The Brentwood chapter for End Slavery Tennessee hosted a benefit dinner at the Brentwood Country Club last weekend to a group of around 50 people.
The all-volunteer group hosted prominent Nashville attorney Charles Bone as the speaker, who recently represented Cyntoia Brown, a victim of child sex trafficking, in her successful bid for clemency in August.
While Bone may primarily practice business law, a documentary he watched titled, “Me Facing Life: Cyntoia’s Story,” at the 2010 Nashville Film Festival left him wanting to get involved in the case pro bono.
“After seeing that documentary, I was just stunned about what I thought were issues that I just could not lay aside,” Bone said.
He discussed during the event the unique challenges Brown faced, such as growing up in a household where both her mother and grandmother were involved in prostitution. Additionally, Brown’s mother testified about her struggle with alcoholism while pregnant with her daughter.
“Cyntoia was doomed from birth,” Bone said. “She was the classic victim of fetal alcohol syndrome.”
Brown was 16 when she shot and killed Johnny Mitchell Allen in 2004 after he allegedly paid her for sex. Her 24-year-old boyfriend at the time, a pimp known as “Kut Throat,” had raped her and forced her into prostitution.
Brown shot Allen when she saw him reaching for what she believed was a gun.
As a minor, she was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison without he possibly of parole until she served 51 years behind bars.
While in prison, Brown pursued an education through the LIFE program sponsored by Libscomb University and graduated with honors.
“Cyntoia didn’t make anything less than an A,” Bone said. “Libscomb University and the Tennessee Prison for Women saved her life.”
A series of meetings with then Governor Bill Haslam and his legal staff in late 2018 got the wheels turning towards clemency. A meeting with Haslam in January of this year was one Bone and other members of Brown’s legal team would never forget after 10 years of work.
Haslam announced he would let Brown out of prison on parole in August of this year, which was exactly 15 years served.
“Lawyers aren’t supposed to cry, but I just broke down,” Bone said.
The victory was celebratory for Bone; however, he wished he could have worked towards additional prison reform.
“We couldn’t convince the courts that treating juveniles like [Brown] was treated was unconstitutional in America,” Bone said. “That’s my greatest disappointment that we never found a court that would say this is wrong. This should not have happened. There should be a better way to treat juveniles who commit serious crimes.”
Bone also shared his thoughts on Brown’s upcoming book, set to be released on Oct. 15, titled, “Free Cyntoia: My Search for Redemption in the American Prison System.”
“It’s an amazing story of redemption, salvation, her faith and how she met her husband,” Bone said. “When you read this book, you will be really impressed.”
Bone ended the evening by sharing words Brown had wrote to supporters of End Slavery Tennessee.
“I believe that we’re in the middle of an important moment for girls and women in this country,” she wrote. “Together, we can create a movement that secures a safer, healthier future for all the children in America, by cultivating awareness on what it means to be sexually exploited, to be sexually trafficked, harassed and assaulted, and the way in which these violations present themselves, we can empower ourselves to affect real change in our society.”
About End Slavery TN
End Slavery Tennessee’s mission is to provide comprehensive aftercare for human trafficking survivors and address the problem through advocacy, prevention and training of frontline professionals.
The Tennessee Human Trafficking Hotline is 1-855-558-6484. For more information on End Slavery Tennessee, go to https://www.endslaverytn.org.