Cyntoia Brown: a suitable case for compassion (2)
A pretty boring football match had me shuffling through programmes I’d saved, and decided on “The 16-Year-old Killer: Cyntoia’s Story”, recently repeated on BBC3. Cyntoia was 15 when she found herself pimped out by a 24-year old drug dealer and addict with a history of violence and the nickname “Cut-throat”. Picked up in a notorious red light district, something tragic happened along the way that resulted in her shooting dead the 43-year old man she met that night.
Tried as an adult, she was sentenced to life imprisonment. Film maker Daniel Birman was given access to her and he followed the whole process. The result is one of the most humane and heart-rending documentaries I’ve ever seen.
That Cyntoia was damaged is beyond doubt: there are times when, glassy-eyed, you can almost imagine a psychopath lurking inside. But with a history of abandonment and sexual abuse, it’s hardly surprising she would develop a carapace, despite the obvious love of her adopted mother. However, she matures throughout the course of the film, and what we actually learn about her is that she is stoic, sensitive and fiercely intelligent. What did the men want, she is asked; “Sex… for money” is her initial response, but then she pauses and, in a moment of blindingly adult insight, she adds, “No… they wanted acceptance and admiration.” No sixteen year old should have that kind of knowledge.
So Cyntoia’s compensation for all that abuse and pain and hurt was to be called a cold-blooded killer and to be sent down for the rest of her life. A fifteen year old, unable to understand the complexities of the legal system and duped during questioning, then thrown on the scrap heap, no possibility of rehabilitation or redemption considered. What a waste.
But that’s the great state of Tennessee. Read the responses to the excellent Brantley Hargrove article in the Nashville Scene, and you’ll get a sense of just how inhumane they like justice to be over there. How can you have any hope for a world in which people react to this kid’s plight with:
“This rotten, no-good little bitch will be out on parole in four years, so spare us the frickin’ violins. Public safety is more important than giving second chances to monsters”?
Of course, it’s also no accident that such people glory in the fact that Cyntoia is now locked up for the rest of her life in the “penile system”; with inhumanity comes ignorance. Thankfully, looking at the “likes” and “dislikes” on the message board, such heartless bastards are in a minority.
I believe that justice must often include an element of punishment, but have never understood the notion that the more severe the punishment, the better the needs of the victim are served. Of course, such a simplistic notion is attractive to politicians who want to avoid systems that truly take care of victims and their families because such systems – full compensation, counselling, relocation if appropriate, health and social care – are too expensive to countenance; the argument that says, “what about the victims; lock them up and throw away the key” is much, much cheaper, and then allows the next step, the “why should we pay for them to live in luxury; just execute them.” It’s why restorative justice – which truly does look after the victim’s needs – is so valuable.
I can’t understand the mindset of anyone wanting to lock up a damaged and abused child for the rest of her life. A petition to release her pending review of her case can be found here: Free Cyntoia Brown Petition | GoPetition . Please read her story and consider signing.
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