Cyntoia Brown, who murdered her sexual abuser at 16, released from prison and will now help other girls like her

Update: Cyntoia Brown has been granted full clemency and released from prison after serving 15 years for killing a man who bought her for sex at age 16.

Brown requested no media availability on the day of her release (smart girl), but released this public statement:

"While first giving honor to God who made all of this possible, I would also like to thank my many supporters who have spoken on my behalf and prayed for me. I'm blessed to have a very supportive family and friends to support me in the days to come. I look forward to using my experiences to help other women and girls suffering abuse and exploitation. I thank Governor and First Lady Haslam for their vote of confidence in me and with the Lord's help I will make them as well as the rest of my supporters proud."

Welcome back to freedom, Cyntoia.

Brown's case has tested the limits of our justice system and gained the attention of criminal justice reform advocates and celebrities alike. Here's a rundown of the basics of her case:

Brown was born to a mother who abused drugs and alcohol and placed her up for adoption. As a teen, Brown ran away from her adoptive family and was taken in by a pimp who raped her and forced her into prostitution. In 2004, a 43-year-old real estate agent, Johnny Allen, paid $150 to have sex with Brown—then 16—and took her to his home.


Brown claims that she thought the man was going to kill her, so she shot him. Prosecutors claim she killed the man in his sleep in order to steal from him, as she took money, firearms, and the man's car when she fled the murder scene.

Despite being a minor and an alleged victim of sex trafficking, Brown was tried as an adult, found guilty of murder, and sentenced to life in prison. Under Tennessee law, her first chance at parole would not arrive until 2055—when Brown would be in her late 60s.

But as one of his final acts in office, Tennessee governor Bill Haslam has granted Brown full clemency. Brown was released from prison on August 7, 2019 and will live under supervised parole for ten years.

Brown's case raised important questions about how we administer justice when convicted criminals are victims themselves—especially when they are underaged.

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There is no question that Brown killed Allen. The question is how she should pay for that crime when she was legally a child at the time and the victim of multiple crimes herself. At 16, Brown was under the control of a violent pimp known as "Kut Throat," who raped her himself and was trafficking her for sex. The age of consent in Tennessee was (and still is) 18, so Allen was guilty not only of soliciting Brown as a prostitute, but also of raping her.

Should a child who has been exploited and victimized in so many ways pay the same price as an adult? In a truly just system, would a child who was the victim of heinous crimes not be granted some grace for killing someone who played an active role in her victimization?

These are the questions about Brown's case that drew advocates from across the social justice landscape to defend her as a sex trafficking victim, including Rihanna, Lebron James, and Amy Schumer.

Brown says she will use her freedom to help young girls avoid finding themselves in situations like hers.

Governor Haslam said in a statement regarding his clemency order:

“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."

Those conditions include undergoing counseling, getting a job, and completing community service hours.

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Brown has spent part of her 15 years in prison studying, earning excellent grades in her courses, and is slated to complete her bachelor's degree from Lipscomb University in May 2019.

In a statement, Brown said, “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." She also thanked "those at the Tennessee Department of Corrections who saw something in me worth salvaging..."

Brown hopes to make a difference in the lives of girls who may find themselves in circumstances like hers. "With God's help, I am committed to live the rest of my life helping others, especially young people," she said. "My hope is to help other young girls avoid ending up where I have been."

Imprisonment is meant to keep civilized society safe from dangerous criminals. Clearly this woman is not a danger to society, and keeping her behind bars would be a gross misuse of our justice system. Kudos to Governor Haslam for doing the right thing, and best of luck to Ms. Brown with her newfound freedom.

Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
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In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

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"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
True

Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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