This is a story sure to divide readers. Some will see a young woman who got exactly what she deserved. Others will see a damaged child deserving of a second chance the criminal justice system can't give her. Cyntoia Brown is the subject of this week's cover, "Life Begins at Sixteen," and a documentary called Me Facing Life: Cyntoia's Story by Dan Birman, who followed the girl from her juvenile transfer hearing to her trial two years later — and posed tough questions about the logic of adult punishments dealt to those who have not yet reached adulthood.
Before I'd begun researching this piece, the brutality of her crime shocked me — and it still does. After seeing Birman's film and Cyntoia's stunningly young, 16-year-old face, I was left with an emptiness in the pit of my stomach that took me days to shake. Cyntoia's story offers no easy answers, but it should, at the very least, force us to search our souls. We are the last country, aside from South Africa and Israel, that still hands down life sentences to juveniles.
If you'd like to see the documentary, head to the downtown Nashville Public Library library at 2:30 p.m. tomorrow (Saturday). The film will be preceded by a reception and workshop led by filmmaker/activist Molly Secours. Afterwards, there'll be a panel discussion including Cyntoia's adoptive mother, Ellenette Washington; Vanderbilt forensic psychologist Dr. William Bernet, who worked on Cyntoia's case; victim's rights advocate Jyl Shaffer; Cyntoia's former juvenile attorney Kathy Evans; and moderator Jonathan Martin of WSMV-TV.
If you can't make it to the library this weekend, the film premieres 9 p.m. Tuesday, March 1 as part of PBS's Independent Lens series. Check it locally on NPT (Channel 8).