Out this past Tuesday is 31-year-old Cyntoia Brown-Long’s memoir, Free Cyntoia: My Search for Redemption in the American Prison System. The text is something she began to write while in prison, covering her story up through her last day behind bars earlier this year.
With her memoir out, Brown has begun her first round of interviews since her release in August. On NBC News, she shared the gratitude she has for all of the people who helped free her from prison; recall how a single tweet from Rihanna brought her case to the attention of people from all over the nation, including Jamie Long, the man who would become her future husband. Brown told Lester Holt, “I feel like it’s an honor to actually be the picture of what rehabilitation looks like, of what it looks like when we do give people a second chance.” She described her release as an exhale, relief over being free as well as having been rehabilitated.
But Brown also expressed great awareness of the bigger picture, acknowledging that Johnny Allen was a victim too. “I can’t sit here and say that I feel like I’m deserving of compassion and then sit here and say at the same time, don’t have any compassion for this person,” she told Holt. In a separate interview with Essence, Brown spoke of channeling her experiences with incarceration and rehabilitation into the Foundation for Justice, Freedom, and Mercy, a nonprofit organization that she as a founder is building. “I’m committed to the same fight that got me free,” she said. “I definitely think that there’s a need for reform, not just in prison but in sentencing and the way justice is [handed] out in our country.”
In her case, the justice system had set her up for failure rather than reform, trying her as an adult instead of as a juvenile despite the fact that she was only 15 years old. “When they said instead, ‘No, you’re going to the adult system, where rehabilitation is not the goal,’ then it’s like they feel like I can’t be fixed. They’re not even going to try to fix me,” she told Essence. For her, the impulse to change wasn’t immediate, especially in light of the experiences she’d had as a youth dealing with racism, rejection, and assault. “You want to dwell in that brokenness. And that’s where I was at that point,” she said, explaining that not even her mother could help her to change. “You have to want it.”