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Included in Faces of Trafficking group exhibition at the University of Toledo

Cyntoia Brown: “Memories...there’s just a whole lot of memories”

Officer (off camera): “Are they good memories, bad memories, or just memories in general?”

Cyntoia Brown: “Uh, mostly bad.”

(Excerpt from Me Facing Life: Cyntoia’s Story)

On August 6, 2004, a pimp named “Kutthroat” sent 16 year old Cyntoia Brown to the streets of Nashville, Tennessee to prostitute herself. 43 year old Johnny Michael Allen picked up Cyntoia on August 6th and brought her back to his house. Later that night, when Allen reached for a gun, Cyntoia shot him in self-defense before Allen had a chance to shoot her. A few months later, Cyntoia Brown sat in her prison cell, awaiting trial for her involvement in Allen’s death. With her journal open on her lap, she spoke to an officer about its contents. She kept a detailed log of her memories- the good, but mostly bad.


She developed a series of symbols to indicate the details of each time someone had sex with her or raped her. There were symbols next each memory, beginning at age 7. On November 14, 2004, a judge in the Tennessee Metro Juvenile Court chose to try Cyntoia as an adult for the homicide of Johnny Michael Allen. Her lawyer asked if she was willing to use her journal in court. Cyntoia refused, even though providing the judge with her background of abuse could help her case. She was sentenced to life in prison. Sexual abuse is the most reliable predictor of a person’s exploitation of traffickers. This piece uses 5,475 symbols to represent the amount of days (15 years total) Cyntoia Brown spent in prison before being granted clemency.

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