Cyntoia Brown, a woman serving a life sentence for killing a man when she was a 16-year-old prostitute, smiles at family members during her clemency hearing Wednesday, May 23, 2018, at Tennessee Prison for Women in Nashville, Tenn. It is her first bid for freedom before a parole board since the 2004 crime. (Lacy Atkins /The Tennessean via AP, Pool)
PHOTO: Lacy Atkins/The Tennessean/AP
Cyntoia Brown, a woman serving a life sentence for killing a man when she was a 16-year-old prostitute, smiles at family members during her clemency hearing Wednesday, May 23, 2018, at Tennessee Prison for Women in Nashville, Tenn. It is her first bid for freedom before a parole board since the 2004 crime. (Lacy Atkins /The Tennessean via AP, Pool)
Now playing
02:30
Cyntoia Brown granted clemency after 15 years
FILE - In this Jan. 29, 2011 file photo, Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi speaks on his cellphone at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. Saud Al-Mojeb, Saudi Arabia
PHOTO: Virginia Mayo/AP
FILE - In this Jan. 29, 2011 file photo, Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi speaks on his cellphone at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. Saud Al-Mojeb, Saudi Arabia's top prosecutor, is recommending the death penalty for five suspects charged with ordering and carrying out the killing of Saudi writer Jamal Khashoggi. Al-Mojeb told a press conference in Riyadh Thursday, Nov. 15, 2018, that Khashoggi's killers had been planning the operation since September 29, three days before he was killed inside the kingdom's consulate in Istanbul. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo, File)
Now playing
02:52
3 names mysteriously removed from Khashoggi Intel report
Protesters take cover behind homemade shields as tear gas is fired during a demonstration against the military coup in Yangon on March 1, 2021. (Photo by STR / AFP) (Photo by STR/AFP via Getty Images)
PHOTO: STR/AFP/AFP via Getty Images
Protesters take cover behind homemade shields as tear gas is fired during a demonstration against the military coup in Yangon on March 1, 2021. (Photo by STR / AFP) (Photo by STR/AFP via Getty Images)
Now playing
02:16
Footage shows tear gas, flash bangs used on protesters in Myanmar
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo speaks during a news conference at a COVID-19 vaccination site in the Brooklyn borough of New York, Monday, Feb. 22, 2021. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig, Pool)
PHOTO: Seth Wenig/Pool/AP
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo speaks during a news conference at a COVID-19 vaccination site in the Brooklyn borough of New York, Monday, Feb. 22, 2021. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig, Pool)
Now playing
01:12
Gov. Andrew Cuomo responds to allegations of sexual harassment
 Psaki biden White House Khashoggi Saudi Arabia sotu bash vpx _00011629.png
PHOTO: CNN
Psaki biden White House Khashoggi Saudi Arabia sotu bash vpx _00011629.png
Now playing
03:42
Bash to Psaki: Why hasn't Saudi Arabia been held accountable for murder of Khashoggi?
NEW YORK, NY - JULY 23: New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo speaks during the daily media briefing at the Office of the Governor of the State of New York on July 23, 2020 in New York City. The Governor said the state liquor authority has suspended 27 bar and restaurant alcohol licenses for violations of social distancing rules as public officials try to keep the coronavirus outbreak under control. (Photo by Jeenah Moon/Getty Images)
PHOTO: Jeenah Moon/Getty Images
NEW YORK, NY - JULY 23: New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo speaks during the daily media briefing at the Office of the Governor of the State of New York on July 23, 2020 in New York City. The Governor said the state liquor authority has suspended 27 bar and restaurant alcohol licenses for violations of social distancing rules as public officials try to keep the coronavirus outbreak under control. (Photo by Jeenah Moon/Getty Images)
Now playing
04:04
NYT: Second former aide accuses Gov. Andrew Cuomo of sexual harassment
PHOTO: CNN Weather
Now playing
02:23
Over 25 million people under threat for severe storms and flash flooding
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi
PHOTO: House TV
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi
Now playing
02:52
House passes Biden's $1.9 trillion Covid-19 relief package
PHOTO: CNN
Now playing
02:54
'Biggest trial of my life': Landlord says eviction moratorium has drained her savings
Jeremy Lin
PHOTO: Getty Images
Jeremy Lin
Now playing
03:40
Ex-NBA star Jeremy Lin says he's been called 'coronavirus' on the court
covid-19 relief package house biden sot malveaux nr vpx _00000000.png
PHOTO: CNN
covid-19 relief package house biden sot malveaux nr vpx _00000000.png
Now playing
02:28
CNN's Joe Johns explains Biden's short speech as relief bill heads to Senate
Misinformation Trump Capitol March rn orig_00004630.png
Misinformation Trump Capitol March rn orig_00004630.png
Now playing
04:08
These Trump supporters are convinced he will be president again on March 4
PHOTO: Isaac Abrack
Now playing
03:00
Hear from schoolgirl who escaped abduction in Nigeria
AURORA, CO - DECEMBER 15: (EDITORIAL USE ONLY) Rocky Mountain Regional VA Medical Center investigational pharmacy technician Sara Berech holds a dose of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine before it is administered in a clinical trial on December 15, 2020 in Aurora, Colorado. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine could be submitted for emergency use by late January and is the only vaccine among leading candidates given as a single dose. (Photo by Michael Ciaglo/Getty Images)
PHOTO: Michael Ciaglo/Getty Images
AURORA, CO - DECEMBER 15: (EDITORIAL USE ONLY) Rocky Mountain Regional VA Medical Center investigational pharmacy technician Sara Berech holds a dose of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine before it is administered in a clinical trial on December 15, 2020 in Aurora, Colorado. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine could be submitted for emergency use by late January and is the only vaccine among leading candidates given as a single dose. (Photo by Michael Ciaglo/Getty Images)
Now playing
03:19
Doctor who voted to approve Johnson and Johhnson vaccine speaks out
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman attends a conference in the Saudi capital Riyadh on October 2018.
PHOTO: FAYEZ NURELDINE/AFP/Getty Images
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman attends a conference in the Saudi capital Riyadh on October 2018.
Now playing
02:10
US intel report: Saudi Crown Prince responsible for approving Khashoggi operation
PHOTO: CNN
Now playing
02:24
Acosta corrects CPAC organizer: Trump did lose the election
WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 17: The U.S. Capitol dome is seen beyond a security fence on January 17, 2021 in Washington, DC. After last week
PHOTO: Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images
WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 17: The U.S. Capitol dome is seen beyond a security fence on January 17, 2021 in Washington, DC. After last week's riots at the U.S. Capitol Building, the FBI has warned of additional threats in the nation's capital and in all 50 states. According to reports, as many as 25,000 National Guard soldiers will be guarding the city as preparations are made for the inauguration of Joe Biden as the 46th U.S. President. (Photo by Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images)
Now playing
02:33
This is what's in the $1.9 trillion coronavirus package
(CNN) —  

Cyntoia Brown was released from prison early Wednesday morning after being granted clemency in January by then-Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam, according to the Tennessee Department of Corrections.

Initially sentenced to life in prison for killing a man who bought her for sex when she was 16, Brown was released to parole supervision after spending more than a decade jailed.

“I look forward to using my experiences to help other women and girls suffering abuse and exploitation,” Brown said in a statement following her release.

Her case drew the attention of high-profile advocates, lawmakers and A-list celebrities and even prompted a documentary. Here is what you should know about what happened and why she is walking free.

She went to prison a teen and is coming out an adult

Brown has spent half of her life behind bars.

In 2004, she was sentenced to life in prison in connection with the killing of a 43-year-old man. At 16-years-old, she was tried as an adult and convicted of first-degree murder, first degree felony murder and aggravated robbery.

Brown’s sentence required her to serve at least 51 years in prison before she was eligible for parole. The now 31-year-old is scheduled to be released after serving 15 years.

She says she was defending herself from her rapist

Much of the controversy surrounding her case came from what she said happened leading up to the killing.

Brown testified at her trial that at 16 she was solicited for sex by Johnny Mitchell Allen.

He brought her back to his house, Brown testified, where she saw a gun cabinet. Brown testified that she had been forced into prostitution by a pimp and resisted Allen. But then, she said she saw him reach under the bed, and she believed he was going to kill her.

In self-defense, she reached for a gun in her purse and shot him, she said.

The prosecution argued during her trial that she shot him in an attempt to rob him, because she took his wallet afterward.

She had the support of A-List celebrities

Years after Brown’s sentencing, her case became a widespread conversation on social media, inspiring the viral hashtag #FreeCyntoiaBrown. Among those promoting her story and advocating for her release online were celebrities, most notably Rihanna and Kim Kardashian West.

Rihanna posted on social media: “Imagine at the age of 16 being sex-trafficked by a pimp named ‘cut-throat.’ After days of being repeatedly drugged and raped by different men you were purchased by a 43-year-old child predator who took you to his home to use you for sex. You end up finding enough courage to fight back and shoot and kill him.”

“Your (sic) arrested as (sic) result tried and convicted as an adult and sentenced to life in prison,” Rihanna’s post continues. “This is the story of Cyntoia Brown. She will be eligible for parole when she is 69 years old.”

Kardashian West, who championed Brown’s release and has become an advocate for criminal justice reform, praised the governor’s decision to grant clemency.

She is coming out with a degree

“I learned that my life was – and is – not over,” Brown said in a documentary, “Me Facing Life: Cyntoia’s Story.” “I can create opportunities where I can actually help people.”

In prison, Brown received her associate degree from Lipscomb University in 2015 and, according to The Tennessean, obtained a bachelor’s degree in the Tennessee Prison for Women in May.

She collaborated with Tennessee’s Juvenile Justice System to help counsel young people at risk, and her supporters say she’s been a model inmate during her incarceration.

“She is light years today, as a woman, different from the traumatized 16-year-old that she was,” Derri Smith, founder and CEO of non-profit End Slavery Tennessee, said last January. “She’s mentoring … troubled youth, working on her college degree, she is planning a nonprofit so she can help other young people.”

CNN’s Jamiel Lynch, Darran Simon, AJ Willingham, Mallory Gafas, Tina Burnside contributed to this report.