Tanisha Davis is a caring 32 year-old single mother serving a 14-year sentence in Bedford Hills Correctional Facility for Women after acting in self-defense against her abusive partner. In 2013, she was convicted by a Rochester jury of first-degree manslaughter, after stabbing her violent abuser a single time in the shoulder in an act of self-defense after another brutal attack at his hands.
Tanisha met her abuser, Montreall Wright, when she was 19 years old and he was nearly 30. Although Tanisha did not know it at the time, Wright had abused other women in the past and was on probation for another domestic-violence case when they met. By the time Tanisha learned this information, Wright had started to abuse her. During the course of their nearly eight-year relationship, Wright became increasingly violent, controlling, and manipulative. He attacked her for any reason at all: because she wanted to put up her own Christmas tree in her house, because she left her high-heel shoes at a party, or because she did not want to drive with the window down in the cold Rochester winter. When Tanisha tried to break up with him, Wright stalked her, breaking the windows of her house, forcing his way in, and terrifying her young son. On one occasion, while driving with Tanisha and her son in the car, Wright swerved into oncoming traffic because she refused to tell him she loved him. Wright sexually assaulted Tanisha and choked her in her sleep. She now has a scar on her hand, a chipped tooth, and a bad knee as a result of his attacks.
Though Tanisha called the police often, it was to no avail. Eventually, they began to remove Wright from Tanisha’s house only to drop him off around the corner. On the night of the incident that led to Wright’s death, Tanisha had two orders of protection against him. Following a disagreement, he began beating and choking her. In a voicemail that captured Wright’s attack in the minutes preceding Tanisha’s act of self-defense, he is recorded yelling, “Is this what you want?” while hitting her as she cried for help.
Tanisha went to trial and testified about her act of self-defense. She was convicted after a trial ridden with errors and injustices. For example, the jury wasn’t properly instructed on how, under New York law, the imminent threat to Tanisha’s life justified her acting in self-defense. The prosecutor called Tanisha, a Black woman, a “hood diva,” and made racist remarks about “the culture she is from”—and no one objected or stopped him. Virtually no evidence was introduced regarding the abuse Tanisha suffered.
Tanisha has said that living with her abuser was like being in prison, and the trauma of her abuse continues to affect her. Tanisha suffers from PTSD and has nightmares that Wright is beating her. Sometimes feels that he is “still in control.” This trauma and control are now compounded by prison. While her avenues for direct appeal have been exhausted, she continues to fight for her release. She keeps in touch with loved ones, although the long distance makes it difficult for her family to visit. Tanisha’s son is now 13 years old, and she does everything she can to mother him from afar. She is doing her best to prepare for a better life for herself and her son once she is free by pursuing her GED and completing available programs. Tanisha also helps members of her family manage interpersonal disputes, and, inside the prison, she counsels other women trying to leave abusive partners. It’s work she hopes to continue once she’s free.