Alisha Walker was just 20 years old when she had to defend herself against a client who was drunk and violent. She was 22 when she was convicted of second degree murder and 15 years in prison for defending both her own life and the life of a friend who was also on the scene. She is now 23 years old and behind bars at Logan Correctional Center in Lincoln, Illinois, seeking new legal representation and awaiting an appeals process.
In January 2014, Alisha Walker and a close friend of hers went to Alan Filan’s house in Orland Park, a Chicago suburb, to do a double session with Filan. Walker had seen Filan at least twice, and she had not screened him through any online resources. Afterwards, Walker told her mother that she immediately knew something was different about Filan this time. He was heavily intoxicated and very aggressive. He insisted that Walker’s friend didn’t look like her photos in the Backpage advertisement. When the two women refused to have unprotected sex with him, he threatened them with a knife. Walker was able to wrestle the knife from Filan and stab him several times, saving her own life and the life of her friend.
Alisha Walker, like many of us, comes from an average working class family, while her clients, like Filan, are mostly well-off and well-connected. Filan’s brother William Filan is a high-paid lobbyist whose clients have included the city of Chicago and JP Morgan Chase. His sister Denise Filan is a judge in the third subcircuit of Cook County.
Even Alan Filan himself was covered in a veneer of respectability, a seemingly-upstanding community member who taught at Brother Rice Catholic High School. It was easy for the media to portray Filan as a good man, rather than the violent aggressor he was, despite his tendency to be a mean, misogynistic drunk. Our efforts to screen his e-mails revealed multiple accounts of sex workers listing him as a bad client, cautioning against booking sessions with him. Even the articles most sympathetic to his memory recount his casual verbal abuse of the young soccer players whom he coached.
Walker was held in Cook County without bond for over two years while the media sensationalized the death of her attacker with wildly differing accounts of how many stab wounds he’d actually suffered, going so far as to include hesitation marks among the mortal wounds. Accounts of the stab wounds numbered from 10 to 14 in news articles, though the coroner’s report lists 14 hesitation marks and only two mortally inflicted wounds. Walker’s account of Filan’s drunkenness was confirmed by toxicology reports showing Filan’s blood alcohol content registered at a 0.208 when he was found days after his death.
Filan was remembered as a flawed but lovable man, brutally murdered. Walker, however, was never spoken about as a human being, the devoted big sister and caring and outgoing young woman her mother describes her as. Media outlets covering the story rarely mentioned that she had seen Filan at least twice without incident before he attacked her. Nor did they remark on the fact that she saved her own life and that of another woman’s in the face of Filan’s assault. There were at least 20 Backpage ads printed out on Filan’s desk, but the media often omitted this detail in their stories on the case. Nor did most articles on Walker address rumors that Filan was a habitual client of sex workers, and often (as Chicago sex worker screening sources record) was not respectful of the workers he saw.
Alisha Walker is not the woman the media and the courts have made her out to be. According to her mother, Sherri Chatman, Walker is a sweet, funny, outgoing girl. She had just enrolled in Stark State College before these events and was excited to become a student again. In our phone conversations with Walker, she’s always been concerned with our well-being, and her positivity in spite of being incarcerated for 22 hours a day, every day, is inspiring. Like many women of color, especially working class sex workers, she has been reduced by the media to only her most stigmatized traits, not presented as the complete person she is. Walker’s status as a sex working woman of color revokes her right to survive in the eyes of this world.
In a case a few years ago in Texas, a client-turned-murderer was cleared for doing exactly what Filan tried to do—demand unprotected sex, and attack when refused, ultimately murdering the woman involved for trying to protect herself. The ruling in the Texas case proved to us that sex workers are seen as less than human, undeserving of rights and protections while working because of the criminalization of their labor and the stigma they bear.
People do not often rally around a whore, and when they do, that whore is typically not a woman of color. Sex workers of color like Walker are even more likely to face discrimination because of the New Jim Crow tactics of the criminal justice system in the U.S. Black women’s lives are already seen as not having value, and when they are a part of the sex working class they are rendered monsters in the media when they defend themselves. This begs the question: Who has the right to survive, and the right to self-defense?
This is why those of us in Support Ho(s)e—a radical ho collective recently formed in Chicago—have rallied around Walker and her family and are doing what we can to offer them support and ultimately get Walker free. We’ve been very fortunate to receive help from other organizations and people here in Chicago, including the Chicago chapter of the Sex Workers Outreach Project, Mothers United Against Violence and Incarceration, Survived and Punished, and Love & Protect. These groups have supported our organizing efforts, from assisting with fundraising, legal aid, and social media campaigns, to participation in actions that we’ve coordinated. Our community is small, but it is growing. We are working urgently to get competent legal counsel for Walker, as her most recent appeal was denied due to the unpreparedness of her previous attorney.
We recently received our first correspondence from Walker within a passage in a letter to her mother, which her mother shared with us. Walker writes about being amazed at the outpouring of love and support she’s received from strangers: “Everyone was upset at how the judge spoke to me and that they’re all here for me and ready to help out any way they can? I was so amazed. I almost cried. I thought everyone hated me.”
Alisha Walker is more than her act of self-defense and she is more than her profession, though both of these aspects of her are important and also deserve our respect. She is certainly more than a mugshot or a sensationalized headline. She is a young woman who is being targeted by a court system and media that seek to dehumanize and demonize her. We are flipping this script with the help of Walker and her mother. We are articulating their narrative in the hope of finding justice for them and freedom for Alisha Walker.
For readers who are interested in taking steps to show their solidarity: Alisha Walker is currently being held in the Logan Correctional Center. You can send mail to her there at Alisha Walker #Y12381 Logan Correctional Center 1096 1350th St PO BOX 1000, Lincoln, IL 62656. If you are able, you can send her commissary funds directly through JPay. Walker’s mother has also set up a fundraising page to help cover legal fees and other expenses. If you are unable to give, please share the page. You can also follow Support Ho(s)e on Twitter @supporthosechi or like our Facebook page.