Cyntoia Brown will be released from prison as early as August 7th due to Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam granting her clemency and commuting her life sentence. Cyntoia, who was imprisoned at only 16 years of age, has spent the last 14 years of her life behind bars after being indicted for first-degree murder of a man that abused and sexually trafficked her. After telling her own story in a revealing documentary, and gaining the support of many celebrities outraged at her circumstances, her story became viral and more importantly caught the attention of those with the means to assist her on the pursuit of freedom.
Her conviction caused many to scrutinize the Tennessee sentencing laws and made the public take a serious look at criminal justice reform. Her situation seemed grim as the Tennessee Supreme Court unanimously ruled in early December that Brown would have to complete 51 years of her sentence before she is eligible for release, and her name not being amongst the 11 people that the governor previously granted clemency to in late December.
However, after Governor Haslam was pressured by the public to review Cyntoia's heartbreaking and complex circumstances and her will to make the most of her life even if behind bars, he had a change of heart. Governor Haslam explained in a written statement:
"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."
While in prison, Cyntoia took advantage of the resources at hand in order to find meaning in a life in which she had not been dealt a fair hand. Since her indictment, she has earned her GED and completed an associate degree in 2015 with a 4.0 GPA, all while gaining the adoration of her inmates and correction officers alike.
Cyntoia seems to have found support and solidarity amongst the department of corrections that she has been bound to around half of her lifetime, crediting them along with her family for keeping her grounded. Cyntoia explained in her clemency statement:
"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."
Cyntoia is set to graduate with her Bachelor's degree in May 2019 as her supporters petition for a speedy release, and she will serve probation for the next 10 years of her life. The news of her freedom is a sweet jubilee for those who scrambled to their nearest keyboard or phone in attempts to do something to help.
I hope that this victory reminds all of us how important and powerful our voices are when it comes to social justice. Many of us tweeted, wrote, called, protested, and petitioned in order to gain Governer Haslam's attention to make Cyntoia Brown more than a hashtag, and we should be very proud. Our efforts came with good reason as history shows that Black Women, young and old, often find ourselves as the least respected and least protected demographic in America.
It is important that we have our own back, and speak up for each other even when it seems more beneficial to be silent.
However, our voices and stories are impossible to ignore, and the love that we have for each other will trump all hate and despair. Continue to be outraged by injustices, continue to speak your mind about situations at hand, and continue to use your voices to set yourself and others free. We are magic!
Feature image by Lacy Atkns/AP.