MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Cyntoia Brown-Long garnered national headlines when her murder sentence was commuted by former Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam.
She long kept silent after she was released from prison but is now beginning to speak publicly.
Sunday night, she spoke in Memphis.
Brown-Long told the crowd at New Direction Church that her problem began before she was forced into sex trafficking.
“I had already come to view myself as a commodity. I had already come to believe that I wasn’t okay unless I was attractive,” said Brown-Long.
Brown-Long says at age 16, she was living on the streets in Nashville. She was forced into prostitution by a man she thought cared for her but physically and sexually abused her.
“If you’re going to be having sex in this house, you’re going to have to be able to pay a bill. They started to teach me that my body was a tool to get the things that I needed. If rent was due, we all needed to, in some way, bring some money back,” said Brown-Long.
In August 2004, Brown-Long shot and killed Johnny Allen in Nashville -- a man who agreed to pay her for sex. She has maintained that she feared for her life.
Brown-Long told the crowd about the moment she was convicted of murder at 18 years old.
“The sense that the ground had just fell out from underneath you. Like when you hear that… I was just 18 years old. I had never had a driver’s license. So, you’re telling me my life is just done,” said Brown-Long.
Her story became a national movement, with celebrities backing her release.
She had remained silent for months after her sentence was commuted.
Brown-Long’s book “Free Cyntoia” was released last week. She hopes her story can help young women and change the criminal justice system.
“What happened, it was a tragedy on all sides. And if something that I can say can help somebody turn them on a different path, can help somebody learn how to prevent it from happening, then I’m going to tell it,” said Brown-Long.
Brown-Long declined to do an interview with local media after her appearance.
This event was a part of a national tour to promote her new book.