Murder to Mercy: The Life of Cyntoia Brown

Murder to Mercy is a documentary that details out the history, incarceration, and eventual release of Cyntoia Brown. Cyntoia was convicted of the murder of 43 year-old Johnny Allen in 2005. She maintained from the moment that she was arrested that she killed him out of self-defense. She was a prostitute at the time and always kept a gun on her. When she saw Allen reach towards his nightstand, she thought he was reaching for a gun and grabbed hers to shoot him and protect herself. However, this documentary does not primarily focus on her guilt or innocence but more so discusses her rehabilitation and reform. The audience is shown footage and interviews from when she was arrested at the age of 16 and in this hour and a half long documentary goes on a journey with her as she grows up, goes to college, and seeks freedom all from behind bars. While she does claim self-defense, she also claims responsibility and remorse. She knows what she did was wrong and wishes she could take it back. This leads the audience to walk a line of hating Johnny Allen for putting a 16 year-old in that position but also recognizing that prison was probably the best thing that could have happened to Cyntoia. If she had not been incarcerated for those 14 years, she most likely would have remained a prostitute and led a life full of crime and darkness. Instead, she viewed prison as an opportunity to better her own life and truly change.

From the time Cyntoia Brown was born, or perhaps even before she was born it seemed as if life had already dealt her a bad hand of cards. Cyntoia was born in January 1988 to a woman named Georgina Mitchell, her biological father is unknown. Murder to Mercy brings to life just how Cyntoia’s biological family, mother and maternal grandmother, have affected her life though they were not actively apart of it. Georgina Mitchell, in the documentary, openly admits to the heavy consumption of alcohol at the time of her pregnancy with Cyntoia causing Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder which directly affects Cyntoia’s learning capabilities as well as causing severe mood swings, and ultimately leading to the abuse of drugs and alcohol – this is only a fraction of the problem. To find the root of the families’ problems, we must first look at Cyntoia’s maternal grandmother, Joan Warren. It is in the documentary that Warren spares the gritty details of how her family existed to begin with, about how she was brutally raped eventually leading to the birth of her daughter, Georgina Mitchell. This seemed to be a pattern in the lives of both Warren and Mitchell, the bad situations, the sexual assaults, the abuse of different drugs and alcohol. All of which led to the separation of Cyntoia from her biological mother at only two years of age. Though Cyntoia had no real connection between her biological mother, or grandmother, it seemed as though the family traits were passed down in more ways than just her looks. In fact, both Georgina and Joan call it a hereditary problem. Of course, this can be seen in the constant struggles with various addictions that the entire family seems to face and is something that Cyntoia has worked hard to remove and cope with during her life in prison.

Today, now known as Cyntoia Brown Long, is a 33-year-old free woman. She was able to get married, and since her release has worked in a variety of ways already to open the discussions on the criminal justice system, and about domestic minor sex trafficking happening here in America. She has been a keynote speaker, an activist, and she and her husband founded a nonprofit called The Foundation for Justice, Freedom, and Mercy shortly after her release from prison. Their nonprofit works to help individuals who may be exploited or must be heavily involved with the criminal justice system without reason. Overall, she has come out of her terrible situation as a strong and influential woman who has already helped create a lot of awareness and change in a short time. Rather than running from the past and trying to create a new life for herself as often formerly incarcerated people do who are released for reasons outside of simply serving their sentence, she has embraced what happened to her in the terrible situation she should have never been a part of, and used her situation to try and help others who may not have been as successful as her in having their lives given back to them in these types of situations. She has never run from her own guilt in her situation, but rather examined it in the larger sense of how a sixteen-year-old girl was able to get the point of being involved in such terrible and serious situations, and she now has become an incredibly positive force in our communities, helping to create change, and give a voice to those who may not have anyone else on their side.

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