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cyntoia brown

How you can help Cyntoia Brown get the justice she deserves

She was 16 years old when she was sentenced to life in prison for first degree murder

In 2004, Cynthoia Brown was convicted of first-degree murder. At 16-years-old, she was charged with murdering a man who solicited her for sex and sentenced to life in prison. Last week, the Tennessee Supreme Court ruled that Brown must serve 51 years of her sentence before she can be deemed eligible for parole and release.

According to CNN, the Supreme Court ruled that any defendants convicted of the first-degree murder charge after July 1 1995 would be subject to this. That means that Brown will be 68-years-old before she’s eligible for parole. 

Brown was tried as an adult despite being a minor at the time, and has argued for years that her conviction was unconstitutional. In her trial at the time, she testified that she had been forced to sell sex by an abusive boyfriend. She claims that she shot Johnny Allen, a man who offered to pay for sex, because she thought he was reaching for a gun.

Her case has made headlines across the world, and was chronicled in the documentary Me Facing Life: Cynthoia’s Story back in 2011. Public figures from Rihanna to Kim Kardashian have spoken out in support. Ayanna Pressley, an incoming US representative, said Brown had endured an “unjust sentencing”, adding “no one – especially a child – should be criminalised for surviving the the traumatic ordeal of sex trafficking."

Across the last decade and a half, Brown has earned an associate’s degree and is currently studying for her bachelor’s. Brown also volunteers in a juvenile justice system programme.

In May a six-member Tennessee Parole Board was split on their decision to grant her clemency, and she was denied her freedom. However, Tennessee governor Bill Haslam said this week that his office was reviewing Brown’s case, and he would make a decision in the coming weeks before his term expires. 

Here’s how you can help Brown.

CALL GOVERNOR HASLAM’S OFFICE

Calling elected officials in numbers is one of the best ways to make sure representatives hear major issues. You can call Haslam’s office at 615-741-2001, where he or his staff will take your call, while also recording the amount people call on singular issues. Demand that Cyntoia Brown gets clemency.

You can also email Haslam at bill.haslam@tn.gov.

WRITE TO CYNTOIA BROWN 

You can send physical letters to Brown in the Tennessee Prison for Women, offering support and kind words. The prison system is cruel and traumatizing, and can have a serious toll on people’s mental and physical health. Offering some words of support could really help.

Cyntoia Brown
#410593
Tennessee Prison for Women
2 North, B49
3881 Stewarts Ln
Nashville, TN 37218

JOIN PROTESTS

On January 19 2019, organisers of the Women’s March are holding a Women’s Wave March in a direct call-to-action for Brown. Demonstrations will be taking place all over the US, so you can find one near you.

“Cyntoia Brown is why we march,” the organization tweeted. “Because women and girls should not be punished for surviving, because women and girls of color are criminalized at disproportionate rates, because there is no safety and freedom for women while Cyntoia remains behind bars.” 

USE YOUR VOICE ONLINE

You’ll find lots of people doing the same in the #FreeCynthoiaBrown hashtag on Twitter and other social media platforms. This is an opportunity to highlight the serious implications the criminal justice system has on vulnerable people like Brown and many others. Share news articles from reputable sources that you trust, follow state representatives and activists (like those from Black Lives Matter) that are invested in her case and dismantling the system that binds her. 

SIGN THE PETITION

There are multiple petitions going around online, but one of the main ones calling for signatures has hit over half a million, with a goal of 1.1 million to be delivered to Haslam. One petition details the “diligent” work Brown has put in to make amends, and describes her as an “intelligent, compassionate, and resilient young woman.” 

“She has helped other inmates earn their GEDs, worked in various meaningful jobs, and encouraged those around her to be their best selves. She has maintained meaningful relationships with positive mentors in the community, many of whom feel that they have become better people through their friendship with Cyntoia.” 

Add your signature if you want to calling for clemency here.

RALLY BILL LEE, THE INCOMING GOVERNOR AFTER HASLAM

In just a few weeks, Haslam’s role as governor will expire – the incoming governor is Bill Lee. It’s vital to keep the issue in his mind for when the governor elect comes to represent the state, in case Brown’s hearing for clemency overlaps. People are already calling on Lee to address the case.