Marissa Alexander, the mother of three who served three years in a Florida prison for firing a warning shot at the ceiling to ward off her abusive husband, revealed in a recent profile just how much her ex-husband sealed her fate with lies and distortions that ultimately sent her to jail.
In a piece on Essence‘s website, Alexander gave the full picture of her story to writer Jeannine Amber in a detailed account that delves into the manipulations of her ex-husband and her mindset during her horrific ordeal.
Alexander was freed from prison in January, but the terms of her release stipulate that she must submit to two more years of house arrest with an ankle monitor and is forbidden from leaving her home except to go to work, church, her children’s school, and appointments with doctors or the court.
During her ordeal, she became a symbol of the racial implications of the Stand Your Ground law, which studies have shown is not as available to Black defendants.
Alexander explained how she got involved with Rico Gray and stayed with him even though he continued to beat her.
“I met Rico Gray, the man who would eventually become my second husband, on a blind date in 2009,” she told Essence. “Rico and I had a lot of chemistry. When our relationship was good, it was excellent. When it was bad, it was really bad. In the beginning, there was behavior I used to interpret as affection, like, He wants to know where I’m going and be with me all the time because he loves me. Suddenly, he turned into the kind of person who would clock me when I would just be going to the grocery store. Later that year, Rico beat me so badly I ended up getting a restraining order against him. But then we started seeing each other again.”
“It’s embarrassing. I’m strong and determined and I had never experienced a relationship like this,” Alexander continued. “So every time something bad happened, I would rationalize it and give Rico the benefit of the doubt. Or we would break up and he’d come back looking like a puppy dog, all lovey-dovey.”
She said she got pregnant in 2010 and they decided to get married, though the relationship never got much better. She moved out while she was pregnant and moved in with her mother, bringing her two children from her previous marriage with her.
After her baby was born a month prematurely, she had to spend most of her time at the NICU. She explained the circumstances that led to her encountering Gray at the house they used to share.
“A week after Rihanna was born, it was time for her first bath. Rico was supposed to meet me at the hospital, but he couldn’t make it. So I gave her a bath and took some pictures on my phone. I texted the photos to my ex-husband, who was in Orlando at Disney World with our twins. I wanted him to show the kids their new sister. After that, I went to my old house to get more of my things. My sister was going to meet me there. I was surprised when Rico showed up with his two sons. But I thought, I’ll just be cordial. I showed him the pictures of Rihanna on my phone. I remember saying, ‘Look, she’s smiling.’ Then, after I left to go to the bathroom, he started going through my text messages. He saw that I had sent my ex-husband pictures of the baby and he lost his mind. I had never seen him that angry.”
“He started cursing at me through the bathroom door,” she continued. “Eventually, I was able to run to the garage and get into my truck to leave, but the garage door wasn’t working, so I grabbed my gun and went back in the house. I was raised with guns. My daddy is a military man. He took all his girls to the range and taught us self-defense. At first I thought Rico had left. When I saw him, it was like we startled each other. He said, ‘Bitch, I’ll kill you.’ So I fired a warning shot into the wall above him. His children were not beside him; I assumed he had sent them out of the house and had come back to deal with me.”
Gray had called the police, who arrested Alexander. But even after being arrested and booked, she still didn’t fully grasp the severity of her situation.
“Florida has a mandatory minimum 20-year sentence for firing a gun and you can’t get time off for good behavior. You have to do every single one of those days,” she said. “You’d think that kind of sentencing is intended for violent offenders who use guns while committing crimes, not somebody who is protecting herself. It just didn’t register with me that this was what I was facing. My attorney kept saying, ‘You do realize how serious this is…’ but no, I didn’t.”
“One day, while I was out on bond, Rico contacted my attorneys. He ended up giving a sworn deposition that corroborated what I’d told the police, saying I hadn’t shot at him and his children,” she said. “After that, the prosecutor was going to drop the charges. It was going to be all over. On December 30, 2010, a few days before I was to appear in court, I needed Rico to sign some papers so I could put Rihanna on my health insurance. I went to his house and we had another incident. I ended up at the hospital with injuries on my arms from blocking his punches. He told the police that I’d injured his eye. I was arrested, my bond was revoked, and I was put back in jail.”
Alexander recalled the day that clearly was the low point, when she was on the phone with her mother and heard Rico’s voice in the background.
“He had filed for temporary custody and showed up at my mama’s house with a police officer. From jail I could hear my baby crying over the phone. I felt like I was dying inside,” she said. “Rico drives trucks for a living, so I didn’t even know who was going to be keeping Rihanna while he was on the road. I had no control: I had no money, no power and I was physically bound. The only way I was able to cope was to tell myself that for that period of time I had two children, not three. I had to rely on the power greater than all to keep Rihanna safe. I had to give my child to God.”
Alexander said she leaned on her Christian faith to help her get through the three years in prison. She also leaned on the support she received from outside her Florida prison cell.
“I was so overwhelmed when I began receiving letters from people all over the world. That encouragement, along with my lawyers, family and my best friend, Joyceline, who wrote me every single day, helped sustain me through my darkest moments,” she said.
“Right now, my main priority is reconnecting with my children,” she concluded. “I am living with my twins, who are now 14, and my ex-husband, Lincoln, who has been a great friend to me. Rico and I have joint custody of Rihanna, who’s now 4 years old. I’m waiting for our divorce to be finalized and working hard to reestablish the bond with my baby girl. My future is bright. I tell everybody: Reach for heaven, and if you get the stars, you’re doing pretty good. That’s exactly what I intend to do.”