Join us for a powerful evening of dialogue between Dr. Tara Betts, the Literary Editor of New City, and author Cyntoia Brown-Long as they discuss her new book, Free Cyntoia: My Search for Redemption in the American Prison System. They will also reflect on the impact of trafficking in Black communities in recognition of January as Human Trafficking Awareness Month.
Cyntoia became a victim of sex trafficking at the age of 16. She was arrested for killing a man who had solicited her for sex, tried as an adult, and sentenced to life in prison. Her case inspired international attention under the banner #FreeCyntoia and her sentence was commuted in 2019.
Chicago-based survivor-leader and advocate, Brenda Stewart, will open the evening with her own testimony of surviving “the life” on the streets of Chicago and the work she does to advocate for and support other survivors of exploitation and sexual violence. There will be a Q+A with the audience towards the end of the program.
Free Cyntoia will be available for purchase throughout the program.
Tickets are available on a sliding scale from $5-20. No one will be turned away for lack of funds. The event is open to those aged 13 and up and accessible to those using wheelchairs or other mobility devices. For more information, please contact Nikki Patin at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Cyntoia had a difficult start to life. She was born to an alcoholic, teenage mother who was also a victim of sex trafficking. Cyntoia experienced a sense of isolation, low self-esteem, and alienation that drove her straight into the hands of a predator. Cyntoia became a victim of sex trafficking and at the age of 16 was arrested for killing a man who had solicited her for sex. She was tried as an adult and was sentenced to life in prison without chance of parole for 51 years. In prison, Cyntoia’s life took a dramatic turn when the prison education principal took her under her wing and introduced her to a spiritual path. She encouraged her to build a positive life in prison and to resist the negative influences that lead to despair.
Her journey was a roller coaster ride that included a documentary about her life, a profound encounter with God, an unlikely romance, and, eventually, a commuted sentence by Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam. She received an unprecedented national and international outpouring of support from social media advocates, pastors, and celebrities and was released from prison in Nashville, TN on August 7, 2019.
Her memoir, Free Cyntoia: My Search for Redemption in the American Prison System (Atria Books, October, 2019), written while in prison, documents her early years and the 15 years she was incarcerated, and takes readers on a coming-of-age spiritual journey. Set against the shocking backdrop of a life behind bars and the injustice of sentencing sex-trafficked juveniles as adults, Cyntoia struggled to overcome a legacy of family addiction and a lifetime of being ostracized and abandoned by society. Of her time in prison, Cyntoia says, “I was just a teenager when I was sent to live behind a razor wire fence. My entire coming of age was within the walls of the Tennessee Prison for Women.”
Cyntoia hopes that her story will not only inspire others but also shine a light on the injustice that people still face on a daily basis, especially the injustice to women and children in American prisons.
Tara Betts is the author of Break the Habit and Arc & Hue. She's a co-editor of The Beiging of America: Personal Narratives about Being Mixed Race in the 21st Century and editor of the critical edition of Philippa Duke Schuyler's memoir Adventures in Black and White. In addition to her work as the Lit Editor at Newcity and Poetry Editor at Another Chicago Magazine, Tara teaches at the Stonecoast MFA program at University of Southern Maine.
The Chicago Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation (CAASE), in partnership with the Cook County Human Trafficking Task Force (CCHTTF), the University of Chicago, A Long Walk Home, the University of Illinois-Chicago, Guild Literary Complex, Selah Freedom and Contexture Media, are presenting this important event in recognition of January as Human Trafficking Awareness Month.