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—and 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