Today, the story of Cyntoia Brown — now Cyntoia Brown Long — will air on small screens across the U.S. in a new documentary titled Murder to Mercy: The Cyntoia Brown Story. The new Netflix film explores why Brown Long was put in prison for killing her abuser, and why it took so long for her release.
At only 16 years old, Brown Long was tried as an adult and given a life sentence for shooting and killing Johnny Michael Allen in self-defense. At the time of his death, Allen was an adult who solicited her for sex when she was working as a prostitute one night. Although Brown Long was handed a sentence of 51-years-to-life, her story went viral in 2019 with the hashtag #FreeCyntoiaBrown and celebrity supporters like Rihanna and Kim Kardashian advocating for her release.
After media attention clearly attributed Brown Long's case to one of child sex trafficking rather than the murder she was charged with, Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam granted her clemency nearly 15 years into her sentence, with 10 years of probation. Brown Long was released in August of 2019 and has been free since.
Since being released from prison, Brown Long has gone on to write a coming-of-age memoir about her experiences, Free Cyntoia: My Search for Redemption in the American Prison System. The memoir largely features writing that Brown Long put together while she was incarcerated and showcases the experience of a young person being brought up in the American prison system for over a decade. The now-32-year-old says she is committed to exposing the injustices present in the current justice system in America, and what prison is truly like.
Brown Long, who married musician Jaime Long while she was still incarcerated, has worked with her husband as part of the Ambassador Speakers Bureau following her clemency. In 2020, she was a nominee for the NCAAP Literary Image Award and was featured as a guest writer in The Washington Post multiple times.
Even years later, Brown Long continue speaking out about violence she’s experienced in hopes that her story can ultimately change prisons and the way judges handle cases like hers. “I was just a teenager when I was sent to live behind a razor wire fence. My entire coming of age was within the walls of the Tennessee Prison for Women,” the author said in a statement.
Although the documentary does tell some of Brown Long’s story, she and her advocates have stated that the film is repurposed with footage from the 2011 documentary, Me Facing Life: Cyntoia’s Story, which aired on PBS Lens. Still, she sees even the unofficial documentary as a means to get a greater message out. According to the writer and advocate, she's been promoting her book along with the documentary, shining a light on her story through her own words.
"While I pray that this film highlights things wrong in our justice system, I had nothing to do with this documentary," Brown Long posted on Instagram in a now-deleted message. "I am currently in the process of sharing my story, in the right way, in full detail, and in a way that depicts and respects the woman I am today."