Social Commentary

The “Injustice System” and Cyntoia Brown by Lia Crawford

By now, I hope you’ve heard about the travesty surrounding Cyntoia Denise Brown, a woman who has already served a 15-year prison sentence in Nashville, Tennesse Prison for Women after claiming to murder Johnny Mitchell Allen, a man who bought her for sex when she was 16 years old.

Until being granted clemency recently, she was facing life in prison for murder and robbery. The power of social media, celebrities, and religious leaders proved that enough noise can change a person’s life.

"Me Facing Life: Cyntoia's Story," a 2011 documentary by Daniel H. Birman Productions, Inc. tells her story in detail. According to the documentary, Brown had a troubled childhood, which included adoption and ended in her being raped and prostituted by a man named “Cut-Throat.”

The treacherous truth is that Brown’s story is not necessarily unique. According to the Divided States of Women,

“Of the population of women in prison, some 86 percent of them are victims of sexual abuse. And many incarcerated women are guilty of crimes that include defending themselves.”

The Sentencing Project offers more statistics surrounding incarcerated women and girls to broaden the understanding that thousands of women have been further damaged by a system that punishes those defending themselves.

For a teenage girl, a then minor, to be raped, trafficked, and then sentenced to life for defending herself in any situation, really speaks to the illness spreading within the U.S. Justice system. Meanwhile, I’m sure many of us know men who have only spent a day or two in jail for beating or raping a woman, if that. With the backlog of untested rape kits that exist across this country, a large number of offenders have been free to roam after an assault. The resounding point here is that women and girls in this country need better protection under the law and better treatment within the Prison Industrial Complex nationwide.

While the news of Cyntoia Brown being granted clemency is good news to an extent, the truth is she will not be physically released from the Tennessee State Prison for Women until August 7th. Afterward, she must still endure 10 years of parole. Even still, through her lawyers, she released a statement filed with hope for the future:

“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, Governor Haslam, for your act of mercy in giving me a second chance. I will do everything I can to justify your faith in me. 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.

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. Thank you.”

My hope is that her story continues to #ChangetheNarrative for women and girls in the future. I hope to see the day where sex trafficking will be a non-factor everywhere in the world. I hope that men stop abusing young girls as early as 5 years old and stop raping women as late as 95. I hope my daughter can exist in a society where she feels 100% safe to walk around at night, to date, and to wear whatever she feels comfortable expressing herself.

I would like to see a world where young girls with rough childhoods are not punished for reacting in the only way they know how, in self-defense and survival-mode. This world can be that world with the decisions we make as a society. May we continue to speak up for the Cyntoia Brown’s of the world until there are no more.

Image from The Tennessean 01/2019. Cyntoia Brown was granted clemency on January 7th by Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.