A decade-long campaign which garnered national headlines in recent months came to fruition on Monday, as Gov. Bill Haslam (R-Tenn.) granted clemency to Cyntoia Brown, a sex-trafficking survivor who has been behind bars for 15 years for murder.
After facing pressure from human rights groups, hundreds of thousands of Americans who signed petitions and wrote letters protesting Brown's imprisonment, and celebrities who helped bring attention to her case, Haslam announced days before he is to leave office that Brown will be released from prison in August.
On social media, many of Brown's supporters gave credit to the groundswell of activism on her behalf that gained national attention in recent months, as well as efforts by Tennesseeans who have been fighting for her release for at least a decade.
Over the past few weeks, more people have rallied around Cyntoia's case and I think that's really terrific. Grateful to all of those who wrote letters, made calls, kept her name in the press. ALSO, people in TN have been organizing around her case since at least 2008.
— #Prisonculture (@prisonculture) January 7, 2019
Justice has finally been served: #CyntoiaBrown has been granted clemency. This victory belongs to Cyntoia Brown & to the Tennessee human trafficking activists, especially Black women, who refused to concede injustice & instead organized to create change. https://t.co/ANC0aOXj5N
— Stacey Abrams (@staceyabrams) January 7, 2019
Cyntoia Brown should not have had to spend a single day behind bars. She should have been able to spend the holidays with her loved ones. This win goes to @BLM_Nashville @MeTooMVMT @HighlanderCtr, our COC members and thousands of ppl who demanded Cyntoia's freedom https://t.co/SBimwwhZ5R
— Rashad Robinson (@rashadrobinson) January 7, 2019
After thanking Haslam, Brown herself also expressed gratitude to those who have fought for her early release.
"I am thankful for all the support, prayers, and encouragement I have received," Brown said. "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."
Brown was tried as an adult in 2004 after she shot a man who had paid to have sex with her when she was 16 years old. She killed the man after she thought he was reaching for a gun to shoot her. Brown was working for a pimp at the time who had raped her and forced her into prostitution. Before Haslam announced her clemency, she was serving a life sentence and was not scheduled to be eligible for parole until 2055.
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Many of Brown's supporters expressed hope that her case would bring more attention to the 2,100 inmates who are serving life sentences for crimes they committed as juveniles, as well as the thousands of Americans who are victimized by sex-traffickers every year.
"We need to see this as a national awakening," J. Houston Gordon, one of Brown's lawyers, said in a statement.
We're thrilled that Cyntoia Brown is finally seeing justice.
Cyntoia never should have been sentenced so harshly to begin with, and we can't lose sight of the fact that she is still receiving an excessive 10 years probation.
The fight against harsh sentencing laws goes on. https://t.co/yMUA5mVUiD
— ACLU (@ACLU) January 7, 2019
Cyntoia Brown was a victim of child trafficking and deserving of a second chance.
Glad that the Governor of Tennessee granted Brown clemency for a life sentence. More must be done to protect other young victims subject to sex and child trafficking in our country. https://t.co/jvqAxfJagJ
— Kristen Clarke (@KristenClarkeJD) January 7, 2019
While celebrating Brown's early release and applauding the work of activists, writer and organizer Mariame Kaba was among those who hesitated to express full satisfaction with Haslam's decision, which includes supervised parole for Brown until 2029—meaning by that time, she will have spent 24 years under state control after spending part of her childhood under the control of a sex trafficker.
"That isn't justice," Kaba said.