Cyntoia Brown, LIFE student at local prison, is subject of film shown at HumanDocs
By Janel Shoun on 10/14/2010
Cyntoia Brown was just 16 years old when she was picked up by a 43-year-old man who ended up dead by her hand. In 2006, she was convicted for murder – as an adult – and sentenced to life in prison.
Today Cyntoia’s story is being told across the nation through the film Me Facing Life: Cyntoia’s Story, a documentary for Independent Television Services (ITVS) by Daniel Birman. Lipscomb University’s HumanDocs Film Series and ITVS Community Cinema are partnering to bring the film to audiences free of charge on Wednesday, Oct. 20, at 8 p.m. in Shamblin Theatre, on the Lipscomb campus.
Six years after the murder, Brown is studying as a Lipscomb University undergraduate student – despite serving a life sentence in the prison at the Tennessee Prison for Women (TPFW) – as part of Lipscomb’s LIFE (Lipscomb Initiative For Education) program. Thirty students from campus spend one night a week studying side-by-side with the inmates for credit.
In addition to the screening of the film, Lipscomb will present a panel including the filmmaker; Brown’s adoptive mother Ellenette Brown (who is featured in the film); Randy Spivey, a local lawyer who has taught Brown in the Lipscomb program; and Preston Shipp, a former appellate prosecutor who worked on her case and who also happened to teach her through the LIFE program.
While Shipp was teaching Brown at TPFW, the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals that affirmed her conviction and sentence, leading to a life-changing decision for Shipp.
“I never thought I would befriend a defendant from one of my cases. In the judicial process class I taught at the prison, we studied various approaches to criminal justice: retributive, rehabilitative, and restorative. Between my friendship with Cyntoia and the curriculum I was teaching, I felt compelled to make a change in my career. It became impossible for me to be a cog in the wheel of a strictly punitive system,” said Shipp, who has left the Attorney General’s Office to work at the Board of Professional Responsibility.
About Me Facing Life: Cyntoia’s Story
In Me Facing Life, Birman’s camera first sights Brown the week of her arrest at age 16 and follows her for nearly six years. Along the way, nationally renowned juvenile forensic psychiatrist, Dr. William Bernet from Vanderbilt University, assesses her situation. Ellenette Brown, Cyntoia’s adoptive mother talks about the young girl’s early years. And Georgina Mitchell, Cyntoia’s biological mother, meets her for the first time since she gave her up for adoption 14 years earlier.
What mystified filmmaker Birman was just how common violence among youth is and just how rarely assumptions about it are questioned. Me Facing Life uncovers three generations of violence in Brown’s maternal line that play into her psychological complexity. The viewer watches her grow to become a woman in five years and hears about the insights she gains along the way.
Cyntoia’s Story was produced by The Independent Television Service (ITVS), which is the co-producing partner with PBS of the Emmy-winning Independent Lens television series. It is scheduled to air on PBS stations nationwide in May 2011. A rough cut of the film was screened at the Nashville Film Festival earlier this year.
Juvenile Justice in Nashville and the USA
The Legal Aid Society of Middle Tennessee and the Cumberlands and Waller Lansden is sponsoring a workshop, featuring Me Facing Life and filmmaker Dan Birman, to provide continuing legal education credits for attorneys at 3 p.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 20, at the Nashville City Center. Cost is $100. To register for the workshop contact Cindy Durham at firstname.lastname@example.org.
About the LIFE Program
The LIFE (Lipscomb Initiative for Education) Program, coordinated by Dr. Richard Goode (615-966-5748), provides Lipscomb University students an academic and service-learning experience like few others. Up to 30 students each semester enroll in a liberal arts course held on-site at the Tennessee Prison for Women (TPFW) and study alongside 30 inmates of the prison. The mix of students and specifically designed coursework provides academic and character-building benefits for both students at the prison and students from campus.
The LIFE Program is unique in that every student in the classroom is a Lipscomb student. ”Outside” students are working on bachelor’s degrees, while “inside” students are working toward 18 hours of liberal arts credit that could be transferred to most universities. Through a higher education designed to introduce students to great thinkers, diverse cultures, critical thinking and effective communication, the LIFE students at TPFW are empowered intellectually, psychologically, socially and spiritually.
About the HumanDocs Film Series
The Lipscomb University School of Humanities in the College of Arts & Sciences presents the HumanDocs Film Series, free monthly screenings of award-winning documentaries exploring social justice issues. The fall series began in September with Crude. God in America, Sin by Silence and Me Facing Life: Cyntoia’s Story are scheduled for October, and Deep Down will be shown in November. Each film will be followed by a panel discussion, often including the filmmaker. These events are all free and open to the public.