Cyntoia Brown, a woman serving a life sentence for killing a man when she was a 16-year-old, talks with her attorney, Charles Bone, during her clemency hearing Wednesday, May 23, 2018, at Tennessee Prison for Women in Nashville, Tenn.
Lacy Atkins—AP
By Jasmine Aguilera
October 15, 2019

Cyntoia Brown-Long says there are plenty of other women like her doing prison time who have not received the same attention she has.

“There’s nothing special about me,” she told NBC’s Lester Holt in an interview that aired on the Today Show Tuesday — her first interview since her release from prison. “There’s, I can’t tell you how many Cyntoia Browns still in prison. The women who helped me get to this point, they’re still in prison for 51 years and up with ridiculous sentences. And they don’t have hope right now.”

Brown-Long, who was tried as an adult at 16 years old and sentenced to life in prison for the murder of Johnny Allen, says she was a victim of sex trafficking and had been repeatedly raped by several men since being forced into prostitution. In Tennessee in August 2004, Allen had allegedly picked up Brown-Long for sex, and took her to his home. Brown-Long says she shot Allen assuming he was reaching for his gun, and a jury rejected her claim of self-defense.

“I can’t sit here and say that I’m deserving of compassion and then sit here and say at the same time ‘don’t have any compassion for this person [Allen],” Brown-Long said. “He is a victim.”

Brown-Long said often she thinks about the events that transpired that night. “Always feeling like violence is around the corner, always feeling like I had to defend myself,” she said. “Expecting for men to be violent towards me.”

The case received national attention after the Tennessee Supreme Court ruled Brown-Long must serve 51 years before being considered for parole, and celebrities like Kim Kardashian and Rhianna began speaking up in support of her release. Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam commuted Brown-Long’s sentence in January, and she was released in August.

Brown-Long has been outspoken for trafficking victims, often speaking to young girls about how to avoid becoming victims themselves. She says as a teenager she did not recognize herself as a trafficking victim. Her case has ignited calls for criminal justice reform. While in prison, Brown earned two degrees, an associate’s and a bachelor’s.

Since her release, Brown-Long got married and published a book on Tuesday, Free Cyntoia: My Search for Redemption in the American Prison System.

“I fully intend to step into that and to share my experiences as often as I can, with whoever I can, in the hopes that it can bring about more understanding about what goes on in the system with young girls who find themselves in the situation that I did,” Brown-Long said.

Write to Jasmine Aguilera at jasmine.aguilera@time.com.

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