Cyntoia Brown says she’s honored to be the picture of what a second chance after prison looks like.
Brown was granted clemency and released from prison after spending more than a decade jailed for killing Johnny Mitchell Allen, who Brown said bought her for sex when she was 16.
In her first interview since being released, Brown told NBC’s Lester Holt she knows many are wondering whether she’s really changed.
“I feel like it’s an honor to actually be the picture of what rehabilitation looks like, of what it looks like when we do give people a second chance.”
In January, then Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam announced Brown had been granted clemency after “careful consideration of what is a tragic and complex case.”
“It was like the most amazing feeling, it was kind of like I could just breathe,” Brown told Holt. “I could just exhale.”
She had already served 15 years in prison after being tried as an adult and convicted of first-degree murder, first-degree felony murder and aggravated robbery.
Brown told Holt she thinks about the night she shot Allen “a lot,” as well as feeling violence was always around the corner the weeks prior to the killing. She said in the weeks before the incident, she had “been raped by different men.”
“(I was) always feeling like I had to defend myself,” she said in the interview. “Expecting, you know, for men to be violent towards me.”
But she says she recognizes Allen was also a victim.
“I can’t sit here and say that I feel like I’m deserving of compassion and then sit here and say at the same time, don’t have any compassion for this person,” she said. “No, he is a victim, you know.”
Still a convicted murderer
But despite being released, Brown is still a convicted murderer, she said in the interview.
She has said she was forced into prostitution after a childhood filled with drugs, abuse and rape.
“She was staying with different people and using drugs and alcohol,” a 2014 petition for appeal reads. She then met a 24-year-old named “Cut Throat” who, according to the petition, eventually began physically and sexually abusing her and forced her into prostitution.
In August 2004, Brown testified she was solicited for sex by 43-year-old Allen, who drove her back to her house after picking her up near a Sonic parking lot. She said she saw a gun cabinet in his room.
She resisted his advances and when he appeared to reach under the bed, she grabbed a gun out of her purse and shot him.
During her trial, the prosecution argued that the motive for the killing was not self-defense, as Brown claimed, but rather robbery, since Brown took Allen’s wallet after she shot him.
CNN’s AJ Willingham contributed to this report.