Cyntoia Brown and The Deeply Flawed American Justice System

In 2004, a 16-year-old girl from Tennessee named Cyntoia Brown shot a man named Johnny Allen in the head. She was not a murderer, but the result of a lifetime of misery and injustice.

Cyntoia Brown never had a fair chance at life. Before she was even born, her mother Georgina Mitchell, who herself was the result of rape, was an avid drinker while she was pregnant at the age of 16. When Cyntoia was born in 1988, her birth mother kept her for eight months while still drinking and picking up the use of crack cocaine. She was soon after given up by her mother and spent her early years of childhood bouncing from foster homes until she was finally adopted at two years old. [1]

Because of her mother’s actions, Cyntoia is assumed to suffer from fetal alcohol syndrome disorder. Women who are pregnant or who are trying are advised to stay away from alcohol, as it travels quickly from the mother’s blood to the fetus. While affecting a child’s physical (such as facial feature deformation and low body weight) and mental (lower IQ, difficulties with learning), fetal alcohol spectrum disorder can have a strong part in diminishing a person’s quality of life. This alone gives substantial doubt of her actions, decision making and overall direction in life. [2]

Despite her adoptive mother’s efforts to create a stable home, Cyntoia was damaged from her early childhood and suffered from emotional baggage. She later ran away from home in 2004, at the age of 16. [1]

Naturally, once she ran away, Cyntoia got involved with the wrong people, thus the beginning of a hellish string of events. She became the property of a then 24-year-old man named “Kut-throat”, who physically and sexually abused her, as well as forcing her into sex trafficking to make money to fuel their drug addictions. The 16-year-old girl, still a child, was repeatedly drugged, beaten, and raped as a prostitute by various men. [3]

Eventually, Cyntoia was taken by Johnny Allen, a 43-year-old real estate agent. Allen then took her to his home and proceeded to rape the drugged 16-year-old girl for several weeks on end. She said that she was scared and feared her life, as she had found an astonishing amount of guns around Allen’s home, and he acted very strangely around her. Fearing for her life, Cyntoia built up her courage, took out a gun from her purse and shot Allen in the head, killing him.

She stole his wallet, truck, and some guns, as she planned on returning to her pimp and thought if she maybe had something to bring back he wouldn’t beat her. Cyntoia drove away to meet her pimp at his hotel room and was soon found and arrested by the police. Despite being only 16, she was tried as an adult and was convicted of first-degree murder with a life sentence (60 years before a re-trial) in prison. [4]

13 years later, Cyntoia Brown is now 29 years old and still incarcerated. During her time in jail so far, she has had the chance to complete her GED and associate’s degree (with a GPA of 4.0) and is now working towards her bachelor’s degree and hopes to achieve a master’s. Lipscomb University, located in Tennessee, has a program with the local women’s prison called LIFE (Lipscomb Initiative For Education) which allows 30 students from the university to spend one night a week studying liberal arts alongside the inmates. In effort to describe the benefits of the program, an article on Brown by a Lipscomb student reads “The mix of students and specifically designed coursework provides academic and character-building benefits for both students at the prison and students from campus.” ( [5]

Most recently, Cyntoia’s case has resurfaced the internet with the hashtag “#SaveCyntoiaBrown”, leaving everyone in shock. Shared by celebrities such as Rihanna, LeBron James, and Kim Kardashian-West, the story of a naive 16-year-old girl from Tennessee who was gravely taken advantage of has caused a re-ignition of interest. Kardashian-West herself has even put her legal team to work in hopes of helping Cyntoia with her unfair, lengthy sentence.

An online petition has even been started to help her achieve clemency, with currently over 440,000 signatures. The petition was created by a fellow student of Cyntoia’s at Lipscomb University, who also works alongside her legal team. People around the world are enraged and saddened to see such a tragic story unfold, and Americans are starting to wonder how corrupt their justice system really is.

Putting the pieces together, it seems as though there are much too many aspects of the story that point towards a grave injustice for Cyntoia Brown. From the early beginning of her life, Cyntoia was unfortunately set on the wrong track and no effort was done to set her straight. Her mother tainted her quality of life before she was even born due to her substance abuse. As previously mentioned, children who suffer from fetal alcohol syndrome usually have lower IQ’s and have a tough time learning with poor judgment. Brown was also the product of rape and trauma, same as her mother and grandmother.

It is a known fact that Cyntoia Brown has struggled mentally and emotionally throughout her life, which if anything should have made the prosecutors think twice as to whether she is a heartless criminal or a lost teenage girl with poor social skills.

Something which we should never forget while reviewing this case is that this whole incident involves a 16-year-old girl. A teenager, a child, whose brain and body is still developing. It was extremely idiotic and inutile for Cyntoia to have been prosecuted as an adult. In what sense is that fair? From a crime she committed at 16 (in self-defense), she will not be eligible for parole until she turns 69 years old, granted she gets it. Although Cyntoia may have a slim chance at parole, in America, a colossal amount of people are sentenced to life without parole, many before they turn 18. Every state legally allows youth under the age of 18 to be tried as adults, with an estimated 5,000 juveniles in adult prisons. [6]

The United States is, in fact, the only place on earth that still gives children life in jail without parole. There are an approximate 2,100 minors currently incarcerated in the U.S. which face spending the rest of their days locked up with no chance of getting out. Only 20 states have banned life without parole, leaving the majority America’s juveniles who commit criminal acts vulnerable to spending the rest of their lives incarcerated for a crime they committed in their youth. [7] This is an injustice, and one of the many flaws which the American justice system obtains.

Cyntoia Brown was robbed of having a normal childhood and overall life. No one, let alone a 16-year-old girl, should have to endure the pain, abuse, and suffering that she did. It is incredibly unfair that Cyntoia experienced the childhood that she had, but it is even more unfair that she is forced to spend the rest of her life incarcerated. A teenage girl forcibly turned prostitute who shoots a man in the head because he was abusing her and having illegal sex which she did not want is not homicide, but sheer self-defense. It is disgusting to think that a young girl is being punished brutally for defending herself and her own life.

The American justice system and we as a society have failed to help this young girl, and thousands of others just like her who have endured similar injustices. It is a true symptom of a decaying society. The story of Cyntoia Brown should not just be tragic or infuriating, but a wake-up call for us all.



[1] Jacobs, Tom “Life in Prison Begins at 16: The PBS documentary “Me Facing Life: Cyntoia’s Story” asks the question: Who is responsible when family and society so fail a promising child that she turns to prostitution and murder in her teens?”, Pacific Standard Magazine, February 25 2011 Accessed November 22, 2017

[2] Unknown, “Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASDs)”, U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, June 6 2017 Accessed November 22, 2017

[3] Loller, Travis “Attorneys seek new trial for teenage killer” Associated Press, November 13 2012 Accessed November 22, 2017

[4] Unknown, “Me Facing Life: Cyntoia’s Story”, Independent Lens, PBS, February 7, 2011 Accessed November 13 2017

[5] Shoun, Janel “Cyntoia Brown, LIFE student at local prison, is subject of film shown at HumanDocs” Lipscomb University, October 14, 2010 Accessed November 30, 2017

[6] Sainato, Michael “Cyntoia Brown and The Flawed Juvenile Criminal System”  The Real News, November 28 2017 Accessed December 1, 2017

[7] Rovner, Josh “Juvenile Life Without Parole: An Overview” The Sentencing Project, October 13, 2017 Accessed December 1, 2017