[Pnews] Cyntoia Brown Will Go Free in August, But There Are More Survivors Behind Bars Who Still Need Help

Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Tue Jan 8 17:34:10 EST 2019


  Cyntoia Brown Will Go Free in August, But There Are More Survivors
  Behind Bars Who Still Need Help


*Jan 8, 2019, 4:22pm****Victoria Law 

After 14 years behind bars, Cyntoia Brown will soon be walking out of 
the prison gates.

In 2004, when Brown was 16 
she had run away from home and was living with a man named Kut Throat in 
a Nashville motel. At his insistence, she engaged in street-based sex 
work, leading to her fateful encounter with 43-year-old Johnny Allen. 
After haggling with her over the price, Allen brought Brown back to his 
house where, she later told a judge, his behavior frightened her. When 
he seemed to reach for something underneath the bed 
Brown believed he was reaching for a gun. She shot him with the gun she 
kept in her purse. She then left, taking Allen’s money and two of his 
guns; in court, prosecutors argued that Brown had gone to his house 
intending to rob him.

Two years later, she was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced 
to life in prison. She became one of more than 100 people in Tennessee 
sentenced to life in prison as teenagers 
one of countless women throughout the United States who has survived 
violence only to be sentenced to decades, if not death, behind bars.

Though the U.S. Supreme Court has repeatedly ruled that life without 
parole for those convicted as juveniles is unconstitutional 
Tennessee did not revise its laws to allow people sentenced to life as 
juveniles to apply for resentencing. Instead, it allows for the 
possibility of parole for everyone sentenced to life in prison only 
after they have served 51 years 
In December 2018, Tennessee’s Supreme Court ruled that the same laws 
apply to Brown, meaning she would not have a second chance until at 
least age 67.

But on Monday, January 7, outgoing Gov. Bill Haslam (R) commuted Brown’s 
sentence to time served. Brown, now 30, will be eligible for release 
August 7. She will remain on parole for the next ten years.

Brown isn’t alone. Hundreds—if not thousands—of violence survivors 
remain behind bars. Grassroots groups across the country have been 
organizing for years to get them free.

Clemency from governors can take two forms. The first, a pardon, is a 
total expungement of a person’s conviction that is usually granted after 
they have served their sentence. The other is a commutation, or a 
shortening of an incarcerated person’s prison sentence. That’s what 
Haslam issued for Brown on Monday.

Commuting Brown’s sentence wasn’t simply a good deed by an outgoing 
governor. It was the result of more than ten years of organizing and 
public pressure. In 2011, Brown’s story caught the attention of 
filmmakers who produced a documentary called /Me Facing Life: Cyntoia’s 
Story/. Celebrities like Rihanna 
<https://www.instagram.com/p/Bbwi26PjHf7/> and Kim Kardashian 
<https://twitter.com/KimKardashian/status/933001503123554304/photo/1?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw&ref_url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.cnn.com%2F2017%2F11%2F23%2Fus%2Fcyntoia-brown-social-media-murder-case-trnd%2Findex.html> drew 
widespread attention to Brown’s situation. Nearly 500,000 people signed 
a petition urging Haslam 
<https://petitions.moveon.org/sign/free-cyntoia-brown> to commute her 
sentence. Thousands of people called and wrote to the governor and 
participated in call-ins to their elected officials demanding commutation.

Tennessee advocates, including formerly incarcerated women, are 
celebrating Brown’s commutation. But they also told /Rewire.News/ that 
they must continue fighting for other incarcerated survivors, whose 
names and stories often remain unknown. No one has tracked how many 
total survivors are incarcerated for self-defense or for acts related to 
their abuse. What is known is that approximately 33 percent of women 
have experienced physical violence <https://ncadv.org/statistics>at the 
hands of an intimate partner. That rate more than doubles to 77 percent 
among incarcerated women 

“A lot of hard work and years of organizing helped win clemency for 
Cyntoia and that should be lifted up and celebrated,” said Alex 
Chambers, an abuse survivor and an advocate with Free Hearts 
<https://kidsofincarceratedmoms.com/>, a Nashville-based organization 
that works with incarcerated mothers. “But we still have a long way to 
go in Tennessee to make lasting change and win freedom for all 
criminalized survivors—there are countless incarcerated survivors whose 
names and stories are not publicly known and whose situations remain 
unchanged. We need to connect cases that have received attention to the 
larger issue of the criminalization of survivors, especially Black women 
and girls, and we need to actively counter narratives that 
exceptionalize some victims with the effect of blaming others and 
rendering them unworthy of care and support instead of punishment.”

In California, advocates say at least half of the 59 commutations of 
people in women’s prisons went to abuse survivors, thanks to organizing 
by Survived and Punished <https://survivedandpunished.org/> and the 
California Coalition for Women Prisoners <http://womenprisoners.org/>. 
(Outgoing Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown issued a total of 284 commutations 
before leaving office.)

“It has been such a rare and unique political moment that we’ve arrived 
to thanks to the years of people inside [jails and prisons] organizing 
and the organizing across the walls—with Governor Brown actually 
acknowledging the violence that survivors endured in his press releases 
and using his power to commute their sentences,” Adrienne Roberts of the 
California Coalition told /Rewire.News/ via email.

In New York, advocates launched #FreeThemNY 
<http://freethemny.com/index.html>, a clemency campaign for abuse 
survivors incarcerated in New York state. During this past election 
season, organizers have rallied outside Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s 
fundraising events, office, and home 
<http://gothamist.com/2018/12/07/cuomo_commutations_holidays.php>. Among 
the survivors who #FreeThemNY has highlighted is 36-year-old Patrice 
Smith, whose story bears striking similarities to that of Brown.

Smith was 15 years old when she met 70-year-old Robert Robinson Jr., 
<http://freethemny.com/stories.html#patrice-smith> a bishop who offered 
her money in exchange for sex. On at least one occasion, she says, he 
forced her to have sex after she refused. When she was 16, she and 
another friend were at Robinson’s house when he demanded that she have 
sex with him. She refused; she says he hit her and threatened to get his 
gun, a gun that he had shown her in the past. Their argument became 
physical and, during the scuffle, Smith fatally wrapped a phone cord 
around Robinson’s neck. Later, she testified that she did not mean to 
wrap the cord around his neck and that she was thinking 
<https://www.leagle.com/decision/infdco20110218905>, “I don’t want my 
life to be taken just because I didn’t want to have sex with this man.”

Smith was convicted and, despite her age, sentenced to 25 years to life. 
She has spent the past 20 years in prison, obtaining her GED and 
bachelor’s degree and participating in numerous prison programs. She has 
applied for clemency and wrote in an open letter to Cuomo 
“For 20 years I have been viewed through the lens of the law and lens of 
propriety because it was unbelievable that a man of God would abuse a 
child.” She reminded the governor of her age at the time and asked him 
“to imagine being 16, with limited recourse, lacking the wherewithal to 
give a voice to my shame, so I accepted silence. As a survivor, I have 
to justify the irrational, overwhelming need of love, acceptance and the 
fear of abandonment.”

Cuomo issued seven commutations on New Year’s Eve 
None were for abuse survivors or people in women’s prisons. Smith is 
still waiting—and hoping for a second chance.

“There are thousands of Cyntoias in state prisons across the country and 
hundreds in New York state prisons,” said Allison Brown of #FreeThemNY. 
“We are profoundly disappointed that Cuomo has failed to grant a single 
one of them clemency in 2018. We intend to keep the pressure on Cuomo 
and the state until they do the right thing.”

In Tennessee, Free Hearts will be starting the Love and Justice Project 
to continue supporting and advocating for the freedom of incarcerated 
survivors such as Cyntoia across the state.

“We will be continuing our work to build a movement here to end the 
criminalization of survivors and challenge the criminal legal system as 
the solution to ending gender violence,” Chambers said.


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863.9977 https://freedomarchives.org/
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