It’s not always the choices we make that lead us to ruin, sometimes, it’s simply fate. It seems that despite our best efforts, and the best intentions of those who love and care for us, fate always seems to have a way of bringing us where it believes we need to be.
A young woman is sitting in a Nashville prison, doing her best to make up for the mistakes of her life. But were her sins the result of bad choices or simply the inescapable fate of a girl whose tumultuous existence began like so many others before her, with an unexpected birth?
New Baby, No Papa
Ellenette Brown had no idea her best friend, 16-year-old Georgina Mitchell, was pregnant. But one cold January, Ellenette found out through a friend that Georgina had given birth to a beautiful, healthy baby girl named Cyntoia in a nearby hospital. The only problem was that, apparently there was no father. Shortly after that, both Georgina and Cyntoia disappeared.
Six months later, Georgina showed up on her best friend’s doorstep with the baby in her arms and a big favor to ask. She wanted to know if she could watch the baby for a time while she got her life together. Ellenette didn’t know if it was a good idea, but she could hardly resist Cyntoia’s sweet face. She agreed, but soon the days stretched to weeks and then the weeks into months. It became clear Georgina wasn’t coming back, but Ellenette loved the little girl like she was her own…
Eventually, when it appeared that Georgina wasn’t going to be coming back, Ellenette obtained guardianship papers. Then a year later, the impossible happened, without warning Cyntoia’s mother returned to their little town and called Ellenette, telling her she was coming to pick up her daughter. But Ellenette and her husband had learned that in the year she’d been gone, the girl’s mother had been hooking out of a motel. She was in and out of jail and strung out and she wasn’t about to give a one-year-old to Georgina.
That afternoon, Ellenette received a call from her father saying that Georgina had come to take Cyntoia shopping but had never returned. They’d been gone for hours and the number she’d left to contact her wasn’t working. For months, Cyntoia and Georgette remained in the wind, until finally, Ellenette and her husband heard that the reckless mother had been picked up a number of times for drugs and prostitution and that she’d left the toddler with an elderly couple…
Unfortunately, the elderly couple would only relinquish Cyntoia if Ellenette picked the child up in person. Ellenette drove seven hours through the night to get there, but when they arrived at the couple’s home, Cyntoia was gone. Eventually they tracked her down and brought her home, but the two-year-old was much changed by the uncertainty of her mother’s misadventures. She clung to her adoptive mother constantly, afraid that if she let go, Ellenette might leave again.
Thomas, Ellenette’s new husband and Cyntoia’s new father, didn’t do much to allay his adoptive daughter’s anxiety. He’d suffered a leg injury in Vietnam and had a plate implanted in his skull, and was a moody, alcoholic, with a hair-triggered temper. When he was drunk he’d take out his aggressions on Cyntoia, even telling her that she’d become a harlot and an addict like her good-for-nothing mother. Things only got worse from there when she tried to stop the drinking…
Ellenette tried to pour her husband’s brandy down the sink one weekend, which ended up being a terrible decision. He hurled a lamp at her and choked her nearly to unconsciousness. A day later, while Ellenette was at church, her son found out what happened and tried to strangle his stepfather. Meanwhile, nine-year-old Cyntoia was stuck in the middle, trying to break up the two adults. Eventually, she managed to call 911.
Never the Same
Before the police had arrived, however, Cyntoia had been standing stock-still and petrified, holding a knife and wondering if she would have to stab her adopted brother to stop him hurting her father. She never did and her trepidation ruined an already crumbling relationship with Thomas. In a few short years, Cyntoia herself began drinking…just like her father and her birth mother…
Intelligent and Belligerent
Cyntoia was a bright young woman, but understandably disdainful and mistrustful of authority. She was prone to talking back to and cursing out teachers, not to mention engaging in fist fights with other students. She was teased because of her pale skin, her white mother, and even her status in a program for gifted children. And so Cyntoia learned that her intelligence, her heritage, everything she was, was a source of shame.
Cyntoia was told that she wouldn’t be allowed to meet her birth mother until she turned eighteen. This decision rankled with the rebellious teen and created resentment between mother and daughter. Though she had done her best to prevent her from following Georgina’s self-destructive path, Ellenette could never truly see that Cyntoia was already embarking on her own…
Out of Touch
At the age of 12, Cyntoia was already engaging in theft. She was picked up for stealing over $2,000 of a friend’s mother’s jewelry and placed in an alternative school for at-risk students. A psychological evaluation only revealed how troubled the girl really was. The examiner was surprised to find the girl began speaking in a high-pitched sing-song voice and threatening to kill her father. She had become completely out of touch with reality and was placed on Thorazine.
She told the staff at the facility that she had been, physically, mentally, and finally, sexually abused by her father Thomas. She later recanted the statement, but the damage was already done. When she’d hear what her husband might have done to her beloved daughter, Ellenette filed for divorce. After that accusation, Cyntoia’s behavior got even worse. She was headed the same way as her birth mother, and soon things would come to a head…
Youth in Revolt
The following year, Cyntoia violated her probation and assaulted a teacher. That winter, she pulled the fire alarm at school and was sent to even more secure juvenile detention facilities. She started smoking pot regularly, escaped often, and skipped school. Ellenette had lost complete control of her and soon all that could be done was to send the girl to a long-term juvenile facility operated by the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services.
Of course that didn’t help anything either. While in the facility, she was involved in roughly 20 assaults on other students. She was on psychotropic drugs for depression and anxiety, which she mixed regularly with copious amounts of alcohol. She had faith in no one, not her mother, her friends, not even in herself. Finally, after years of struggling to fit in with her family, she ran away…
Cyntoia was 16, and living with an older woman in Nashville. She was stoned most of the time, and when she wasn’t high on marijuana, was popping ecstasy and sneaking into nightclubs, where she’d drink and dance until the next morning. Her relationships consisted of much older men, who had no qualms about hooking up with an underage girl. It was almost like a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Her life was falling to shreds and she was living out of the apartment of a 24-year-old drug dealer and armed robber known as “Cut-throat”. Before long, he got her addicted to coke and would send her out to the red-light district in Nashville to turn tricks for money. She would get high, go out, do what she needed, and come home to re-up the high. That was her life, until one fateful night…
Cyntoia’s drug-laden life of depravity finally reached its brutal apex on a hot summer night, when a 43-year-old real estate agent picked her up. Though she knew why she was there, Cyntoia’s coke-addled brain had apparently become confused about his true intentions. No sooner had he moved to touch her, than she shot him in the back of the head and ran out into the night, stealing a couple of guns from his house along the way.
Eventually she was found and picked up by the police. She assured the prosecution that she had been defending herself, but given her immense criminal record, they didn’t believe her. In fact, they believed that she had gone home with the man in order to murder him. A jury convicted her of first-degree murder and aggravated robbery. What’s worse, the 16-year-old was facing an adult criminal charge…
The truth of the matter is that the man, Johnny Allen, was indeed sleeping when Cyntoia killed him, took his wallet, keys, and guns, and left. As such, she was sentenced to 51 years to life without the possibility of parole. She still has many, many years to go on that sentence but is currently trying to appeal to the courts to allow her to be paroled at some point down the line.
In another life, brilliant 21-year-old Cyntoia Brown could have been a gifted litigator, a fact which is evident from the time she has spent learning the law in an attempt to secure her own release. For the first time in her life, she is clear-headed, living clean, and believing in herself. We can only hope that this girl, who has suffered so much, finds absolution and forgiveness one day.