Throughout the history of the country and the world, survivors of interpersonal violence (IPV) are repeatedly incarcerated and punished for defending themselves against assault or abuse.
While some of these cases have been resolved, many are still active and ongoing. Their legal and support teams need your help. On this page, we'll list the cases we highlight on our instagram page and give you more information about them. We'll also offer some ways you can directly get involved with these cases to take action in favor of incarcerated survivors.
*Content Warning: The below cases highlight details of IPV (assault, harassment, and abuse). Additionally, details related to racial and gender violence, transphobia, and oppression are discussed.
Highlighted Cases and Action Items
In 1855, a 19-year-old enslaved woman named Celia was convicted of murdering her slave owner, Robert Newsom, by a jury of 12 white men. Celia had been raped repeatedly by Newsom before she bore two of his children. Later, Celia was being courted by another enslaved man named George. When she became pregnant a third time, George told Newsom the abuse had to stop, but it didn't. On June 23, 1855, after years of begging him to stop, Newsom attempted to rape again Celia before she fought him off by hitting him twice with a stick, killing him. An appeal of her conviction was denied and she was killed by the state later that year.
A librarian at the Missouri Historical Society called Celia's trial "a sham," saying that "Most everyone on the jury was either pro-slavery or they owned slaves themselves. The thought of a slave — and let alone a female slave — getting away with something like this was not anything they would permit. The defense tried very hard to play on sympathy and cast Robert Newsom as a predator. … But the racial politics of the day won out."
2. Marissa Alexander | No perfect victims interview |
One year later
Marissa Alexander served three years in jail after firing a warning shot toward her husband, who had abused her in the past and was threatening to kill her. The shot Alexander fired did not hit or injure anyone. Marissa was originally prosecuted for aggravated assault in 2012 and given a minimum sentence of 20 years, but was released in 2015 on a plea deal. This case took place in Florida, where the state’s stand-your-ground law justifies self-defense. Today, she is an advocate for incarcerated survivors in the US.
(Photo: Bruce Lipsky/Florida Times-Union)
3. CeCe McDonald | Free CeCe documentary | Article: CeCe reflects on life after prison | ACLU: CeCe is free, but more work remains
5. Alisha Walker | Fader article | Sign the petition | More ways to support
Alisha Walker is a sex worker who was imprisoned for defending herself against an aggressive client when she was 19 years old. Despite the fact the no physical evidence was recovered from the scene, Alisha was arrested for second degree murder and sentenced to 15 years in prison.
In 2014, Alisha was at the client’s house with another sex worker when the client, Alan Filan, a local teacher, demanded that the sex be unprotected. Walker and the other worker refused and Filan became violent with the two women, punching Alisha in the face and grabbing a knife. Alisha managed to get the knife away from Filan and stabbed him before fleeing the scene. He was later found dead.
Alisha’s legal team has been diligently working to appeal her sentences, but they need your help. Click the links above to sign the petition to demand her release and find more information about letter writing campaigns both to Alisha and to state officials.
(Photo: Support Ho(s)e / Justice for Alisha Walker Facebook page)
6. Tewkunzi Green | Website | Write a letter to Tewkunzi
Tewkunzi Green is a Black mother from Illinois who stabbed her abusive boyfriend while defending herself and her child from his attack. He later died from his injuries.
Tewkunzi was 34 years old when she was attacked by the father of her child in 2007. He backed her up against the kitchen wall and choked her while she was holding her infant son. Tewkunzi feared that she would pass out and drop her son, so she grabbed a knife and stabbed her boyfriend in self-defense. A jury found her guilty of first degree murder and she was sentenced to 34 years in prison in 2009. Tewkunzi will be 61 years old when she is able to return home.
(Illustration: Paul Callahan)
7. Nan-Hui Jo | Stand with Nan-Hui | Al Jazeera article | Donate to Nan-Hui
Nan Hui-Jo is a Korean immigrant who fled from her home in California to South Korea with her child in 2014 to escape her abusive partner after her visa had expired. Jo was later found guilty of abducting her own child and served 175 days in jail, after which she was turned over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Nan-hui was released from immigration detention in 2015, but she continues to fight to see her child, of whom she does not currently have custody over –- the abusive father does.
Since her release from jail and immigration detention, Nan Hui has been trying to rebuild her life. As an undocumented survivor, she has not been able to get government assistance like a stimulus check, food stamps, unemployment benefits or health insurance. Even before the pandemic, she was struggling with wage theft and employment discrimination and harassment. Nan-Hui needs your support to meet fundamental needs like housing and living expenses, as well as to pay for her work permit. Click the link above to contribute.
(Illustration: Courtesy #StandWithNanHui)
8. Aylaliya Birru | The Appeal article | Sign the petition | #FreeLiyah website
Aylaliya Birru, a Black immigrant from Ethiopia, has served over four years of her six year sentence in a California prison for assaulting her husband in self defense. Her husband, Silas D'Alioso, had verbally, physically and sexually abused her. Liyah said she was living in "constant fear" of her husband. One day, during a domestic dispute that had become physically violent, Liyah grabbed D'Alioso's gun, which she thought was unloaded, and pointed it at him, pulling the trigger. She said she thought he needed to hear the click of an unloaded gun for him to take her seriously.
Liyah now faces the added possibility and punishment of deportation, and because she is Black, she is more likely to be deported than immigrants from other countries, according to a report by NYU and the Black Alliance for Just Immigration. A pardon from California Governor Gavin Newsom could keep her in the US, but his office has yet to address the issue. You can demand to #FreeLiyah by signing the petition linked above.
(Photo illustration: Elizabeth Brown)
9. Shantonio Hunter | Freedom Fund | Free Shantonio Blog | More information
Shantonio Hunter is a Black mother and domestic abuse survivor in Tennessee who has been sentenced to 28 years in prison for her husband’s murder and abuse of their 3-year-old son. She spent four years in jail awaiting trial. Hunter was charged with felony murder, aggravated child abuse, and child neglect although she herself was a survivor of her husband’s abuse and played no part in the abuse and death of her son. This falls under "failure to protect" laws, meaning that Shantonio could be tried for murder for failing to protect her child, although she too was the victim of abuse and felt she could not safely leave the abusive relationship. The law itself blames victims and fails to protect survivors.
Community advocates are calling on the Nashville district attorney to dismiss all charges against Shantonio so she can begin to heal and rebuild her life. You can click the links above to support their efforts by donating to Shantonio’s freedom fund, sending her a letter of support, and sending letters to the district attorney.
(Photo: Courtesy freeshantonio.wordpress.com)
10. Nicole Addimando | New Yorker article | Website | Legal Defense Fund | Donate to support Nikki's other financial needs
Nicole Addimando is a young mother who was sentenced to 19 years to life for murdering her abusive husband in Poughkeepsie, New York in 2017.
Addimando endured years of extreme physical and sexual abuse from her husband before retaliating against him, saying she had no other choice. A judge convicted Addimando of second-degree murder and sentenced her in February 2020, saying she “didn’t have to kill him,” but after examining her repeated injuries, a family services worker had deemed that Addimando was at risk of death at the hands of her husband. She had been too afraid of her husband –- and worried she would lose custody of her children –- to report the violence to the police. To find out more about Nikki’s story and how you can help her legal defense team, click the links above.
(Photo: courtesy westandwithnikki.com)
11. Brandy Scott | Donate to Brandy's Legal Defense Survival Fund
Brandy Scott is a Black trans woman and a survivor of domestic violence who
was criminalized for defending herself against abuse. She is currently serving a 22 year sentence. Although Brandy has already served her base term, she is still incarcerated due to a gun enhancement. Brandy petitioned for commutation of her sentence in 2018 and has since updated it under Gov. Newsom. If Newsom approves her commutation, Brandy could be sent home to her community.
In addition to this, Brandy transferred from Central California Women's Facility to California Institution for Women due to consistent and targeted transphobic violence by prison guards. Organizers and supporters of Brandy are concerned for her ongoing safety for the duration of her sentence.
You can support Brandy by donating to her legal defense survival fund above. The funds will contribute to costs of reentry into the community and any needs she currently has amid the coronavirus pandemic. Brandy hopes to hire an attorney with the collected funds to help with her pathway to freedom.
12. Ashlyn Griffin | Statesboro Herald Article | Fund Ashlyn's Legal Defense
Ashlyn Griffin is a Black mother and a survivor of domestic violence from Georgia who is being charged with the murder of her boyfriend. Ashlyn was denied immunity under the Stand Your Ground law, which should have protected her since she was acting in self defense.
Ashlyn's family is asking the public for help to cover her legal defense fees as her lawyers continue to request payments before she stands trial. Here is a message from her mother:
"I want to make it clear that Ashlyn is not just a statistic to be ignored and forgotten. She’s a soon to be mother of two daughters. Ryann is 2 years old, and baby Aria is due in February 2021. Ashlyn is also a daughter, sister, aunt, niece, cousin, and a great friend. She is loved dearly by friends and family, and respected by her colleagues. She recently obtained her Bachelor of Science degree in Kinesiology from Georgia Southern University. She has many hopes and dreams for herself and her family. She’s also resilient. Since being released on bond, she has started her own business selling her own handcrafted candles, wax melts, and air fragrance.
Click the links above to support Ashlyn and her family and #StandWithAshlyn.
13. Tomiekia Johnson | Sign the Petition for Clemency | Letter from Tomiekia's daughter to Gov. Newsom | Guardian Article
Tomiekia Johnson is a Black mother and survivor of interpersonal violence who has been incarcerated in California since 2012 for defending herself against her abusive husband. She endured years of psychological and physical violence, threats, and coercion for her husband. In one instance, after her husband physically assaulted Tomeikia in a car, the two struggled with a gun, which resulted in a fatal shot that killed him. She was not arrested or charged until two years after, and was not belived by the criminal justice system to be a victim of domestic violence. As a result, Tomiekia recieved a sentence of 25 years to life, with an additional 25 year sentence due to a gun enhancement.
In November, Tomiekia's daughter, Nevaeh Savannah Lemons, wrote a letter to Gov. Newsom of California, asking for clemency for her mother so that she could return home to her family and begin to heal from years of relationship abuse:
"The life of a child growing up not being with her mother, and not having a father. It is something we shouldn’t have in life. My life is like a living hell because of this, and to know my mother was beaten by my father hurts even worse."
You can support Tomiekia and her family by signing the petition above.