I have spoken about Cyntoia Brown before. There was a sadness in her eyes that I have seen in my own. That sadness comes from trauma, disappointments and trying to find your place in a world that desires you be unseen–or devoured. I saw the documentary The Sixteen Year Old Killer: Cynotia’s Story (still available on YouTube). When I saw her, when I saw the documentary, all of me that was mother–broke. All I could think is, “How on Earth did this child get to prison— in Tennessee–serving 51-years to life?!”
I made it my mission to keep my eye on her case, supporting anyway I could.
I signed petitions. I called the governor. I wrote about her. I told people about her. I even considered writing her–Lord, knows she probably needed more mail. And that is a life regret dearest ones—I wish I had.
So when I heard that she was granted clemency; was getting out of jail; I heard that she had written a book? It was a done deal that I was going to buy it, devour it, and review it.
This book was not a disappointment.
The emotional rollercoaster I went on while reading it drove home the plight of children and the insidious nature of human trafficking. All I could think was, “How baby girl? How?”
There are no punches pulled in this book, and I didn’t expect there to be any. I wanted, I needed this book to be as raw and honest as she was willing to be. Even down to the experience of detailing what happened when God–not the universe!–told her that she was going to get out of prison. There is an honesty in her story that made me cry, that made me consider, and that made me humble.
In one famous line in one of my other favorite books–The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald–that says, “Whenever you feel like criticizing any one just remember all the people in this world haven’t had the advantages you’ve had.” Keep this in mind as you read this book.
Keep this in mind as you read this story.
I want you to be able to rejoice with her. Get mad at her. Be willing to forgive her. Children are prone to rebellion, crazy behaviors and totally confounding attitudes! This is why they need parents: being be able to listen to what the children in their care need.
Cynotia was suffering from multiple traumas and victimization. She was prime pray for a Romeo pimp. Prime pray for traffickers. It is heartbreaking. She went into prison–not jail!–at 16, 17 years old–to do LIFE.
LET THAT ISHT SINK IN.
And after 15 years–her sentence was 51-years to life–her sentence commuted. The whole story is nothing but proof that God exists. And that His will, His plan is incredible. I teared up as I read the Epilogue. Is it a happy ending? No. She still talked about her first meal home (Chef Boyardee’s Beef Ravioli); how her husband but every hygiene product she mentioned in their bathroom; the outfit she wore as she left prison before 3:00am on August 7, 2019. She also reflects on her life as a wife now, and the joy of taking a hot bath for the first time in years–only to have to check in with her parole officer after the sun rose.
She knows the world will, may still see her as a murderer. But yet, in owning that and all of the actions that lead to the death of Johnny Allen, she is grateful. Moreover, her passion is incarcerated women and prison reform.
What I want for Cyntoia, after reading this book, is what I have always wanted for her–to have a life. To live. To be happy.
The world loves to devour Black women and girls, drown them in pain. Cynotia has come out of this dark ocean of pain and anger, and found the shores of peace! She is thriving in the midst of a world waiting for her to fall–and fall further again. To be locked up again. To have more trauma added to her, and her husband. God forbid she thrive!
Yet, she is.
She is owed to start over–and be great. Let us all allow her to be great.