CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (WCIA) — Cyntoia Brown never imagined she’d end up here, sharing her life story with a room full of strangers.

At a young age, she ended up on the streets in Nashville, Tenn.

“I was picked up by an older man who picked me up for sex. He was 43 years old, I was 16,” Brown said.

Brown was convicted of shooting and killing that man. Her lawyers claimed self-defense. Prosecutors argued that she killed the man as part of a plan to rob him. Brown was found guilty of first-degree murder and spent 15 years in prison.

“I can’t bring him back, but maybe I can prevent it from happening to someone else,” Brown said.

Her story made national news several years ago. Tennessee’s governor granted her clemency in 2019. For some the story would end there, but hers was just getting started.

“God had a different plan for me, I went to prison, got college degrees, I developed some relationships with some amazing people, one of which who’s here with me today, my husband,” Brown said.

She says she lives with her past every day, but that’s why she’s using her experience to help others.

“Just actually hearing what she lived through was inspiring and just like the perseverance that she went through just shows she’s a strong individual that she is today,” Makayla Hinkle said.

Makayla Hinkle is a sophomore at U of I. She told me listening to Brown taught her god watches over all of us and also wants to see change in society.

“Just like more respect, just like women being able to have the things that many different people have just like being treated as a human being, being treated as an individual,” Hinkle said.

Brown’s focus since her release has been on helping other victims of sex trafficking, including those who find themselves in a situation similar to the one she was in.

“That other young people in that situation, they understand the consequences behind thinking that moment, acting on impulse,” Brown said.

Brown says incarceration was a dark period for her, but she used it as an opportunity to learn.

“To grow into something more than what I was before I went in there,” Brown said.