Lipscomb alumna Cyntoia Brown — the subject of debate and outcry about the unfairness of her sentence — was released Wednesday morning from Tennessee Prison for Women. Former Gov. Bill Haslam granted Brown clemency at the close of his term in January of this year.
In 2015, Brown, now 31, earned an associate’s degree through Lipscomb’s LIFE program, which brings traditional and non-traditional students together for classes at the Tennessee Prison for Women. In May, she graduated with a bachelor of professional studies degree, majoring in organizational leadership.
Brown is a Nashville woman whose case sparked national attention to the human sex-trafficking epidemic, due to the controversy surrounding her sentencing. At age 16, she was convicted of aggravated robbery and first-degree murder.
Brown’s defense argued that she was forced into prostitution after a life of abuse. In her testimony, Brown described being picked up for sex by Johnny Mitchell Allen, a 43-year-old Nashville real estate agent.
In her trial, Brown said she believed he was reaching for a gun and intended to do her harm, so she felt threatened and shot and killed Allen in what she says was an act of self-defense.
Her age at the time of the sentencing was a hot topic for activists. In 2012, the Supreme Court ruled that mandatory life without parole sentences for juveniles violate Eighth Amendment prohibitions against cruel and unusual punishment. Brown’s original sentencing was that she will eventually be eligible for parole, but not until she’s 67 years old.
Brown has displayed gratitude for the educational opportunity offered by the university and the prison system.
“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,” Brown said in a statement released in January.
“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.”
“We believe strongly in the power of education and the impact it has on the lives of all of our graduates,” said a statement issued by the university after her release. “We look forward to seeing how the college degree Cyntoia has earned will empower and equip her in her future endeavors. We wish Cyntoia well in this new chapter of her life.”
Back in January, Haslam said his decision to grant Brown clemency “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,” Halam said. “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.”
During her time behind bars, Brown was married and wrote a book that is expected to go on sale October 15.
Photo by Daniel H. Birman Productions, inc.