Marissa Alexander On Adjusting To Her New Freedom
We’ve been following the tragic and unjust story of Marissa Alexander for years now. As a brief refresher, in July 2010, days after giving birth, Alexander had an altercation with her then estranged husband Rico Gray. Before the incident, Alexander had a restraining order against Gray, who had been violent toward her on more than one occasion. When she learned of her pregnancy, she altered the order to remove the ban on contact. Nine days after the birth of their child, Gray showed up at Marissa’s home and attacked her.
In an open letter, Alexander described the incident.
“He assaulted me, shoving, strangling and holding me against my will, preventing me from fleeing all while I begged for him to leave.”
Alexander managed to escape from the garage but then she remembered that she had forgotten the keys to her truck. She grabbed her legally registered gun to reenter her home. When Gray charged at her, she fired a warning shot. Once Gray left, he called the police and told them Alexander had shot at him and his sons. She was arrested and charged with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon.
Alexander tried to argue self defense, under Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law. But a pretrial judge argued that Alexander could have left her home through the front or back doors. Despite the fact that Gray admitted to not only abusing Alexander but four other women with whom he had children and several family members testified to seeing injuries Gray had inflicted on Alexander, the judge instructed the jury that Alexander had to prove that Gray, beyond reasonable doubt, was committing aggravated battery when she fired the warning shot. After just twelve minutes, the jury returned with a guilty verdict.
Under prosecutor Angela Corey, who decided to add the 10-20 life sentencing enhancement, Alexander was sentenced to 20 years in prison.
In 2013, an appeals court overturned Alexander’s conviction and granting her a new trial. During the new trial, Alexander took a plea deal that included time served (1,030 days in jail) and another 65 days in jail and then two years house arrest.
After 1,095 days in jail, Alexander began house arrest confinement.
Alexander told Truthout that after being out of prison, house arrest provided some relief.
“Being at home and being able to be in the privacy of your own home and turn on a light and sit on a toilet by yourself with the door shut, you just cannot compare that to prison. I can go to the fridge and get what I want when I want.”
Still, Alexander had to pay for her relative freedom. In the state of Florida, people on house arrest have to pay for the cost of their monitoring devices. Alexander estimates that over the past two years, she spent over $10,000. And that doesn’t include the $105 biweekly cost of her electronic monitoring when she was awaiting her new trial.
“I feel like it’s money-making. Period. For electronic monitoring to be an actual alternative to incarceration, there would need to be “some type of pathway for people to really and truly get back on their feet and have resources available to them and some type of support system…You are putting people in the position that they are trying to pay for something that is difficult for them to pay for. Whatever money you paid to the system, they got, but you’re back in jail so now the taxpayers are paying for you. It’s a mess.”
For the first six months of her house arrest, Alexander was granted permission to leave her house only to take her children to school, look for employment and attend church services.
“All the other things you’re able to do, like grocery shopping or upkeep and things like that, I wasn’t able to do.”
Family and friends picked up the slack to take care of those necessities for Alexander and her children.
Eventually, a judge granted Alexander’s request to have the terms of the confinement relaxed, provided that each week Alexander turn in a schedule specifying where she planned to be at each hour.
“The idea is that you don’t deviate from your schedule. There’s been many a time that I’ve been cutting it close at getting home for whatever reason and I needed gas and my truck was on E [empty] and I was just like, ‘I’m going to have to have somebody else get the gas for me or wait for the next day to go back out and get the gas,” she said.
Then there were times when her schedule was not input into the system correctly.
“It’s human error, it happens,” acknowledged Alexander. She remembered several occasions in which she had specified on her schedule that she would be attending church, but when she walked out of her door and began making her way there her monitor began sounding an alert. On these occasions, her cell phone would promptly ring. “Hey, you’re not scheduled to be out. Why are you out?” the voice on the other line would ask. Alexander recalled, “In those instances, I’ll go back home. I wouldn’t go and do what I needed to do.”
Still, even when her schedule was entered properly, she wasn’t able to fully participate in life as she would wish. Alexander was allowed to attend parent-teacher conferences but not extracurricular activities.
“I missed my daughter’s entire basketball season.”
Alexander missed her youngest daughter’s elementary school award ceremony and there were many days when she couldn’t take her children out to the park or to ride their bikes.
“Those things are always really difficult,” she said.
Now, that she’s finally free, Alexander said she’s still adjusting.
“I find myself wanting to stay in my house just like I was doing before.”
Alexander has also been using her newfound freedom to advocate for changes in the system that took her away from her children. Last month, she spoke before the Senate Rule Committee in favor of Senate Bill 128 which would shift the burden of proof from the defendant to the state in Stand Your Ground hearings.
She told the committee: “I’m just going to give you three numbers. Number one. Number 12. And number 20. For me, one shot, a 12-minute verdict got me 20 years. I did go through a Stand Your Ground hearing. And in that hearing, you could tell the court and the prosecution struggled with that because it was difficult. With that said, putting a defendant in the position where they have to bear the burden of proof, in my opinion, removes your Constitutional right, the Fifth Amendment.”
In the two years she spent on house arrest, Alexander wrote a manuscript about her experiences and started the Marissa Alexander Justice Project, an organization that will work to end domestic violence, criminalization of abuse survivors, mandatory sentencing, sentencing disparities, the school-to-prison pipeline and the adjudication of teenagers as adults, for which Florida has the highest in the country.
“I’m going to be part of what’s already out there and use my experiences and my name to bring more to it,” Alexander said. “I’m not separate from anybody. This will be my contribution in solidarity.”
You can read Alexander’s full interview with Truthout, here.