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Cyntoia Brown, granted clemency, says Christian school’s program changed her life

While in a Tennessee prison for murder, Brown got a degree with the help of Lipscomb University.

My Christian Chronicle story, picked up by Religion News Service and published in the Washington Post

By Bobby Ross Jr.

Each semester, the LIFE program at Nashville’s Lipscomb University, which is associated with the Churches of Christ, pairs students with inmates serving time in the Tennessee Prison for Women.

This week, the most high-profile graduate of that academic program — offered behind the prison’s locked steel doors and razor-wire perimeter — made national headlines when Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam (R) granted her full clemency.

Cyntoia Brown will be released Aug. 7 after serving 15 years for the 2004 murder of Johnny Allen, 43, whom Brown shot to death when she was 16.

“This decision comes after careful consideration of what is a tragic and complex case,” Haslam said in a news release. “Cyntoia Brown committed, by her own admission, a horrific crime at the age of 16.”

“Yet, imposing a life sentence on a juvenile that would require her to serve at least 51 years before being eligible for parole consideration is too harsh, especially in light of the extraordinary steps Ms. Brown has taken to rebuild her life,” added the governor, who is in his final days in office. “Transformation should be accompanied by hope.”

In pushing for commutation of Brown’s sentence, supporters — including celebrities such as Rihanna, Kim Kardashian West and Ashley Judd — depicted her as a victim of sex trafficking. A 2011 film, “Me Facing Life: Cyntoia’s Story,” details her life as a teenage runaway forced into prostitution by an abusive boyfriend.

“I am thankful for all of the support, prayers and encouragement I have received,” Brown, 30, said in a written statement after the governor’s decision. “We truly serve a God of second chances and new beginnings. The Lord has held my hand this whole time, and I would never have made it without him. Let today be a testament to his saving grace.”

Ross writes for the Christian Chronicle, where this story first appeared. It was distributed by Religion News Service.

Read the full story.

This story appears on Page B2 of the Washington Post.

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