By LaBetha Casey
When one looks at Cyntoia Brown-Long, that person wouldn’t think they are looking at someone who had spent 15 years in prison for killing someone. However, that is not the case.
Brown-Long was the keynote speaker on June 16, 2022 for the South Central US Human Trafficking Conference which was held at LSU-S. Her story begins as an 8-month old bi-racial child who was given up for adoption by her drug-abusing white mother. Later, when she was escorted into school by her black adoptive parents, her peers had numerous questions, such as—“Why don’t you look like your parents?” Being “different” from many of her peers, she felt like an outcast and had a hard time fitting in. Several infractions, such as moving the bus sign back and forth caused her to experience detention a number of times. In the sixth grade, she was kicked out of school when she brought a bottle of No-Doze to school for Show and Tell.
By this time she was only 13 years of age and ran away from juvenile detention center. While living on the streets, two women who “helped” her taught her how to use her body to get what she wanted/needed from older men. She later met “Cut,” which is short for “Cut Throat,” who became her pimp. She didn’t regard him as her pimp but as her boyfriend. He gave her the attention she craved and preyed upon her feelings of desperation, worthlessness, and loss of self-worth. She stated that most people think of human trafficking as being when someone is grabbed and taken in a van somewhere to be trafficked. However, she stated that most human trafficking is by being exploited by someone.
At age 16, she said goodbye to Cut, 24, for the last time on August 7, 2004, as she made her way to her 43-year old “John.” She feared for her life and killed him. When she was arrested, the detective didn’t inform her that she could have an attorney. Being naive, she told what happened without any counsel and was not even allowed to testify on her own behalf during her trial as an adult. A public defender who visited with her was unable to convince her that Cut was not a good person to have as a friend. After several attempts, the public defender gave Brown a piece of paper and had her to write his good traits on one side and his bad traits on the other. She finally realized what kind of bad relationship she had.
The first 2 years of her incarceration was spent in solitary confinement with only a 12″ window for light. For 23 hours she was in her cell, and for one hour each day she was shackled and handcuffed and allowed to take a shower. Being isolated, she had little chance for conversation, and at times no one brought her any meals. When she was able to be in a different part of prison, it took Brown months to learn how to have a conversation with others.
Brown signed up for a college program from Lipscomb College in Nashville, TN, which is run by a Christian denomination. Though she was resistant, the teachers showed the love of God to her which had a positive impact upon her. She was able to receive two degrees. During her imprisonment, she called out to God several times, but didn’t actually begin trusting God until near the end of her incarceration.
After her last appeal denial, she began receiving letters from a young man from Texas, Jaime Brown. He told her to begin praying because God had told him she was going to be freed from prison. He explained to her that she needed a relationship with Jesus and admonished her to read her Bible and pray for God’s will to be done.
Less than 3 months after surrendering to God, her appeal case denial was reopened. She had previously been told that she would be unable to see the parole board again until the age of 67. On August 7, 2019, she was freed from prison. She points out that she had no counseling, no trauma program, etc., but she got everything she needed to heal from her hurts from Jesus.
Cyntoia and her husband, Jaime Brown, now have a ministry called JFAM Foundation, which stands for Justice, Freedom and Mercy. She is now a motivational speaker and promotes her book, Free Cyntoia: My Search for Redemption in the American Prison System, which was published October 15, 2019.