years when someone would say, 'Oh, you were taking advantage of by all these adult men,' I was like no, I wasn't taken advantage of,” she said. ‘I made that choice."
But over the years, the public perception of Brown appeared to change from cold-blooded killer to victim as her story became more widely known.
Brown-Long's case was the subject of a PBS documentary in 2011, "Me Facing Life: Cyntoia’s Story," and in recent years, celebrities including Kim Kardashian, Rihanna and Lebron James have rallied for her release. Kardashian brought major attention to the case in 2017 with a tweet that stated in part, “The system has failed. It’s heart breaking to see a young girl sex trafficked then when she has the courage to fight back is jailed for life! We have to do better & do what’s right. I’ve called my attorneys yesterday to see what can be done to fix this.#FreeCyntoiaBrown.”
While incarcerated, she earned two college degrees. One of her professors behind bars, Preston Shipp, was actually a prosecutor who fought against one of Brown’s previous failed appeals. He now says, “I believe in Cyntoia, that I support her release. Because that's the opposite of what I said in 2008, before I had gotten to know Cyntoia. Which is a dangerous position for any person to be in, to be making a statement about the fate of someone that you haven't taken the time to know. And that's the position that I was in.”
Brown-Long said she is committed to giving back to the community following her release. Her new book, “Free Cyntoia: My Search for Redemption in the American Prison System,” was released on Monday.
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