In November 2017, 13 years after she was first sent to prison for manslaughter, Cyntoia Brown’s case went viral. Celebrities began signal-boosting the work activists had been doing for years to help free the now 30-year-old, who was sentenced to life in prison in 2006 after she admitted to killing a man who had paid her for sex because she was afraid of him. Now Tennessee governor Bill Haslam has granted Brown a full commutation to parole, the Tennessean reports. She will be eligible for release on August 7, 2019.
Despite Brown’s assertions that she acted in self-defense, a jury found her guilty of first-degree murder. According to a 2012 report from the AP, in 2004, Brown was living with a pimp named Cut-throat, whom she said was abusive to her and forced her into picking up sex work; she was 16 at the time. In August of that year, Brown met 43-year-old Johnny Allen, who bought her fast food and took her back to his house. There, she says his behavior began to frighten her, and she repeatedly shrugged off his advances but was not able to escape. She finally shot him with a gun she kept in her purse, and left the house with his wallet and a few firearms.
Brown’s parole will last for ten years, during which time she will be “subject to a release plan approved by the Tennessee Department of Correction and special supervision conditions, including employment, education, counseling, and community engagement requirements,” the Tennessee office of the Governor explained in a press release. It also notes that she will undergo reentry programming; Brown received her GED while being incarcerated, and is set to earn a Bachelor’s Degree in 2019. A number of activists are already criticizing the length of her probation; in a tweet, the American Civil Liberties Union called the decision “excessive.”
In a statement, Haslam said, “This decision comes after careful consideration of what is a tragic and complex case. Cyntoia Brown committed, by her own admission, a horrific crime at the age of 16. Yet, imposing a life sentence on a juvenile that would require her to serve at least 51 years before even being eligible for parole consideration is too harsh, especially in light of the extraordinary steps Ms. Brown has taken to rebuild her life. Transformation should be accompanied by hope. So, I am commuting Ms. Brown’s sentence, subject to certain conditions.”
For her part, Brown thanked Haslam for “for your act of mercy in giving me a second chance. I will do everything I can to justify your faith in me.” In a full statement provided by her lawyers to the Tennessean, she said:
I want to thank those at the Tennessee Department of Corrections who saw something in me worth salvaging, especially Ms. Connie Seabrooks for allowing me to participate in the Lipscomb LIFE Program. It changed my life. I am also grateful to those at the Tennessee Department of Corrections who will work with me over the next several months to help me in the transition from prison to the free world.
Thank you to Dr. Richard Goode and Dr. Kate Watkins and all of you at Lipscomb University for opening up a whole new world for me. I have one course left to finish my Bachelor’s degree, which I will complete in May 2019.
I am thankful for all the support, prayers, and encouragement I have received. We truly serve a God of second chances and new beginnings. The Lord has held my hand this whole time and I would have never made it without Him. Let today be a testament to His Saving Grace.
Thank you to my family for being a backbone these past 14 years.
I am thankful to my lawyers and their staffs, and all the others who, for the last decade have freely given of their time and expertise to help me get to this day.
I love all of you and will be forever grateful.
With God’s help, I am committed to live the rest of my life helping others, especially young people.
My hope is to help other young girls avoid ending up where I have been.