Cyntoia Brown has been serving a life sentence for killing a man while trying to escape the horrors of child sex slavery. Photo by Tennessee Prison for Women

NASHVILLE, TN– Cyntoia Brown was released from the Tennessee Prison for Women Wednesday after serving 15 years of a life sentence for the 2004 shooting death of Nashville realtor Johnny Allen.

Court documents state Brown was 16 at the time and living with boyfriend Gary McGlothen, nicknamed “Cut Throat,” who she said often abused her physically and sexually. The night she met Allen, Brown said, McGlothen hit her and sent her out to make money. The two crossed paths at a Sonic where Allen bought her food before taking her to his home. Brown told the court that Allen had asked her if she “was up for any action.”

Brown testified that Allen showed her multiple guns in his home and told her he was a sharp-shooter in the military. She said she became nervous when Allen kept getting up throughout the night, sometimes standing over her and whispering to her, and shot him when she thought he was reaching under the bed for a gun. She fled, taking $172, some of Allen’s guns and his truck, saying she feared returning to McGlothen with nothing.

Brown was convicted in 2006 and sentenced to life in prison, which is at least 60 years. She appealed without success, challenging the constitutionality of the life sentence. In 2012 the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that life sentences without parole for minors was a violation of the Eighth Amendment, which prohibits cruel and unusual punishment. The court upheld the decision, stating that Brown was eligible for release because she was to serve 51 years–just nine years shy of the life sentence threshold. Brown earned that time off her sentence for model behavior.

Brown’s case garnered national attention since the 2011 Dan Birman documentary “Me Facing Life: Cyntoia’s Story” aired on PBS. Celebrities such as Rihanna and LeBron James have spoken publicly in defense of Brown, and #FREECYNTOIABROWN made its way across various social media platforms. Attorney Charles Bone took on her appeals case, helping bring to light Brown’s diagnosis of alcohol-related neurodevelopmental disorder (ARND) that contributed to behavioral problems throughout her life despite having high intelligence.

Since Brown’s arrest, the state has changed its laws concerning prostitution–minors cannot be charged with the crime but are instead treated as child human sex trafficking victims.

But Brown’s story doesn’t end with her conviction–it’s just beginning. Then-Gov. Bill Haslam granted Brown clemency in January this year after hearing pleas from advocates in the local faith community and meeting with her. Since her incarceration, she’s been a mentor to other women in prison and has received her associate’s degree from Lipscomb University through the LIFE program that enrolls inmates in classes with students. The Tennessee Department of Correction said Brown, who must remain under parole supervision for ten years, will be continuing her pursuit of a bachelor’s degree after release.

A new author profile on the Simon & Schuster website announced she’ll also be publishing a memoir this fall titled “Free Cyntoia: My Search for Redemption in the American Prison System” with Atria Books. The profile also notes that Brown was recently married.

She is also required to hold down a job, attend counseling, and perform community service as terms of her release. Brown, in a statement, expressed thankfulness to Haslam and his wife as well as all those who supported her. “I look forward to using my experiences to help other women and girls suffering abuse and exploitation,” she wrote. “I thank Governor and First Lady Haslam for their vote of confidence in me and with the Lord’s help I will make them as well as the rest of my supporters proud.”

If you suspect someone to be involved in human trafficking, the TBI urges you to call the Tennessee Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-855-55-TNHTH.